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Sunday, March 18, 2012

Abbott and Costello Meet Captain Kidd (1952) - Disney Pirates on Parade

 If you think that serious British actors were all stuffed shirts without a sense of humor, you need to see this film.  Charles Laughton was arguably the best actor (not movie star - actor) of the 20th Century, and here he shows a real feel for comedy.  Playing violently against type, he alone makes this into something worth watching. I watched this film because I wanted to get another dose of Laughton after viewing the original "Captain Kidd." Well, I got a lot more than I bargained for. This is one of those films that you sit through, dumbfounded, as you see some very strange antics.

They always go for the short, fat ones

 All of the sets look like they belong down in Orlando at Disneyworld. Everything is dumbed down for the young crowd, with cute little hand-drawn treasure maps and yo-ho-ho pirate outfits.  The boys bring along the goddess from their TV show of the time, Hilary Brooke, who as usual intimidates but beguiles Lou as lady pirate "Lady Jane."  She looks like she should be slinging drinks down on the Disneyworld pirate boat ride, and stands a good foot taller than Lou due to her high heels despite the fact that in reality she was only an inch taller. Naturally, she plays into the usual Abbot and Costello TVshow riff where the pretty girl develops a huge jealous crush on Lou. She's the prettiest thing in the film - no, make that the ONLY pretty thing - and that counts for an awful lot.  She is quite fetching in a lady pirate way, and, if it weren't for the awesomely hammy Charles Laughton, she would have stolen this picture right out from under the boys' feet.

Lady Jane, spreading her legs confidently

Make no mistake, this isn't a top Abbott and Costello comedy. The film print that survives is absolutely horrendous, and the gags are even lamer than usual. But Laughton is a riot if you don't take him at all seriously, which requires some serious switching of gears if you are a Laughton fan. He mugs unmercifully every chance he gets and makes asides to the audience commenting on the proceedings. In fact, half the film seems to consist of his reaction shots to the boys' routines. The other half is him bellowing every chance he gets. This, along with his other Kidd performance and his work as Captain Bligh, inspired countless imitators over the years, in which characters clearly patterned after Laughton do nothing but bellow and speak in hammy pirate-ese ("Argh, me matey, if you disobey me it would be a shame to have to RUN YOU THROUGH. AH HAHAHAHAHA."). Like that. So, this film did have influence because Laughton goes way, way over the top, and I'm sure intentionally so.

Charles was quite a good sport about things

I could do without the musical numbers, but they do contribute to the whole Disney feel of the film. They also give Abbott and Costello a chance to mug for the camera while half-heartedly making fun of the serious singing (and strange accordion playing). Being at all serious in an Abbott and Costello film is like turning yourself into a clay pigeon and throwing yourself into the air in front of a row of skeet shooters.

This is up there for best Lobby Card in film history
Did I mention that the film quality is terrible? Oh yes, I did. Well, it bears repeating. The direction and cinematography in general are way down there, in fact, the whole movie seems to be filmed at a distance. But you should get a laugh now and then if you aren't too demanding. And Hilary Brooke really is blazingly attractive.

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