By Jeffrey M. Anderson
From the looks of it, Abbott and Costello Meet Captain Kidd must have been something of an event movie in 1952. It features some glorious color cinematography by Stanley Cortez, who shot The Magnificent Ambersons and would go onto shoot The Night of the Hunter. It features the beloved, Oscar-winning scenery chewer Charles Laughton in a major role (did Laughton and Cortez meet for the first time on this movie?). It “introduces” the “spicy songstress” Fran Warren, who had a fairly short career. And, though nobody knew it at the time, the second unit director, Robert Aldrich, would go on to an amazing career filled with dark dramas.
It has songs, action and comedy, and it runs a speedy 70 minutes; everything is geared toward a good time. You can picture tons of young A&C fans buying their tickets and coming away feeling very satisfied. (As far as I can tell, Abbott and Costello were listed among the top ten box office stars during this time, but none of their individual films seems to have cracked the lists of the highest-grossing movies.)
The plot is vaguely similar to that of Africa Screams (1949). ‘Puddin’ head’ (Lou Costello) and Rocky (Bud Abbott) reside in a seaport town where Captain Kidd (Laughton, who had played the role before, in 1945) lands. Puddin’ is entrusted to deliver a love note from Lady Jane (Warren) to singer Bruce Martingale (Bill Shirley), but the note gets mixed up with a treasure map of Skull Island. So Puddin and Rocky wind up on Kidd’s pirate ship, bound for the island. Bruce is shanghaied and joins them. Also on board is the sexy Captain Bonney (Hillary Brooke) who has entered into a shaky business deal with Kidd over the treasure. And of course, Lady Jane eventually joins the ragtag crew for a couple of songs.
Laughton doesn’t quite seem to know what to do with himself here. His humor is usually verbal, and his attempts to match with Abbott and Costello’s slapstick don’t always come off. However, when he’s on, he’s on and he gets as many laughs as Costello does. Overall, the big production seems to keep the comedy team on their toes, and, while this never reaches the highs of their best films, it also feels a lot less lazy than their worst efforts.
Warner Home Video has released a no-frills DVD on their Warner Archive label, and the quality is quite good. It has no extras.