In this unhistorical account, Capt. William Kidd is already a clever, ruthless pirate when, in 1699, he tricks the king into commissioning him as escort for a treasure ship from India. He enlists a crew of pardoned cutthroats...and Orange Povey, whom Kidd once abandoned on a reef and hoped never to see again. Of course, Kidd's intentions are treacherous. But there's more to gunner Adam Mercy than meets the eye. Written by
Rod Crawford <email@example.com>
Four years before this movie was made, Charles Laughton co-starred in It Started with Eve (1941), In that film, Laughton's character, Jonathan Reynolds Sr., is said to have been born two centuries too late. The assistant newspaper editor comments that he could have been "Captain Kidd himself". See more »
Near the start of the movie as Capt Kidd is burying his treasure in the cave, he shoots one of his sailors. Kidd is holding the gun in his right hand pointed toward the victim. When he shoots there is a large volume of smoke. The shot shifts to a broad shot of the cave showing the dead sailor, other members of the crew and Kidd. In this shot, there is no smoke from the gun being fired and Kidd is holding the gun pointed to the ground by his side. See more »
A classic example of a pirate melodrama, this production purports to be based on the life of the historic Captain Kidd (played with campy, eye-waggling mannerisms by Laughton). There are few pirate cliches that don't find their way into Norman Reilly Raine's overwrought script - buried treasures, kidnapped maidens, English nobles masquerading as buccaneers. Much of it is unintentionally silly: It is, for example, impossible to take the hale, beefy, Virginia-twanged Randolph Scott as either an English nobleman or a pirate. Scott claims two friends aboard Kidd's pirate ship, both strangely effete, deferential characters: Another pirate, who acts as Scott's valet, and Kidd's own valet, who spends most of the movie surreptitiously assisting Scott in his scheming against the pirate captain. Kidd's companions, by comparison, are swaggering caricatures, and Kidd spends most of the movie scheming to dispatch them in one of the film's strangest images: Laughton, huddled over a small book, jotting down names or crossing them out, muttering to himself and cackling.
Much of this is good fun, and some of the cinematography is gorgeous - even by today's standards, the use of miniatures and trick camerawork creates a convincing illusion of ships at battle on roiling seas. But the story is so far from history that there seems to be no good reason to name Laughton after the real Captain Kidd, a bumbler whose short career as a pirate and humiliating death was little but a series of bizarre travesties. But the script is awkward and choppy, and many of the set pieces are strangely cramped and stagey, as though this were a theatrical production rather than a film. Ultimately, the true pleasure in watching the film comes from Laughton's peculiar performance, which is similarly theatrical, as though it were an oversized clown act from a London stage transferred to film. He plays Kidd without nuance, telegraphng the captain's bloated greed and amorality as though these were comical personal eccentricities. The closest the screen has since produced to Laughton's outre characterization is Harvey Fierstein's Pirate King character in 1997's Kull the Conqueror, which is pure camp.
Laughton was, in fact, gay, and though this fact is never made overt in Captain Kidd, there is some surprising subtext. Two scenes in particular strike contemporary eyes as having implicitly camp sensibilities - one in which Laughton sniffingly dismisses any interest in female companionship, and another scene in which Scott, a legitimate beefcake, shares a bath with his valet, both happily scrubbing each other while surrounded by hundreds of semi-clad pirates. Yo ho ho.
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