Warner Bros. // 1952 // 70 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron // April 27th, 2011
They're Raising Cain on the Bounding Main
They say that from 1942 until 1952, Abbott and Costello were the number one box office draw in America, as well as the most popular comedy team of their specific era. Anyone looking for a reason why they suddenly dropped out of the cinematic top spot need seek no more substantial evidence than the duo's depressingly awful Abbott and Costello Meet Captain Kidd. This gangrenous children's matinee fodder, about as funny as the constipated look on co-star Charles Laughton's face, marks a decided downturn in their career canon. It tells you something about how suspect this film was/is that Universal, the boys' major studio backer and financer at the time, would not give them the money to make it in color. Using a clause in their contract, the duo made the film independently, and the results definitely look like something crafted far out of the system. Sets are shabby (except the opening port town, which resembles a real life set-piece from the Pirates of the Caribbean theme attraction) and the use of stock footage to fill out the "epic" sea battles is laughable...and the only thing worth giggling over here, by the way.
Costello plays Puddin' and Abbott is his long suffering pal Rocky. They are waiters in a lowly tavern along the typical Tortuga type shipping lanes. One night, Captain Kidd (Charles Laughton, The Night of the Hunter) comes in for a meeting with the blond buccaneer Captain Bonney (Hillary Brooke, Invaders from Mars). She is mad that he has hijacked a treasure that rightfully belongs to her. After a few bottles of wine, he agrees to share the booty with her. In the meantime, a map to Kidd's secret atoll falls into our daffy duo's hands. In its place, the notorious cutthroat finds a love letter from Lady Jane (Fran Warren) to her beau, the pub singer Bruce (Bill Shirley, I Dream of Jeannie). Through typical b-movie happenstance, everyone ends up on a ship bound for Skull Island, with lots of romance, ridiculously bad show tunes, and routine slapstick along the way.
Unless you are a completist, carefully collecting everything that Bud Abbott and Lou Costello ever did in the name of a dollar or a desire to entertain, you should really skip this crappy curio. The guys are not in good form, the script it all over the map, Laughton looks lost and frequently frustrated with what he has to do, and just when you think things can't get any worse, co-star Leif Erikson and the rest of the so-called scurvy scallywags break into songs that would make the American Idol auditions process seem like a gala at the Met. Abbott and Costello Meet Captain Kidd is about as lame a look back as one can experience, a borrowed and copycat production which sees the pair forgo verbal flourishes for material made more memorable by competing clowns The Three Stooges. From the soap in the soup routine which sees Laughton, Brooke, and Costello belching à la Lawrence Welk, to the "digging in the dirt" bit on Skull Island, everything feels recycled and previously pilfered. There is nary an original thought here, never a moment when we view Abbott and Costello as the formidable funny men of Hollywood history. Not every title in their resume is ripe for celebration, but this stillborn sea chantey is about as satisfying as a tall glass of brackish salt water.
Since it is being released as part of Warner Brothers Archive Collection, consumers already have their emptor caveated over the potential DV-R release -- and with good reason. There is no remastering involved here, the cheap color stock looking dull and lifeless thanks to time. Don't be fooled by the front or back cover -- the 1.33:1 full screen image would have to be dipped in paint to be as bright and vibrant as the still photos suggest. As for other age-inspired elements, be prepared for some dust, scratches, and the occasional soft or muddy moment. These transfers are always tricky, and the WB's take on this title is no different. On the sound side of things, the Dolby Digital mono mix is thin and tinny -- just what you'd expect from such an old film. As usual, there are no extras.
For "Who's On First?" alone, Abbott and Costello stand out as one of the definitive comic duos of the 20th Century. During their tenure, they also made some terrific movies. Sadly, this meeting with Laughton's famed Captain Kidd is not one of them. Not by a bilge rat's tail.
Guilty. Rather unseaworthy.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 70 Minutes
Release Year: 1952
MPAA Rating: Not Rated