Thanks to Mr. Johnny Depp, pirate films have soared in popularity again. I am still waiting for someone else besides Disney to make a good pirate flick now, preferably rated R. No, I really want it to be rated R, I’m not just saying that because that’s what pirates say or are supposed to say. I’m saying it because pirates are supposed to cut throats or shoot people in the face at point blank range or gut someone and let their innards spill out on the deck, thus instilling the proper level of fear for said pirate. This seems to be the only path anyone making a pirate film now can take and not have it seem like they are just copying Disney’s blockbuster franchise. There was a time when Hollywood was flooded with pirate adventure films. All of them full of handsome leading men, most famously Errol Flynn. But pirates disappeared from cinemas, becoming a rarity by the 1960’s. Westerns went through a similar downturn but never really disappeared thanks to Clint Eastwood, John Wayne, Gary Cooper & Randolph Scott.
Growing up I didn’t know of any kid who at one time or another didn’t play pirates. Any tree in your backyard became the main mast of the meanest pirate ship to sail the seven seas. Looking back that seems kind of odd given the lack of pirate-infused programming for kids in the 1980’s compared to that of the 1930’s & 40’s where matinee idols frequently swash-buckled across the screen every Saturday afternoon. The few exceptions that did come out in the 1980’s were amazing, imaginative films that hooked kids like me on the thought of high seas adventure. The Goonies, The Princess Bride & Hook. All of these were great fun, it seemed like I must have watched the Goonies 100 times. I’m surprised the VHS tape held up through the constant playback and rewinds. As limited as that selection was, today’s youth have even less variety. Nothing but Captain Jack Sparrow and a couple of high budget porno ripoffs, which depending on your mood may or may not be better than their real film counterparts.
I stumbled upon Captain Kidd while I was browsing online one night. It stars Charles Laughton as the titular character and Randolph Scott (who was taking a rare break from westerns). Captain Kidd is absolutely not historically accurate, the fact of whether or not Kidd was actually a pirate is still up for debate. Just ignore the history books if you want to fully enjoy it, just like you should if you watch an Oliver Stone movie. Laughton certainly doesn’t look the part of dashing leading man for an adventure film. Think bloated Orson Welles in Touch Of Evil, only clean shaven and not sweating profusely from having to strain for the energy to stand up. What Laughton lacks in physical prowess, he makes up for in spades with his silver tongue. Shorty into the film its clear he’s perfect to play the double crossing pirate. Check out the short clip above with Laughton opposite John Carradine for a perfect example of this. Randolph Scott, who happens to have been a Charlotte, NC native, really has the chiseled leading man look and does a pretty good job here as the hero, despite a lack of English accent even though he’s surrounded by them. The plot involves (what else) buried treasure and multiple plots and backstabs to retrieve it. There’s not many high flying action scenes in this as its clearly a low budget affair, but that doesn’t keep this from being a solid flick. When Kidd is called upon to show his skill with a blade, he disarms his attacker with a couple flicks of his sword while scarcely moving. Good thing too, I don’t think Laughton was much of an action star, almost all of the fighting sequences involve other characters. This did receive an Oscar nomination for Best Score, but in those days that didn’t mean much. I think if you made a movie that didn’t get nominated for anything else they threw you a nod for music or song, and thankfully Kevin Kline doesn’t show up singing here. This film is in no way a spoof or send up of pirate films, but Laughton took this character there when he agreed to do Abbott & Costello Meet Captain Kidd 7 years later, a film that I will now probably try and track down.
The film has fallen into public domain so you can watch it free online at any one of 100 sites, though the quality of the print will vary. It’s great that there are films like this out there for free. Movie fans on a budget will never have to worry about legally finding free movies thanks to the Internet Archive, Youtube and IMDB. Happy hunting.