Friday, February 15, 2013

Rare Flix: Yellowbeard

I'm not laughing- unfortunately.  Today's film is Yellowbeard, a film that is either completely-forgotten or not liked by most.  Before I get into the plot, let's examine why this film should be good.  The film was written in part by Peter Cook and Graham Chapman.  If you don't know who these people are, watch good movies and then come back.  Cook was one half of Cook/Moore, the people behind such great films as Bedazzled. As for Chapman, he was part of Monty Python and played the Lead in both Monty Python and The Holy Grail and Monty Python's Life of Brian.  Speaking of Monty Python, most of them are in this film as well.  Besides Chapman- who's also the title character-, it features Eric Idle and John Cleese.  On top of that, the film features Cheech & Chong (kind of) and most of the Cast of Young Frankenstein (Peter Boyle, Marty Feldman, Madeline Kahn and Kenneth Mars).  So what went wrong?  Well, the film took forever to get funding and eventually get made.  Some reports list it as being Written originally back in 1978 and that it was going to feature Keith Moon.  The film was finally finished and released in 1983, apparently being rewritten at least once.  The end result is a mess of a film that has about four different plots running concurrently (foreshadowing the Pirates of the Caribbean sequels) and constantly throws jokes at you.  I laughed maybe three or four times, sadly.  It's something to see, but just don't expect much from a film that John Cleese has called the worst film he's ever been in.  To find out whether or not you'll laugh, read on...
The Intro features Cheech & Chong as two Privateers- Cheech being the lackey- who get robbed by Yellowbeard.  I hope you didn't get too attached to them, as they vanish until the Third Act.

Oh and Yellowbeard cuts his lead man Mr. Moon's hand off by slamming a chest shut, thus making an enemy.  Physics!
I talk a lot about the principle of Show, Don't Tell...but I have to yet again.  A big plot point- Yellowbeard is arrested and spends 20 years in prison- is just dumped on us via text.  It makes you wonder if they actually showed it in any version of the Screenplay.
Yellowbeard has survived nearly all of his sentence- which they thought he wouldn't-, but nobody has been able to find his treasure in all this time.  The Navy and Mr. Moon- by way of his lackey Marty Feldman here- try to get the info.

When that fails, they trick him into escaping...a day before he was to be released.  This story...oh my, this story.
Cleese appears a lot in the early parts of the movie as Blind Pew (obvious reference), a spy for the Navy.  When the plot dictates that everyone leave Port, he gets blown up.  Given that he said he only did this film as a favor to Graham, I'm sure he wasn't upset.
So this is the oddly-convoluted story to follow (try to keep up)...

* Yellowbeard must take his son (a non-Pirate), since the only map is tattooed on his head.
* Mr. Moon (Boyle) has a scheme that involves kidnapping the son- plus his companions- and taking them on the trip, hoping that they will lead him to the treasure.
* Meanwhile, the Navy (led by Idle) follows them...but somehow ends up ahead of them- don't ask.
 Here's a random fact for you: David Bowie is in this movie.  No, I don't know why either.
Sparing you a lot of tedium, the groups all get to the Island, which is apparently run by Cheech & Chong.  In spite of their treasure being stolen by Yellowbeard in the beginning and never being discovered, they're super-rich again.

I guess it's kind of like Princess Leia being a Princess two times over- why not?
After some silly action, Cheech & Chong have been defeated, as well as Mr. Moon.  Oh and Feldman dies an inglorious death (via a double) in his final role, having died of a heart attack during production.

Speaking of dying, Yellowbeard's son inadvertently stabs him to death.  It's actually what Yellowbeard wanted though.
 The Navy have the treasure and plan to just keep it when...Yellowbeard suddenly show up.  Yeah, so he wasn't dead...apparently.  As abruptly as that is introduced, the film just suddenly ends.
I really didn't want to hate this movie.  Let me say this: Graham Chapman was hilarious.  Peter Cook was also hilarious.  In spite of that, the final product that's delivered is just not that funny.  It's full of funny people, including James Mason, Spike Milligan, Kenneth Mars (in two roles) and the rest.  This is a film about what could have been.  For example, the film was written to star Keith Moon.  If that had happened, it may have been a train wreck, but it would have been a memorable.  Here's another: the son was originally going to be played by Sting, as opposed to Martin Hewitt.  The reason for the Casting change- charges that the film was 'too British' with him in it.  No, really.  As the film is, it has some funny moments and some funny ideas.  Some people are still amusing- like Cook as a wannabe tough-guy-, but never really live up to their potential.  Another key thing to consider is that Chapman supposedly had no say in the Editing.  I don't like to make excuses for a film and I won't start now though.  Yellowbeard is a funny idea for a film that never really gets all that funny.  On the plus side, they manage to mention my home city in the Credits...
Next up, you can't make an omelette without breaking a few eggs.  According to Roger Corman, you can't make Dinosaurs without breaking a few chicken eggs either.  Stay tuned...


  1. First of all: woot, woot, badass new design!!

    and now: Yellowbeard - great, great movie! Austrian TV stations showed it once or twice a year and I've seen it several times. Hell, I really need to see this soon. Underrated as hell and pretty hard to find here.

  2. I actually recall rather liking Yellowbeard myself, but it's been far too many years for me to do any effective defense of the film. :-P

  3. In case it sounded otherwise, I didn't- and still don't- hate 'Yellowbeard.' It's problem is that it was brimming with potential...and is not great. The tone is all over the place and the film suffers from multiple drafts being slapped together like they were.

    If 'Yellowbeard' was made by a bunch of nobodies, I'd feel differently. I probably still wouldn't love it.

    It's a decent movie...that should have been great.