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Yellowbeard

The late, great Monty Python member Graham Chapman concocted this zany pirate movie with the help of the late, great Peter Cook but, despite an excellent cast and a promising premise, Yellowbeard (1983) often falls curiously flat. The main problem seems to be that it can't decide whether it's a Python-esque skewering of the buccaneer genre or a loving homage to it, straddling the two in ways that are often frustrating to watch. Much of the film is still hilarious, however, due to the fine actors in supporting roles and Chapman's almost psychotic commitment to his character. He plays the titular Yellowbeard, the most fearsome pirate to sail the seas, on his way after an escape from jail (for tax evasion) to pick up some buried treasure. In one of many, many nods to Stevenson's Treasure Island, the map to Yellowbeard's booty is tattooed on his son's (Martin Hewitt) head. He's made an enemy of his former partner, Mr. Moon (Peter Boyle), after cutting off Moon's hand in a treasure-chest accident, and his journey to retrieve the loot is being closely monitored by the Queen (Peter Bull), who wants the money for the royal coffers. It's less a complicated plot than a big, sloppy series of anecdotal sketches as Yellowbeard touches base with an old lover (Madeline Kahn); a pair of shanghaied upper-crust types (Peter Cook, Michael Holdern) are consigned to a ship captained by, of all people, James Mason; and Cheech and Chong play a pair of Spanish pirates named El Nebuloso and El Segundo. Great comic talents come and go throughout the film's 96 minutes, including Kenneth Mars, Marty Feldman (who died from a heart attack during filming), Spike Milligan, and Bernard Fox. Even David Bowie puts in an appearance. Chapman gives the juiciest secondary character to John Cleese as Blind Pew, who has one of the funniest (and stupidest) exchanges in the film with Python comrade Eric Idle — Cleese: "I may be blind, but I have acute 'earing." Idle: "I'm not interested in your jewelry!" Overall, it's just a huge mess of a movie, one that was taken away from Chapman for editing at the studio's hands after the shooting schedule and increasingly large cast got out of control. It stands as a minor curiosity in the Python pantheon, good for a few chuckles but not an especially good movie. Sony/MGM's DVD release of Yellowbeard is an unimpressive anamorphic transfer (1.85:1), ostensibly remastered (in high-def, no less) but from a source-print rife with dirt, scratches, and specks. The Dolby 2.0 stereo audio is serviceable, but likewise unimpressive. No extras, keep-case.
—Dawn Taylor



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