For twelve years, Yellowbeard (Graham Chapman) has looted the Spanish Main, making men eat their lips and swallow their hearts. Caught and convicted -- for tax evasion! -- he's sentenced to 20 years in St. Victim's Prison for the Extremely Naughty. In a scheme to confiscate his fabulous treasure, the Royal Navy allows him to escape and follows him to the Spanish Main, where saucy tarts, lisping demigods and some awful puns and punishments await. Starring a who's who of comic cutups and cutthroats including Graham Chapman, Eric Idle, John Cleese, Cheech and Chong, Marty Feldman, Peter Cook, Madeline Kahn and more!!!
Those who have first found success within a group are burdened with the unfair expectations of the past when moving forward on their own. It's frequently seen with musicians trying to make a go of a solo career or actors leaving a TV show with varying degrees of success, with Sting leaving the Police on one end of the spectrum and David Caruso leaving 'NYPD Blue' on the other.
Naturally, the same thing happened to the members of the British comedy troupe Monty Python. With his TV series 'Fawlty Towers' and the movie 'A Fish Called Wanda', John Cleese is considered by many fans to have had the greatest comedic success outside the group. Graham Chapman arguably had the least success of the sextet, but that's due in part to his being the first member to die, which occurred back on October 4, 1989 due to tonsil and spinal cancer. This cut his career options dramatically.
His first and last starring feature film role post-Python was the title character Yellowbeard from a script he co-wrote. He also had the misfortune of competing against himself with it being released less than three months after 'Monty Python's The Meaning of Life' hit theaters. Fellow Pythons John Cleese and Eric Idle appeared in 'Yellowbeard' but had little good to say about it. In fact, on a DVD extra for 'Clockwise,' Cleese described it as "one of the six worst films made in the history of the world."
The fiendish Yellowbeard was jailed for 20 years on tax evasion charges, but his vast stolen treasure was never found. Commander Clement (Idle) of the Royal Navy hatches a plan to follow the pirate when he goes after it. Former first mate Mr. Moon (Peter Boyle) is also in pursuit of the treasure of his captain's booty. Yellowbeard finds his wife Betty (Madeline Kahn), who had been holding the map, but discovers she lost it in a fire. He also learns they had a son together named Dan (Martin Hewitt), upon whose head the map is now tattooed, so off they go.
While 'Yellowbeard' isn’t as bad as Cleese makes it out to be, it suffers because it tries to be both a comedy and an adventure film but doesn’t deliver in either category. In addition to the comedians already mentioned above, the cast also included Cheech & Chong, Marty Feldman, and Peter Cook. With such a funny cast, the limited number of laughs is surprising. And if released today, the internet would be littered with essays and comments about the high number of rape jokes, but the jokes don’t seem to be making light of rape but rather the whitewashing of pirates in movies when compared to history. The action scenes are serviceable but never wow the viewer, so that's why the adventure aspect is underwhelming. If ever a film felt like it wasted its potential, 'Yellowbeard' is on that list.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Olive Films releases 'Yellowbeard' on a 25 GB Region A Blu-ray disc in a standard blue case. The discs boot up directly to the menu screen without any promotional advertisements.
The video has been given a 1080p/AVC-MPEG-4 encoded transfer displayed at 1.85:1. As the film opens, the colors reveal dull hues. Blacks are rich, but they tend to crush, as revealed in the first scene with Cheech & Chong inside the Captain's room. The shadow delineation is poor in low-light scenes.
Film grain is apparent. Sharpness is not consistent between scenes. Close-ups tend to offer better detail. When scenes are shot on the island exterior, the quality of color, sharpness and detail noticeably improves. The white and black specks on display during the opening credits are distracting, but are only an issue during that part of the film. Banding occurs on the walls of Betty's room when she is talking with Clement.
The audio is available in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0. Dialogue is consistently clear, except when intentionally affected by the effects. The score is full bodied, and together, the three sound elements are blended for a balanced mix. The track delivers a good dynamic range with a loud end that contains some good bass rumble during the fighting sequences. The only negative is when Harvey 'Blind' Pew (Cleese) listens as Moon enters the tavern, there's a brief moment of feedback.
I wouldn't recommend 'Yellowbeard', but for the curious fan of Python or pirate movies, it's not a complete waste of time. The A/V presentation is adequate, and mirrors the movie in not offering much to wow the viewer.