DVD: Abbott and Costello Meet Captain Kidd
Release Date: April 1, 2011
Movies make strange bedfellows. Where else but Hollywood could you have the legendary Orson Welles doing the voice of a character based on a children’s toy? Or see a movie where Superman teams up with Richard Pryor? Those are some weird casting decisions, but they hardly compare to the oddity that is Abbott and Costello Meet Captain Kidd. Bud and Lou had met plenty of people in their popular film series, including Dracula and the Wolfman, but this time they are co-starring with Oscar winner Charles Laughton. The man who set the benchmark for historical figures with his portrayals of Henry the VIII and Captain Bligh plays Captain Kidd with pratfalls and deadpan humor.
For years the movie has been popular on the black market with film collectors. Fans of Laughton wanted to see him tweaking his regal image by playing a buffoon. It was also sought after by Abbott and Costello fans since it was the only movie the duo made in color and was one of the few not available on DVD. For those fans this disc is a marked improvement over the pirated versions. It has been re-mastered so that there are no glitches or graininess to the image. The colors are slightly garish, not because of the re-mastering process, but because it was originally filmed in SuperCineColor instead of the superior (and more expensive) Technicolor. This is a clear “must have” for Abbottt and Costello fans and Laughton lovers, but for everyone else I’m afraid the actually movie is more interesting than good.
Once you strip away the film history and pedigree you’re not left with much. By this point in their career, Abbottt and Costello had turned out thirty films along with weekly radio and television shows, so it’s understandable that they seem bored by this rehash of pratfalls and old routines. It feels like they are just padding the script in order to reach the end. The result is the cinematic equivalent of a bad high school term paper struggling to reach the world count. The 70-minute film features six musical interludes that aren’t particularly interesting and, even worse, aren’t even trying to be funny. There’s also a romantic subplot that might as well be taking place in another movie since it has nothing to do with the plot of this one.
Those things are almost overcome by Charles Laughton’s enthusiasm. It’s a shame he didn’t do more comedy since he clearly shows that he has the skills for it. I’m not even sure if half his lines were supposed to be jokes, but the way he says them, offhandedly and without any comic mugging at the punch line, makes me laugh. Unfortunately there is too much padding and not enough Laughton to really make this a clear recommendation.
However, I do have to praise the Warner Archive for even releasing this long lost gem. It isn’t going to impress most people, but it is sure to hit the sweet spot for many fans who have been wanting it to complete their collections or to just marvel in the oddness of the on-screen pairing.