Friday, July 18, 2014

Captain Kidd (1945)

Who's In It: Charles Laughton (Mutiny on the Bounty, The Hunchback of Notre Dame), Randolph Scott (Ride Lonesome, Ride the High Country), Barbara Britton (The Revlon Girl), John Carradine (The House of Dracula, Billy the Kid vs. Dracula), and Reginald Owen (A Christmas Carol).

What's It About: History walks the plank in this version where the pirate William Kidd (Laughton) pretends to go straight in order to escort a British treasure ship back to England. But his plans are complicated not only by the mutual treachery between him and his men (including Carradine), but also by the arrival of a mysterious gunner (Scott) with secret motives of his own.

How It Is: Whenever villains are described in literature as "toadlike," Charles Laughton is the man I think of. Paunchy and blubbery, Laughton isn't a traditional pirate captain, but he's perfect for this role. His Captain Kidd is a scheming, slippery devil who makes up in betrayal what he lacks in brawn.

Pitted against him is Randolph Scott, the straight-shooting Western star who's traded in his six-shooters for a rapier. At first, Scott feels bland as Master Gunner Adam Mercy, but he becomes a great juxtaposition to Kidd. He's not exactly dashing, but he is handsome and honorable and an effective straight man to Laughton's wickedly humorous performance. Scott makes Laughton that much more fun in comparison.

Carradine, on the other hand, serves to give Laughton's Kidd some genuine menace. Carradine exudes danger and deadliness, so seeing him evenly matched and genuinely threatened by Kidd was a constant reminder to take Kidd seriously, even if I was laughing at him.

Rounding out the cast are Barbara Britton and Reginald Owen. Britton plays a noble woman traveling on the treasure ship that Kidd is escorting, but she doesn't have much to do other than raise the stakes for Scott. Owen (most famous to me for playing Ebenezer Scrooge in the 1938 Christmas Carol) is much more fun as a servant hired by Kidd for the doomed task of helping the salty captain appear respectable in polite society. Once everyone's on the same ship, Owen's character is an amusing wild card, since he's a good-hearted fellow, but also has a decent working relationship with the captain.

Captain Kidd isn't a classic of the pirate genre by any means, but Laughton's performance is a joy to watch and there's enough double-crossing and swashbuckling to make the rest of it worthwhile.

Rating: Four out of five hidden caves with buried treasure.

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