Yellowbeard (1983) – A Review

Yellowbeard 1983 pirate comedy Graham Chapman

Graham Chapman in Yellowbeard

A jam-packed pirate movie with a galleon of comedic actors that could give It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad Mad World a run for its money.

Notorious pirate Yellowbeard (Graham Chapman) has broken out of prison and is determined to find his long buried treasure. He’s not the only one who wants to get his hands on his loot. There’s also an assortment of characters who are want to get their mitts on Yellowbeard’s fortune.

It’s all hands on deck as comedic hijinks ensue with a huge cast of recognizable funny faces (Peter Boyle, Eric Idle, Peter Cook, John Cleese, Madeline Khan, Marty Feldman, Kenneth Mars, Cheech Marin, Tommy Chong…and more!)who attempt to bring the funny to this pirate comedy. 

Yellowbeard is almost a hybrid of a Monty Python/Mel Brooks/Cheech & Chong comedy. A lot of the same faces who fans are familiar with from those films are brought in, along with some new ones. Plus, even a few surprising cameos. 

Unfortunately, for all the comedic cannons onboard, Yellowbeard simply walks the plank and makes a very quiet gulp down to Davy Jones’ locker. This ship sinks pretty darn fast.

Yellowbeard 1983 pirate comedy castThere’s very little laughs to be found in Yellowbeard and the film becomes more of an oddity than an enjoyable comedic adventure. I recall watching it quite a bunch back in my youthful cable days. There was a point in the early 1980’s when Yellowbeard was on consistent rotation on HBO and was one of those films I would see time and time again.

Rewatching it I became more and more fascinated by the production itself than anything that was going on onscreen. What was going on behind the scenes? How did they get so many recognizable funny stars to agree to spend their time participating to make it? That makes more of an intriguing story than the one the movie tells.

It’s a simple enough story – a hodge podge of characters are after a buried treasure. It’s another comparison that can be made to It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.

But while that’s the elemental focal point to base around the comedic antics, none of the characters have anything funny to do while on the hunt for this treasure. Everyone becomes increasingly more and more desperate to latch onto something even remotely comical. It becomes a slog waiting for some laughs, but they never come. Yellowbeard wades slowly to a finish and you’re left thinking – WHAT A WASTE! that should’ve been SOOO MUCH BETTER!

The roles and parts aren’t really that important to cover, you only have to know everyone is after the loot. It becomes surprisingly, really incredibly boring at points. Chong has a weird lisp and talks like Sylvester the Cat. Boyle tries to get laughs from having a hook on his hand. Cook and Idle tag along with zero wit showing. The biggest contribution Feldman made to Yellowbeard is giving it the piece of trivia that it was his final film by dying during the production.

Yellowbeard 1983 pirate comedy Graham Chapman Peter BoyleChapman does continuous rape jokes. Kahn plays along with them.

“It’s been twenty years since we had a little cuddle. “I raped ya, if that’s what you mean.’ “Okay. It was half-cuddle, half-rape.”

Really, Cleese is the only one who has a few amusing moments as a blind man. He supposedly said Yellowbeard is “one of the six worst films ever made in the history of the world.” And you’ll see a cameo by David Bowie and left scratching your head as to how James Mason got shanghaied into this. 

It’s the cast list that is really the attraction and is worth noting from Yellowbeard. Yet, none of them have anything funny to do. There’s no standout scenes. No quote worthy lines. No memorable gags. It’s almost like they thought by just getting funny people to appear in the film would be enough for a comedy.. It just isn’t. It flogs around and becomes an awfully boring, quiet adventure. 

Yellowbeard 1983 comedy cast Cleese Chapman Cheech Chong Kahn Idle

Some of the comedic talents in Yellowbeard

It’s an amazing arsenal of talent, but their all left firing laughing blanks. I think it might be worth knowing of Yellowbeard’s existence, since so many funny people appeared in it. I keep repeating it, but it’s really an impressive array of talent on camera. As for finding much entertainment from it, I wouldn’t hold my breath.

I will say the ships actually look pretty nice. They’re like something you would see from the golden age of Hollywood sea faring epics. As for the comedy, there’s plenty of lowbrow and silly humor if that’s your thing.

James Mason in Yellowbeard 1983 pirate comedyThis doesn’t come close to touching the beloved films of Monty Python, Mel Brooks or Cheech and Chong comedies. This is like leftover rubbish from those films that would’ve been chucked in the bin. Most of it is not even worthy for an outtake reel.

It’s sort of like if you met all of these actors at a boring dinner party where everyone is only there because they had to make an appearance. They’ve all already decided this evening is going to be a chore and some place they don’t want to be, they aren’t going to make any effort to enjoy themselves or try to liven things up and they all just want to head for the door. 

Yellowbeard bombed at box office, has become an odd footnote in the annals of cinematic comedy. There are a few chuckles, many more awkward silences and parts that are flat-out cringy. It could have been great, but Yellowbeard ended up being pretty bad and a huge comedic miss.

 

Mark Kermode sharing a few thoughts about Yellowbeard

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