Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, January 21, 2021


Charles Laughton as Captain Kidd
CAPTAIN KIDD (1945). Director: Rowland V. Lee.

Captain William Kidd (Charles Laughton) presents himself to King William III (Henry Daniell) and is assigned to keep pirates from attacking a British ship filled with booty. Kidd, of course, has other ideas about what to do with that ship. Kidd gathers a crew of cutthroats under sentence and offers them a pardon if they serve on board his ship. One of these men, Adam Mercy (Randolph Scott), hides a secret: that Kidd murdered his father. When the British ship is destroyed and stripped of her bounty, the beautiful Lady Anne (Barbara Britton) is taken aboard -- she and Adam will form a romantic alliance, but getting away from Captain Kidd may not be so easy. 

Laughton with John Carradine
Captain Kidd
 is a good movie with a great lead performance. The movie has humor, and Laughton makes the most of it without ever descending into parody. Although he appears briefly, Daniell is wonderful as the king, and John Carradine is also notable as a not-so-friendly associate of Kidd's. Reginald Owen also has a nice turn as Shadwell, a gentleman's gentleman who has been hired to remove all the considerable rough edges from Kidd -- who desires a peerage -- and who winds up allying himself with Adam and Lady Anne. Although they have a lot to do, Scott and Britton are outclassed in this company. Barbara Britton became better-known for her television work on Mr. and Mrs. North with Richard Denning. Gilbert Roland is one of Kidd's crew, as is Sheldon Leonard, whom I didn't even recognize. 

Verdict: Heavily fictionalized but entertaining look at the infamous alleged pirate with an absolutely marvelous Laughton. ***.  


Charles Laughton as Captain Kidd
ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET CAPTAIN KIDD (1952). Director: Charles Lamont. 

Seven years after playing Captain Kidd in a serious film, Charles Laughton reprised the role in this parody with Bud Abbott (Rocky) and Lou Costello (Puddin' Head). The fellows are working at the Death's Head tavern when Kidd comes in for a meal with lady pirate Ann  Bonney (Hillary Brooke) -- who was a real-life Irish pirate. Bonney and Kidd argue over who gets what of the treasure that has been secreted on Skull island, and Lou winds up possessing a map that shows the location of said treasure. Unfortunately, the map keeps getting confused with a love letter sent by Lady Jane (Fran Warren) to the amorous singer, Bruce Martingale (Bill Shirley). Everyone winds up on a ship heading for the island while Lou and Kidd try to outwit each other and Bonney inexplicable finds Puddin Head's charms irresistible. 

Laughton and Lou Costello mug
Abbott and Costello
 Meet Captain Kidd starts out as a very funny comedy with everyone in good form, especially Laughton, who plays the role with perhaps just a touch more humor than before. Laughton and Lou Costello prove to be a good team in this, and poor Abbott is somewhat shunted to the side. Hillary Brooke could give decent performances in some films but there is an extra comical edge to the notion that she is actually doing scenes with the great Charles Laughton, as she is nowhere in his league as an actor. Costello sometimes overdoes his shtick,  which was typical for him. Bill Shirley has a nice voice and he and Fran Warren get to warble some rather pleasant songs by Russell and Lee: Captain Kidd, A Bachelor's Life, Tonight We Sail, Tall Pine, and North of Nowhere, the last two being romantic ballads. The movie is cute, Laughton is terrific, but eventually it just gets too silly and too many gags are repeated ad nauseam. 

Verdict: Just misses being an Abbott and Costello classic. **3/4. 


Anthony Dexter and Eva Gabor
CAPTAIN KIDD AND THE SLAVE GIRL (1954). Director: Lew Landers. 

Captain William Kidd (Anthony Dexter) is convicted of piracy and sentenced to hang (as he was in real life). In this completely fictionalized story, Kidd's death is faked with the complicity of Lord Bellomont (James Seay), who hopes to eventually learn where Kidd's treasure is buried. To that end Kidd is given a new name and put on board a ship helmed by Captain Pace (the ever-uninteresting Lyle Talbot). Also on board is Judith Duvall (Eva Gabor) who was put there to report back to Bellomont. After an adversarial relationship, the two eventually become lovers, possibly because Kidd walks around with his shirt off through much of the movie. Eventually the two encounter Blackbeard (Michael Ross) and lady pirate Ann Bonney (Sonia Sorel). It's a question who will wind up with the treasure and if Kidd and Judith will ever make it back to England. 

Alan Hale Jr. with Dexter
Captain Kidd and the Slave Girl
 is fast-paced and amusing, with a dashing and adept performance by Dexter, who'd previously played Valentino and appeared in the trash-classic Fire Maidens of Outer Space. Gabor is better than expected, Ross [Attack of the Fifty Foot Woman] makes a blustering Blackbeard, and Sorel is quite effective as Bonney. It's fun watching Kidd turn Gabor into a galley slave early in their relationship, and even more fun watching Gabor and Sorel having a zesty "cat-fight." A hilarious scene has Kidd telling Judith to pretend to be his slave when she is wearing a fancy gown. Someone in the make up department had the lousy idea of painting a beard and mustache on Dexter's face instead of letting him grow one or using a fake beard with spirit gum -- in some shots it looks very strange. Alan Hale Jr. is excellent as Jay Simpson, a good friend of Kidd's who sticks with him to the bitter end. William Tannen also makes an impression as Steve Castle, a decided enemy of Kidd's, and smaller roles are played by William Schallert, Harry Lauter, Ken Terrell, and others who appeared in numerous B movies and serials. Although this movie was released in color, the only print I could find was black and white. 

Verdict: A sexy Kidd never hurts! ***. 


STORM CENTER (1956). Director: Daniel Taradash. 

"The ball park isn't the only place someone can be a hero." 

Middle-aged librarian Alicia Hull (Bette Davis) is importuned by the town council to remove a book on Communism from the library. While not in any way a communist, Hull is against censorship and also feels that the book only illustrates the foolishness and stupidity of the communist tract -- she refuses to remove it. Before long many in the town are denouncing her, and her relationship with a book-loving boy named Freddie (Kevin Coughlin) is demolished. There is an interesting sub-plot wherein Kevin's father can't relate to his son's interest in reading over sports, and his wife can't relate to her husband's distrust of, and complete disinterest in, culture of any kind. (Unfortunately, the especially melodramatic developments with Freddie seem almost dragged in to add some drama and poignancy.) While Storm Center is intelligent (and a bit heroic considering the year it was made, although it might have been even more daring had Hull actually been a communist) and has some good dialogue and scenes, it's as if a good picture somehow got lost along the way. The main problem with the film is Bette Davis' positively dreadful performance, which has not one ounce of veracity or normalcy to it. She had entered her "grand lady of films" period and struts through the film so affectedly and unnaturally that she virtually stinks up almost every scene she's in. Davis has always been criticized for her performance in King Vidor's under-rated Beyond the Forest, but her acting in that is miles ahead of her work in Storm Center. (Another truth is that, despite her battered appearance, Davis was simply too sexual -- think of her in All About Eve -- to be convincing as some dried up -- if admirable-- old library hag.) Young Kevin Coughlin is better as Freddie, although he over-acts at times. Paul Kelly is excellent as a loyal friend of Hull's and Kim Hunter and Brian Keith are solid as Hull's assistant and her boyfriend, one of Hull's foremost accusers.

Verdict: Admirable failure with a woeful lead performance. **1/2.


THE ASTONISHED HEART (1949). Director: Terence Fisher.

"The capacity to love is stronger in some people than in others and it's dangerous to deny it or to encourage it -- for the wrong reasons."

Put on film four years after Brief Encounter, this play was probably meant to look at infidelity from the husband's point of view instead of the wife's, but it is no way in the league of Brief Encounter. Psychiatrist Christian Faber (Noel Coward, pictured) treats patients who are tormented by affairs then winds up having one himself with an old friend of his wife's. The wife, Barbara, is played by Celia Johnson, who also appeared n Brief Encounter; the other woman, Leonora, is played by Margaret Leighton. Although there are some good scenes and interesting dialogue in the movie, it is generally much too talky and Coward proves (in this at least) a much better writer than actor. His performance as the husband isn't terrible but it's often stilted and passionless, and one can't imagine what on earth the very pretty and vivacious Leonora would have seen in the comparatively boring Christian. Johnson and Leighton are more on the mark. The film's final moments are bolstered by Coward's own heavy scoring, and the last scene is somewhat poignant. Coward's observations about married life and love are often on the money, but the framework is just too insufficient. As for director Terence Fisher, he had better luck with some of his zesty Hammer horror films some years later. 

Verdict: Watch Brief Encounter instead. **1/2.