Plot Details: This opinion reveals everything about the movie's plot.
“They’ll Have to Kill Me Before I Die!”
The movie “Yellowbeard” combines three of Monty Python’s Flying Circus cast members (John Cleese, Graham Chapman, and Eric Idle) with Marty Feldman, Madeline Kahn (of numerous Mel Brooks movies), Peter Boyle (of Mel Brook’s “Young Frankenstein”), Cheech and Chong, and Peter (of Black Adder I fame). A very interesting combination this proves to be in this sleeper of a film. A charming, funny, and often witty, and sometimes too silly and a bit dumb, parody about pirates and pirating days, Blackbeard and Bluebeard, “Yellowbeard” works quite well as a comedic film. Admittedly not as funny as the Monty Python films, “Yellowbeard” still has lots of laughs, and I am sure any fan of British humor, particularly Monty Python fans, will snicker and laugh at the spoofs, japes, and antics in this movie. Following a table of information about “Yellowbeard”, there will be a brief intermission during which very small ice creams in very large containers will be sold, followed by a synopsis and review of the film.
Table of Information on “Yellowbeard”.
Production Company: Orion Pictures
Theatrical Release: 1983
Viewing Format: VHS
Running Time: 1 hour, 37 minutes
Cast of Characters:
John Cleese—“Blind Pew”
Eric Idle—Commander Clement
Peter Boyle—Mr. Moon
Peter Cook --Lord Lamborne
Michael Horndern--The Doctor
James Mason—Captain Hughes
Greta Blackborn--Mister Prostitute
Tommy Chong—El Nebuloso
Cheech Marin—El Segundo
Kenneth Mars—Mister Crisp
Susannah York—Lady Churchill
Ferdy Maine—Mister Beamish
Producer: John Daley and Carter DeHaven
Director: Mel Damski
Writing Credits: Graham Chapman, Peter Cook, Bernard Mckenna and David Sherlock
Original Music: John Morris
Price: Out of Print, have seen it listed from $25-39
Movie Genre: Comedy
“Yellowbeard” starts a raid on the Spanish Main in 1687, on El Nebuloso’s galley. El Nebuloso, played by Tommy Chong, is a Spanish captain with a lisp. Cheech plays his underling, who has to suck up to him at all times, although he generally throws little insults and innuendos in while doing obeisance to him. Laden with treasure, El Nebuloso is a tempting target for English pirates. Yellowbeard and his crew swim to the Spanish galleon, and take it over by force. Now laden with treasure, we meet Yellowbeard for the first time! He has bushy yellow hair, and indeed, a bushy yellow beard. With his first mate, Bolson Moon(Peter Boyle), they gaze on the treasure. Moon informs him that “thanks to my plan”, we have the gold. “Your plan, my gold”, Captain Yellowbeard informs him, and promptly slams the treasure chest lid down on Moon’s hand, cutting it off. They then raise the Pirate Skull and Crossbones on the ship.
We then get a brief introduction to how over the next dozen years or so, Yellowbeard killed over 500 men in cold blood, made his victims eat their own lips, and swallowed their hearts, whole. Yellowbeard was finally caught, for tax evasion. During all his time in prison, he refused to reveal the whereabouts of his treasure. Bolson Moon had betrayed Yellowbeard.
15 years later, Captain Yellowbeard is in prison (St. Victim‘s Prison for the extremely naughty). He is up for parole on the day we visit him, and is having a conversation with his little chum, Igor, as they clean up the dead. He tells Igor how the common criminal
is a bit of a poncey little git these days, dying all the time. Here he comes up with his wonderful line, “you won’t catch me dying…they’ll have to kill me before I die”.
A visitor, a woman named Betty, played by Madeline Kahn, shows up to have a chat with Yellowbeard, to inform him that he has a son. A 20-year-old bouncing baby named Dan, he is a Gardner. and a book reader. Yellowbeard was hoping his son was a rapist or a thief, or a murderer.
We next get introduced to Dan, who is coming to meet his mother in the local tavern. Blind Pew is here (so charmingly played by John Cleese), and his other senses really compensate for his lack of vision. For instance, he hears Dan coming, and knows that he is “reading, as usual”. It is here that Betty reveals to Dan that Yellowbeard is his father, as she knows he will be going after his treasure after his release from prison.
In the meantime, we get to meet Commander Clement, who visits the royal court to meet with Queen Elizabeth. Finding the Queen to be a man dressed up as a woman, who has no idea what is going on and being a halfwit to boot, Lady Churchill, who is really in charge, talks to the Commander. He has a plan to get England’s sagging economy out of the dumps by denying Yellowbeard his release, forcing him to escape from prison, and the British Navy will follow him right to the treasure, arrest him, and bale out the government. She agrees to this.
The Commander then carries out his plan, sentencing Yellowbeard to a further 140 years in prison, case closed. Yellowbeard flies into a rage, and promptly escapes the prison in a coffin. Gilbert is sprung from prison by Mister Moon, who also plans to tail Yellowbeard to get his treasure as well.
Yellowbeard then makes right over to Betty’s tavern, takes two knives up to her room, and begins to hack a hole in the wall. Betty pulls up her dress, expecting a “cuddle”, to which Yellowbeard replies “I haven’t got time for that…..where’s my map?” “Burnt” is the reply. “You burnt my map?” “Yes, but only after I made a copy…Where’s the copy?” She then informs her that she tattooed it on Dan’s head when he was two minutes old, and that Dan is, at this time, over at Lord Lamborne’s Hall doing some beekeeping and gardening. Yellowbeard then races off to retrieve his map. Finding Dan, he wants to chop his head off to get the map. Dan convinces him that he and Lord Lamborne, who up until this time thought Dan was his son, could be useful on the journey to get the treasure. They successfully take Yellowbeard over to Doctor Gilpin’s place, where they give him a bit of a haircut, and new clothes, and name him “Professor Anthrax”, and then plot to go after the treasure.
In the meantime, the royal navy, with their operative Blind Pew, are tailing Yellowbeard and his band of merry men, and they are being tailed by Bolson Moon and Gilbert.
Finally, after running around this way and that, they go to Portsmouth to get a ship.
The Doctor, Dan, Lord Lamborne, and Yellowbeard go, tailed by the royal navy and Mister Moon and Gilbert, but Yellowbeard gets distracted in a house of ill repute. In the meantime, Moon and Gilbert notice a press gang, who are ‘recruiting’ by force, drunks and vagrants, persuading them to become sailors. The man in charge of the press gang remotely looks like Moon, minus the hook, and Moon and Gilbert knock him out, and take his clothes. Then Moon, now Bolson Moon, “persuades” Dan, the Doctor and Lamborne to come on their ship, by knocking them out. Yellowbeard sees this, and the chase is on! He stows away in the animal pen of the ships hold, and the ship, The Lady Edith, sets sail.
Captian Hughes, played by the indomitable James Mason, is in charge of the ship. A stern captain, he tolerates no dissent. For example, he asks if anyone is “reluctant to serve”. One man says “I, captain”, and the captain promptly shoots him! Another man laughs, when Captain Hughes is introducing his first mate, Mister Prostitute (who is a prostitute, and a woman, but with a moustache), and his foot is nailed to the deck. All the captain’s first mates are involved in discipline, especially Mister Crisp. At one point, Mister Crisp bullies Dan, and Dan fights back, with no effect whatever, as Mister Crisp knocks him out. Suddenly Yellowbeard appears, and kills Mister Crisp. Later, Dan says he doesn’t remember killing Mister Crisp, and Mister Moon says, “That’s what it’s like, killing…”
So, they set sail, followed by the royal navy frigate with Commander Clement, who has taken Betty along on the voyage, since she is in on the plan, and has seen the map.
Yellowbeard manages to keep out of sight, and Mister Moon organizes a mutiny against the captain, setting him adrift, Mutiny on the Bounty style, in a lifeboat with Mister Prostitute and a few hand picked men. They make Dan the captain of the ship (thanks to Gilbert, who is a master of disguise and cunning, who goads the crew into voting for Dan). In the evening, Yellowbeard changes course to the island, and the voyage continues.
They spot a ship following them, the royal navy frigate, which then hoist the French flag to disguise themselves. The Edith pirate ship fires on them, and Yellowbeard comes out of hiding to shoot the cannon so skillfully, into their main mast, crippling them for the time being. In the mean time, Lamborne and the doctor sight land, the island where the treasure is! Of course, it is El Nebuloso’s island, as he survived with enough treasure to start his own country full of oddly self-righteous priest-warriors. They head out onto the island with a “foraging party”, consisting of Dan, the doctor, and Lamborne and a few crew. In a battle that ensues, the priests take Dan prisoner, and bring him to El Nebuloso, who has succeeded in making a punishment machine to torture his victims. This torture chair is surrounded by a pond of acid that dissolves everything except gold. Dan is now in this machine, awaiting the torture, when he meets El Nebuloso’s daughter, Triola. She says, “I think I love you”, when he tells her of the treasure.
The doctor and Lamborne then try to get reinforcements to storm the castle, but find they don’t need any, as Yellowbeard is on the scene! Killing the priests at will, the scene is spied from the castle by El Nebuloso and his sidekick. They determine to trap Yellowbeard by letting him win the little battles by having his priests feign death, by acting. So, Yellowbeard, followed by the doctor and Lamborne, “fight” their way into the castle’s defenses, Yellowbeard actually killing men, and the other two thinking they are.
The doctor has found a rare tropical plant whose extract can paralyze a man if stabbed with a pen coated with one drop of this poison. They enter the castle, and El Nebuloso springs his trap, only to be foiled by Yellowbeard and the doctor. With all the men paralyzed or dead, El Nebuloso has nothing to do but to try and use Dan as a hostage.
Reveling in his triumph, El Nebuloso is foiled by Yellowbeard, who scares him right into the acid! Of course, the story isn’t ended yet, as Mister Moon and his gang end up coming to the castle for a classic sword fight. Yellowbeard, as he fights him, informs him that he’s going to “make him eat both his own buttocks”! At a critical moment in the fight, Yellowbeard hands Moon over to Dan to fight, as he goes off to find the treasure.
Dan, helped by Triola and the doctor, manage to send both Moon and Gilbert into the acid bath. Now, nothing is stopping Dan and Yellowbeard from finding the treasure.
As Yellowbeard tries to recreate and remember what he did when burying the treasure, “stagger, stagger, and crawl crawl, roll, stagger, stagger…” Dan comes up to check on his progress. Yellowbeard chews him out for making him lose his place, and then tells him that Dan couldn’t be his son, as he isn’t “pirate material”. Dan asks him why he betrayed him back in the fight, and Yellowbeard tells him that it’s a “pirate thing…if you don’t know about betrayal, you aren’t even close to being a pirate”. He promptly takes out his sword and scalps Dan, monk style, and reveals the map. With no trouble at all, they dig down and find the treasure. Elated, Dan, the doctor and Lamborne and Mr. Beard open the chest and delight in the treasure, but Yellowbeard, holding a golden knife pointed inward, is hugged by Dan, killing Yellowbeard. At this moment, the royal navy arrives, commandeer the treasure, and arrest the conspirators.
On the way home to England, Commander Clement, Mansell, and Triola decide that, now laden and rich with treasure, could go off and do what they like, since the queen and the British government wouldn’t have any idea of where they are, or if they found the treasure. At that moment, Yellowbeard, Dan, Lamborne and the doctor crash through the windows of the captain’s quarters, and take the ship and the treasure, as Dan says, “Us Yellowbeards are never more dangerous, than when we’re dead”.
So, there you have it, a long synopsis, and now to the review. The things I like in this film are the cast, the acting, the complex comedy plot and dialogue, and the music.
What I like about his movie.
I have to say that this film is worth seeing just for the diverse cast that acts it, and for the acting in it. Marty Feldman, Peter Boyle, Peter Cook, Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Madeline Kahn, and James Mason are just some of the cast members of this cool and funny movie. How they got James Mason to play in this particular comedy, I don’t know. The casting agent has to be given an award for the most diverse cast in this one! The doctor, played by Michael Horndern, is a Shakespearean actor, and is quite excellent. Graham Chapman does a fantastic job as Yellowbeard, as he is both witty and commanding as a screen prescience. I also liked Peter Cook in this as Lord Lamborne, the comical drunkard who is always hallucinating, and when not hallucinating, doesn’t know if what he sees is real or not. John Cleese is stupendous as Blind Pew, and I wish his character lasted the whole movie, rather than being cleverly killed off in the first half hour. Eric Idle is great as the proper poncey little git, Commander Clement. Mason is great as the captain, worthy of a Captain Blight award. Madeline Kahn is great as English Betty, who always wants a “cuddle”, even if Yellowbeard calls it “rape”. Marty Feldman is great in this movie as Gilbert. He shows up in the least likely places, and is a master of disguise, and the way this is portrayed is very clever indeed.
The complex comedic plot and dialogue are another aspect of the film that I adore.
The back and forth, here and there, willy nilly plot development and character development are great. The use of satire, comedic irony, allusion, sarcasm, transposed and latent humor, cheesy slapstick, one liners, spoofs, skits, and japes all add to the general fun and enjoyment of this movie. The dialogue is great, with little bits like Blind Pew saying, “I have acute hearing” and Eric Idle responding “I don’t care what kind of jewelry you have”, making you smile all along. Lamborne and the Doctor saying in response to the fact that they are on an island : “I thought this was an isthmus or an atoll—no, not at all”, or when Yellowbeard is being given a new name, he yells out he wants to be called “Professor Rape….Professor Death….”, but is satisfied with “Professor Anthrax”.
Lastly, I love the original music that was scored for the film. John Morris does a fantastic job in this aspect, and the music is majestic enough to be put to any exciting adventure, particularly any pirate or sea dog film.
What I don’t like about this film.
It doesn’t seem that Cheech and Chong should be in this picture. They appear totally out of place and the parts that they act are seemingly badly written, and poorly acted. Perhaps that was the intention of it, to intentionally have these guys play admittedly forced and contrived acting roles and parts. Even if this were the case, it doesn’t really work for me, that part. That is why I chop off one star from making it a 5-star film.
One more comment about “Yellowbeard”. While not having the total feel of Monty Python movie, perhaps a tamed down version of one, this movie seems to be related to other movies of its sub genre of the time like “Time Bandits”, “Erik the Viking”, and even Roman Polanski’s “Pirates”(actually it seems to be a combination of those films in a sense). I do quite like it, however.
So, all in all, if you like a little chuckle, and a smile on your face, and a little bit of fond memories (since so many cast members are no longer with us, from Graham Chapman, Madeline Kahn, Mary Feldman, and James Mason), and even fond mammories, check out “Yellowbeard”. You’ll definitely enjoy it, as I did!
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Viewing Format: VHS
Suitability For Children: Suitable for Children Age 13 and Older