Abbott and Costello Meet Captain Kidd (1952)
Release Date: December 27th, 1952 MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: Charles Lamont Actors: Bud Abbott, Lou Costello, Charles Laughton, Hillary Brooke, Bill Shirley, Fran Warren
ike a staging at the Pirates of the Caribbean Disneyland ride, Tortuga presents plenty of women (always chased by drunken brutes), random sword fighting, and roughhousing for no good reason. It also features singing barmaids dressed in skull-and-crossbones hats and Peter Pan shorts, accompanied by Bruce Martingale (Bill Shirley) and cantankerous Captain William Kidd (an overweight, burly, swollen-eyed, tousled-haired Charles Laughton) at the Deaths Head Tavern, causing a ruckus for the poor servers bringing him his supper. Two of those food preparers are Rocky Stonebridge (Bud Abbott) and Puddin’ Head Feathergill (Lou Costello), who accidentally ruin the meal. During the altercation, Puddin’ Head switches a love letter from Lady Jane (Fran Warren) with a priceless treasure map of Skull Island, foiling a plan by Kidd and his new partner Captain Bonney (“The Abbott and Costello Show” regular Hillary Brooke) to steal some booty.
Posing as pirate captains, Rocky and Puddin’ Head agree to accompany Kidd on Bonney’s ship, but are quickly found out and shackled. The love letter, originally intended for Bruce, continues to get switched, lost, and mistaken for the treasured map, while Martingale is shanghaied and taken aboard the vessel with the rest of the pirates. When Bonney’s ship successfully sinks an enemy merchant vessel, Lady Jane is captured, reuniting her with her secret lover – Bruce.
Abbott and Costello take up their usual shtick, failing to invent anything surprisingly new for their adventures on the high seas. Soap ends up in freshly prepared meals, Abbott plays mind games with an unwitting Costello (he, in turn, mocks but obeys), and food is dumped onto the heads of unsuspecting passerby. There’s also a lot of screaming, crying, shouting, and smacking exchanged between the duo and Kidd, along with the typical running-into-things slapstick and gags involving swords and cannons. The funniest physical skit involves Puddin’ collapsing when he picks up Lady Jane.
Perhaps the most unsettling inclusion is the bevy of generic musical numbers that fill up screentime, slow down the pace, and make the action just that much less adventuresome. The subplot with Bruce and Lady Jane surreptitiously keeping up their romance creates an excuse for singing, but doesn’t add to the story in any way – especially since Jane isn’t a love interest for either of the two lead characters. Songs transition almost every location change; all are lighthearted but pointless, working against the humor of Abbott and Costello’s expected routines, with several breaks taken to highlight Warren and Shirley’s duets.
Since everything about the film is substandard, Charles Laughton also seems to be taking a vacation from his usual, more esteemed works, despite reprising his role as Kidd from 1945. This newer, spoofed version is even more outrageous, and purposefully so, but preposterous enough that it doesn’t contrast well with the purely daffy nature of Bud and Lou. It’s somewhat of a competition, with everyone trying to over-exaggerate emotions or dialogue and outrageously overact, but no one is truly funny. This isn’t entirely unexpected, considering the famous team of Abbott and Costello were already heading towards the end of their careers. It’s also odd that as 1945’s “Captain Kidd” wasn’t a particularly well-received film, Laughton’s role was chosen for reprising in this comedy – seven years later.
– Mike Massie