Yellowbeard is a 1983 British comedy film directed by Mel Damski and written by Graham Chapman, Peter Cook, Bernard McKenna and David Sherlock, with an ensemble cast featuring Chapman, Cook, Peter Boyle, Cheech & Chong, Martin Hewitt, Michael Hordern, Eric Idle, Madeline Kahn, James Mason and John Cleese, and the final cinematic appearances of Marty Feldman and Peter Bull.
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Mel Damski|
|Produced by||Carter De Haven|
|Music by||John Morris|
|Edited by||William H. Reynolds|
|Distributed by||Orion Pictures|
|Box office||$4.3 million|
The pirate Yellowbeard (Chapman) is incarcerated for 20 years for tax evasion. He survives the sentence, but has not disclosed the whereabouts of his vast treasure. The Royal Navy hatches a plot to increase his sentence by 140 years, knowing that he will escape to set out for his treasure. He does so, recruiting a motley crew of companions. He had left a map of the treasure in the chimney of his wife's pub, but she burned it. She then tells Yellowbeard that she had the map tattooed on their son's head. Things go wrong when his traitorous former bosun Mr. Moon (Boyle) takes over the ship. With the Head of the British Secret Service (Idle) hot on their trail, they eventually find the island, where the terrible despot "El Nebuloso" (Chong) and his majordomo "El Segundo" (Cheech) have taken residence with the treasure, and the battle for the prize commences.
- Graham Chapman as Captain Yellowbeard
- Peter Boyle as Moon
- Cheech Marin as El Segundo
- Tommy Chong as El Nebuloso
- Peter Cook as Lord Lambourn
- Marty Feldman as Gilbert
- Martin Hewitt as Dan
- Michael Hordern as Dr. Gilpin
- Eric Idle as Commander Clement
- Madeline Kahn as Betty
- James Mason as Captain Hughes
- John Cleese as Harvey 'Blind' Pew
- Kenneth Mars as Mr. Crisp and Verdugo
- Spike Milligan as Flunkie
- Stacey Nelkin as Triola
- Nigel Planer as Mansell
- Susannah York as Lady Churchill
- Beryl Reid as Lady Lambourn
- Ferdy Mayne as Mr. Beamish
- Peter Bull as Queen Anne
- Bernard Fox as Tarbuck
- Nigel Stock as Admiral
- Monte Landis as Prison Guard
- Greta Blackburn as Mr. Prostitute
- David Bowie as The Shark (uncredited)
Peter Cook remembered "It all started when Keith Moon, Sam Peckinpah, Graham Chapman and myself were dining at Trader Vic's. Keith suggested doing a movie about pirates and we were all discussing it and being enthusiastic, when I saw Sam, who was too tired to actually go to the lavatory, relieving himself in the artificial palm tree by the table. It was then that I thought the whole thing was rather unlikely to get off the ground."
The original concept for the film was funded by Chapman's close friend Moon, who wanted to play the lead role, but was dropped early on because of his deteriorating health.
The film has a complicated development history, largely due to the amount of time taken to get funding. There are at least four versions of the script drafts. The one that is "truest to Chapman and McKenna's original version" is published in the book Yellowbeard: High Jinks on the High Seas. Major differences between Chapman and McKenna's script, and that altered at Hollywood's request, are that the original has less emphasis on minor characters, and more emphasis on the overall plot. Cook is credited as a writer because in October 1980, Chapman asked Cook to help with one of the rewrites.
Among the bewildering number of changes was the change of the lead from Adam Ant to Sting to Martin Hewitt. Adam Ant was frustrated with production delays and quit. Sting wanted to play the role, but the Hollywood producers thought the film was becoming too British. Hewitt is quoted as saying that "Sting should have had my part. For crying out loud, I would have hired Sting over me any day."
Chapman's friend Harry Nilsson created a preliminary soundtrack, including one song specifically for the film. This was not used, because the producers felt he could not be relied on to finish it.
Three ships in the film were portrayed by Bounty II, built by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer for the 1962 version of Mutiny on the Bounty. The pirate ship was named Edith, after Chapman's mother.
Marty Feldman died of a heart attack while filming in Mexico City in December 1982. His work on the film was nearly finished except for the scene of his character's death, filmed a few days later using a stunt double. Chapman said about Feldman's death: "I try to look at the positive side...I take pleasure knowing that Marty was back on form for his last role."
Chapman was not allowed to assist with the editing, and his comments on the first cut were ignored; these included shortening the credits, so that audience expectation was not too far raised, and making the jokes less obvious.
The film received some praise, with the Los Angeles Times writing that "There are many moments of hilarity here". But it was not a big box-office success, and received mostly negative reviews. Various reasons are suggested, such as the peculiar combination of British and American humour, and it being poorly timed given the movie climate, with other kinds of comedy being popular. DVD Verdict gives it 75 out of 100, but writes "It is, at times, hilarious, and contains all of the pieces of a great comedy. These pieces never come together to make a great film." Roger Ebert gave the film one-and-a-half stars, and said "Yellowbeard is soon over and soon forgotten." On Rotten Tomatoes the film has a 22% approval rating based on reviews from 9 critics.
Cleese played a part out of loyalty to Chapman. He said he found the script to be one of the worst he had read, although it is unclear which version he was referring to. In an interview given in 2001, Cleese described Yellowbeard as "one of the six worst films made in the history of the world".
Eric Idle mentioned Yellowbeard as one of the worst films he has ever made, but said he enjoyed making it. "Sometimes, the best times can be on the worst movies and vice versa, e.g. Yellowbeard, which I wouldn't have missed for the world."
Group Madness documentary
During the production of Yellowbeard, Michael Mileham and Phil Schuman produced and directed a 45-minute behind-the-scenes documentary for Orion Pictures, entitled Group Madness: The Making of Yellowbeard. Mileham said he wanted to make the documentary because Yellowbeard had "more comics in it than any film since [1963's] It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World". Mileham and his crew followed the Yellowbeard filmmakers and cast to locations in England and Mexico, documenting their off-screen antics and interviewing many cast members, including Chapman, Idle, Cleese, Feldman, Boyle, Cook and Kahn.
Near the time of the 1983 release of Yellowbeard, Group Madness was syndicated to 75 television stations in the United States and broadcast only once on NBC on 11 June 1983, pre-empting Saturday Night Live. In the mid-90s, video copies of the documentary could be ordered from Mileham; it was eventually released on DVD in 2007 and later streamed on Amazon.com.
- "Yellowbeard (PG) (CUT)". British Board of Film Classification. 28 July 1983. Retrieved 24 September 2016.
- Yellowbeard at Box Office Mojo
- Peter Cook, speaking about 'Yellowbeard', The Film Yearbook, 1984, p. 135
- Chapman, Graham Yellowbeard: High jinks on the high seas, Carroll & Graf 2005, p. 1
- Chapman, p. 37
- Chapman, p. 9
- Chapman, p. 22
- Chapman, pp. 24-5
- Chapman, p. 32
- Chapman, p. 34
- Judge Joel Pearce (23 June 2006). "DVD Verdict Review - Yellowbeard:". DVD Verdict. Archived from the original on 22 December 2007. Retrieved 7 May 2019.
- Ebert, Roger (24 June 1983). "Yellowbeard (1983)". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 7 May 2019.
- "Yellowbeard". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved 7 May 2019.
- 2001 interview included as an extra on the DVD release of the John Cleese movie Clockwise.
- "You Ask The Questions". The Independent. London. 6 October 1999. Archived from the original on 15 March 2013. Retrieved 7 May 2019.
- ten Cate, Hans (21 December 1995). "Pythonline's Daily Llama News: Michael Mileham's 'Group Madness' a Must-Have For Python Fans!". dailyllama.com. Pythonline's Daily Llama. Archived from the original on 19 August 2011. Retrieved 19 January 2016.
- McCall, Douglas. Monty Python: A Chronology, 1969-2012 (2nd ed.). Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company. p. 96. ISBN 978-0-7864-7811-8.
- "Group Madness:The Making of Yellowbeard". TV Guide. Radnor, Pennsylvania: Triangle Publications. 11 June 1983. Retrieved 19 January 2016.
- The Weedmaster (29 May 2007). "On DVD For the First Time. Group Madness: The Making of Yellowbeard". cheechandchongfan.blogspot.com. Cheech and Chong Fans .com. Archived from the original on 19 January 2016. Retrieved 19 January 2016.
- "Group Madness: The Making of Yellowbeard". Amazon.com. Amazon.com. 2016. Archived from the original on 19 January 2016. Retrieved 19 January 2016.
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