Yellowbeard (1983), or I Know How It Feels To Be A Pirate

31 07 2009

It’s not easy being a pirate like Graham Chapman in today’s feature. I should know. I was a pirate earlier this week. At the bookstore I work at, I was chosen to portray the haunting, evocative character of Bookbeard the Pirate for some children and their pirate-themed party. Why Bookbeard, you ask? Why such a clunky, nonsensical, incongruous name? Well, I was joking about it with the party’s organizer, spouting out names like Beardbeard and Davy Jones’ cousin Wendell, when I said, “What are we gonna call this guy? BOOKBEARD?! HA HO HEE!” Little did I know that not only is my laugh very strange, as seen in my above quote, but they were actually serious about that name. It doesn’t sound so bad, but when you have a five year old coming up and asking you WHY you’re called Bookbeard, you instantly regret it. So I forgive Graham Chapman; coming up with pirate humor for 90 minutes has to be a nightmare (I could barely hold on to the kids for 45 before I just had to run away out of sheer terror). Yellowbeard is an experiment of bold proportions, melding American and British humor to try to appeal to a bigger audience, but it fails because it never goes far enough in one direction. It leaves you wanting constantly, and that’s pretty low, even for a pirate.

It focuses on Captain Yellowbeard, a pirate captain who was the nastiest bugger around. After 20 years in prison for tax evasion (HA!), he finally escapes and goes looking for the treasure that he hid 20 years prior that he stole from the Spanish armada. He rounds up a ragtag bunch to try and recover it, but little does he know that the Royal Navy has set a trap for him so that they might take the treasure for themselves. Along the way, they come across a number of strange characters, weirdos, and freaks, and together they get into a bunch of malarkey while Yellowbeard gets in touch with his loser intellectual son that adds up to a lot of goofy British situations. Huzzah!

It’s a really basic premise, and not something that I don’t appreciate, considering just how complicated British comedy can be. It’s just that it seems rather forced. Normally, a British comedy like Monty Python will make a groove within its own dry British universe, having even unnatural things appear somewhat normal by proxy of all the other wacky shit going on. But this idea falls prey to its own purported strength; the addition of American comedy. These are obviously not good bedfellows. It turns an otherwise fun and silly adventure comedy into a bit of a clunker.

Here are some examples:

Blind Pew: I may be blind, but I have acute ‘earing!

Commander Clement: I’m not interested in your jewelery, cloth eyes!

Lord Lambourn: I thought this was an atoll.

Dr. Gilpin: Not at all.

Yellowbeard: I’m sure I killed the last one I raped, it can’t have been you.

Betty: Well, the afterplay was a bit on the rough side, but not fatal, dear. (!!!!)

Yes, there is a lot of rape humor here. I counted more than 5 rape jokes! If you’re one of those people who feel that the word rape is never funny in any context whatsoever, then do not watch this movie. But if you can disassociate the real kind of rape from this pseudo-pirate stereotype jargon, then you might get a laugh at the sheer audacity of the jokes!

And another note; the DVD box has comedy duo Cheech and Chong prominently. I mean, look at it:

I think there might be some other people in this movie, but I cant see them very well from this distance...

I think there might be some other people in this movie, but I can't see them very well from this distance...

And let me tell you, their part is nowhere NEAR important enough to justify, well, lording over the rest of the cast like disembodied and mighty gods of old. I found this to be some of their most lackluster output in the 80s, out of what I’ve seen, so beware C+C fans: there is not enough of them here at peak performance to justify buying this.

Yellowbeard is an oddity among comedy. Not American enough to work, and not British enough to work, it sticks around in a weird, offbeat limbo, with some people calling it brilliant, some people calling it disastrous, and most people not knowing or caring about the picture at all. But I forgive Yellowbeard for all its faults because of its stellar cast, including… umm… uhh… well, Cheech and Chong are in it. Either way, I give Yellowbeard 5 rape jokes out of 10!

Tomorrow I go out to see the new highly anticipated Apatow flick Funny People! Until then!!!

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