When visiting a Disney theme park, if allowed to go to my favorite ride first, I’m making a B-line for Pirates of the Caribbean. As I settled in to watch Abbott and Costello meet Captain Kidd, I was reminded a lot of that famous Disney ride. Released in 1952, fifteen years before the ride debuted, this film opens with a mix of pirate nastiness and musical mirth that feels very Disney-esque.
Bud and Lou play Rocky and Puddin’ Head, a couple of hapless waiters at a tavern in Tortuga frequented by pirates. This joint isn’t your average seedy pub, either. Besides serving rum, the bar entertains the patrons with a musical floor show featuring the boy’s pal Bruce (Bill Shirley) and a cast of leggy beauties in pirate outfits. Who says blood-thirsty pirates can’t be cultured? Of course, when Captain Kidd (Charles Laughton) and his men show up in town, they make things pretty miserable for the staff of the tavern.
It seems that Kidd and Captain Bonney (Hillary Brooke) are about to head out for Skull Island to find a buried treasure. However, the treasure map ends up with Puddin’ Head and gets mixed up with a love note from Lady Jane (Fran Warren) intended for Bruce. Long story short, our heroes end up weaseling their way onto Kidd’s ship, thinking the captain will let them have part of the treasure in exchange for giving him access to the map, which is technically his anyway. Of course, Kidd has no intention of sharing.
This is one of only two films that Abbott and Costello made in color, and it does come off as a bit more lavish production than many of their other films. The sets for Tortuga, Captain Kidd’s ship, and Skull Island are big and impressive. This isn’t just Bud and Lou playing pirate for 70 minutes, it’s a legit big pirate adventure. Of course, it’s done with a sense of humor not found in most swashbucklers, and it does deliver a decent amount of laughs. There are some Abbott and Costello films that rely on wordplay for much of their humor, while others are more about physical comedy. This one is more about the physical humor. However, the comedy team at the center of this film is not really Bud Abbott and Lou Costello. It’s Lou Costello and Charles Laughton.
Laughton had played Captain Kidd previously in the 1945 film of the same name. He certainly was one of the most respected actors to ever appear alongside Bud and Lou. Here he really does seem to be relishing the opportunity to do something a bit crazy. His performance reminded me a bit of a live-action Yosemite Sam. He blusters and scowls with great flare. He also proves to be a great comedic foil for Lou Costello. The two share several funny scenes, in fact, at times it feels like Costello has more screen time with Laughton than he does with his partner, Abbott.
Of course, the film does have a B story, the romance between Bruce and Lady Jane. I often get frustrated with these storylines. I’m the sort of viewer who is content with the craziness being provided by Abbott and Costello, or the Marx Brothers. I don’t need the romantic subplot featuring a couple of beautiful, but boring co-stars. In this case, the romantic subplot is a bit half-baked, and that’s actually a good thing. It’s still an annoyance that someone felt it was necessary to include it, but it never steals away too much of the comedic energy being provided by Abbott, Costello, and Laughton.
Though it’s not on the same level as when Bud and Lou met Frankenstein, their adventure with Captain Kidd is a pleasant enough musical adventure. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention this is a musical, and the songs are actually quite joyous. All-in-all, the boys are in fine form and they manage to pull some solid comedy out of Laughton, an actor not particularly known for humor.
As a special bonus, you will find a review of the 1945 film Captain Kidd, starring Charles Laughton, over at our Patreon page. Head on over and consider throwing some pirate booty our way to access this review, as well as other great bonus content..