Captain Kidd Returns to Upstage A&C

DATELINE: Unexpected Slapstick

  Laughton & Costello!

Almost ten years after his low-budget pirate on the bounding sea as Captain Kidd and 20 years after Bligh’s Mutiny on the Bounty, Charles Laughton jumped at the chance to reprise Captain Kidd. He had also the opportunity to reprise Henry VIII in a movie with Bette Davis as his daughter, Queen Elizabeth. They famously greeted each other as “Father,” and “Daughter,” off screen too.

Now, the irascible Laughton would poke fun at himself and his performance as Captain Kidd confronting scene-stealer emeritus Lou Costello. Perhaps that was the true challenge for Laughton and his Oscar-level talent. He was about to show he could play vaudeville with the best of them.

Abbott & Costello Meet Captain Kidd was another in a long series of features in which the comic duo came across monsters of cinema, historical figures, and pratfalls of comedy.

Dignity knows nothing of being a performer with an audience eating out of their backhand of talent. Laughton was a comedian at heart and could steal a scene before Costello could roll an eye.

We were surprised at how many pratfalls Lou Costello gave. Any barrel he hid within was blown up. The big surprise was Laughton: he took the falls without a stuntman. Chairs were pulled out from under him and he plopped onto the floor, and he fell face first into sand in another. It was noteworthy.

If ever there was something unseemly, it was that this comic version of 1953 was in Technicolor, which was never the case for the earlier Laughton masterpieces. If there was a silver lining on the silver screen of the 1950s, it was that garish color fit the bill. There were plenty of explosions among the song and dance routines.

If ever there was a chance to make a side-trip to Oak Island and bury a treasure, this little pirate satire gave us a vision of outright lunacy. A map in the opening credits could be Oak Island.

You start off with a musical introduction to Laughton as the crew sings and dances on their ship, and Kidd sneers at the mention of women. Yup, Laughton had to love this.

We were mostly appalled.

 

 

 

 

 

Oak Island Treasure Map Revealed!

DATELINE:  Cartography Lunacy

 Skull Island

                             

Templar Island                                   Oak Island

Can it be possible that Abbott and Costello found the treasures of Oak Island with Charles Laughton?

In 1952’s silly trifle about Captain Kidd, the Oscar-winning actor (Laughton, not Costello) owns an island where he has buried treasure and loot, though it is not stated whether the Ark of the Covenant, Spanish dubloons, or Montezuma’s coffin, are among the pickings.

We feel like the Money Pit is within reach!

For reasons beyond ridiculous, Lou Costello manages to confiscate the map and then must be abducted to lead the way to the treasure on the island.

Only a funny thing happened on the way to Skull Island…no, it did not belong to King Kong. It was, in fact, a copy of the notorious Templar map of 1398 that happens to resemble the actual island off Nova Scotia.

Back in the 1950s, long before the Lagina brothers bought the island and made it a hit TV series, it was known as a pirate lair with secrets. Among those interested were President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, swashbuckler Errol Flynn, and cowboy John Wayne. Also interested was Vincent Astor whose father died on the Titanic.

Is this someone’s idea of a joke? It is funny beyond Montezuma’s revenge.

 

Captain Kidding a Kidder

DATELINE: William Kidd

Laughton the Kidd!

 

When Charles Laughton, once Captain Bligh on the Bounty, was given the lead role as the despicable Captain William Kidd, he was both at once perfect for the role and utterly out of his element as a real figure from history.

Like many of his roles of biographical people, he always took on the most notorious. Even in the one movie that was shut down before he finished, he was to play Claudius, the successor to Caligula. He was so associated with Henry VIII that he repeated that role several times.

So, the silly and fictional version of Captain Kiddseemed a bit off, even in 1945. However, by today’s Oak Island buried treasure standards, we have to look at Laughton’s movie villain in a new light.

You must remember this: he was surrounded by great film stars like Gilbert Roland, John Carradine, Reginald Owen, Henry Daniell, and every workable Randolph Scott. He had to be on top of his game to avoid having scenes stolen under his nose.

Scenes are simply juicy confrontations between actors, each more earnest in his biting delivery. Of course, at the eye of this storm of melodrama is Charles Laughton, lending his powerful, clever, sly, obsequious villain. Whether Kidd was ever like this matters not. He should be the way Laughton presents him. Oh, you Kidd.

With a gentleman’s gentleman hired for the task of smoothing out his rough edges, Kidd tries to refine his crudeness with an overlay of charming evil. You might well think that a boy’s adventure movie never had it so good.

Women are not central to this story. You have here a testosterone contest with the mugs mugging.

Laughton’s ship seems only slightly smaller than the Queen Mary—and they spend nearly all their time heading to Madagascar. Kidd’s plan is to take over the estate of a nobleman and show off more than a sow’s ear.

Before you can say double-cross, you may find you have been crossed in quadruple fashion. What an absolutely delightful discovery from the vaults of forgotten black and white movies of 1945.

Old Dark House Mates & Inmates

DATELINE: Over-rated Classic

empty house Ate for Dinner .

Your first reaction to this chestnut of horror comedy is shock at the jaw-dropping cast.

Boris Karloff, Charles Laughton, Melvyn Douglas, Raymond Massey, Gloria Stuart, and Ernest Thesiger!  You have a round-robin of possible villains and victims. The problem is that they are given nothing significant to perform. Even Karloff uses makeup to look menacing, but his dumb waiter is left hanging.

Yeah, it was a dark and stormy night, but that ain’t enough.

James Whale gathered quite a retinue of talent and gave them an empty script in a drafty house.

Billed as an atmospheric thriller comedy, that’s about all this J.B. Priestly story is. With a marvelous cast, and Whale’s shadows and tricks, like a fun house mirror, the plot is ridiculous, throwing a bunch of ingrates caught in a bad torrential rain into a private household as if it’s a flea-bag hotel. T’aint funny.

Here they find their hosts eccentric (well, Horace Femm is Ernest Thesiger, which says it all) and his odd-ball bully sister.

Charles Laughter as Sir William shows up too with a show biz girlfriend, and he is given little to do. Melvyn Douglas is his trademark self, complete with pipe, and Boris Karloff still is given no dialogue yet again in one of his movies. He just looks menacing as Morgan, the scar-faced butler.

We wanted so much for this film to give us a thrill and become a marvel, but we found it disappointing to the ultimate degree—and in no way does it hold up to the other horror tales of the Universal series. This alleged classic is a let-down from the get-go.

 

Scotty’s Secret History of Hollywood

DATELINE: Bowers’ Bow Wow WOW

Cary & Randy

Scotty Bowers wrote a closet-emptying autobiography a few years ago about his career as a gay procurer to the Hollywood elite. Men and women, and the only one left out is Lassie, though he admits to sex with animals too.

He counted Cecil Beaton and Dr. Kinsey as his friends and clients. He offered service for the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, and he confirms dozens of names of those long-suspected of secret sex lives.

A World War II vet and farm boy, he settled in Hollywood in 1945, glamourous and amorous land of fantasies. He worked in a service station with all pumps flowing. His Richfield gas was really Rich Field Gay, and they all drove over to have their engines inspected by his stable of mechanics.

Once Walter Pidgeon recommended him, he was on his way.

Your litany of stars and their peccadilloes is not totally surprising: Cary Grant and Randolph Scott, Charles Laughton, Laurence Olivier, and then the off-camera boys, like George Cukor and Cecil Beaton.

Names are dropped in between a smorgasbord of outed dead stars like Spencer Tracy and Rock Hudson.

A few moralists dispute his integrity for outing people with his kiss and tell book, now movie, but as he points out, it is homophobic to think everyday biography is beyond revelation.

If anything, we were impressed that neither the vice squad of Los Angeles, nor STDs, ever caught up with the culprits. Well, no one is telling about that. His Edenic world came crashing down with age and AIDS in the early 1980s.

Now 90, he is spry and in denial about his age, his situation, and his hoarding. He is independently wealthy from beneficiaries and investments. He did not need the money to do this tell-all.