Captain Kidd

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

In 1699, William Kidd (Charles Laughton), a pirate who has recently captured the ship The Twelve Apostles and killed its crew, presents himself at the court of King William III (Henry Daniell) as an honest shipmaster seeking royal backing. With this backing, he recruits a crew from the inmates of Newgate and Marshalsea prisons, promising them a royal pardon at the end of their voyage. Among the new recruits is the quarrelsome, though cultured Adam Mercy (Randolph Scott), whom Kidd makes his new master gunner because of his claimed prior service with a famous pirate.

The king sends Kidd to the waters near Madagascar to rendezvous with the ship Quedagh Merchant and provide an escort back to England. The Quedagh Merchant carries Lord Fallsworth (an uncredited Lumsden Hare), the king’s ambassador to the Grand Mughal, his daughter Lady Anne Dunstan (Barbara Britton), and a chest of treasure – a present from the Indian potentate to King William.

Kidd’s murderous plan quickly unfolds. His story about a pirate he fought recently in the waters nearby persuades Lord Fallsworth to switch ships with his daughter and the precious cargo. Meanwhile, Kidd’s confederate Jose Lorenzo (Gilbert Roland) lights a candle in the ship’s magazine. Just as the transfer takes place, the Quedagh Merchant blows up. Kidd also arranges a fatal “accident” for Lord Fallsworth, leaving only a frightened Lady Anne.

She turns to the only man she thinks she can trust, Shadwell (Reginald Owen), Kidd’s servant. When she mentions in passing the recent battle with pirates, the honest Shadwell tells her it never happened. He advises the woman to put her faith in Adam Mercy.

On the voyage home, Kidd schemes to rid himself of his three close associates (to avoid sharing the booty) and Mercy, whom he rightly suspects. Mercy is really the vengeance-seeking son of Lord Blayne, the unfortunate captain of The Twelve Apostles. When a smitten Lorenzo tries to force himself on Lady Anne, Kidd is delighted when Mercy engages him in a sword fight. Lorenzo is driven overboard to drown. However, during the fight, Mercy’s medallion is torn from his neck. Kidd finds it and recognizes the Blayne family crest.

Kidd drops anchor at a lagoon. He, Orange Povey (John Carradine), his only surviving confederate (he had the foresight to prepare an incriminating letter to be sent if he should die), and Mercy go ashore and dig up a chest. When Mercy realizes it is the loot from The Twelve Apostles, with the Blayne crest, a fight breaks out. Outnumbered, Mercy is knocked unconscious, falls into the water, and does not resurface. However, he is not dead. He swims secretly back to the ship. Mercy and a loyal crewman row Lady Anne away in a longboat, but are spotted. Despite Shadwell’s heroic, if fatal, attempt to interfere, the boat is blown up.

Believing himself safe, Kidd appears before King William with his treasure and claims his reward (an aristocratic title and an estate). However, Mercy and Lady Anne have survived and preceded him to court. The king’s men have found the booty looted from The Twelve Apostles after searching Kidd’s cabin. Kidd is tried, condemned, and hanged.


There comes a tome when you just want to watch a pirate film (that doesn’t contain Jack Sparrow). This is what led me to Captain Kidd, along with a random recommendation from YouTube. So, I figured what harm can it do. Let’s see if I wasted the past 90 minutes, though.

What is this about?

Ten years after portraying Capt. William Bligh in Mutiny on the Bounty, Charles Laughton plays another infamous real-life tyrant of the sea here. In 1699, Captain Kidd (Laughton) dupes King William III into letting him escort treasure-laden ships around Madagascar with his crew of cutthroats in the wait.

What did I like?

Kidd-ing around. Captain Kidd was one of the more ruthless and cutthroat pirates in history, yet we only have a handful of films and other media projects that use him. Most opt for Blackbeard or someone else, obviously. Getting a film that features Kidd is a plus, especially if it is one like this that focuses on the man and not the legend, while still showing that he wasn’t one to play around with.

Score. These old pirate movies had one thing going for them, no matter how good or bad they were and that is the score. This film starts with Mendelssohn’s Overture to “Fingal’s Cave” (I know this because I just spend the past couple of months using it for a project) and the rest of the film uses other tunes and melodies that just set the tone for what you see or are about to see, though I can’t say that I know the names of these selections. My apologies.

Honor among thieves. Mess with a man’s treasure and you are sure to die. Kidd kills one of his men in an early scene and then makes sure to stop everything so that they can all mourn his death. He may be a stone cold killer, but there is a sense of honor in this man.

What didn’t I like?

No swashbuckling. Initially, I chose this because I was expecting it to be more in the vein of something one would see Errol Flynn star. Alas, that was not the case. I believe the film suffered because of it, too. Mostly, this picture is Kidd barking orders or feigning his stature in society. Does anyone go into a pirate film wanting to see that? No, not really. We go into this things wanting to see plundering, action, and adventure. Something that we got just a pinch of with this film, sadly.

History lesson. As I mentioned before, Captain William Kidd was an actual person and, as such, there is some history that goes along with him, including stops at historical landmarks such at the Tower Bridge. Wait…the Tower Bridge wasn’t completed until 1894! As per usual, Hollywood changes history to make thing more recognizable. On this front, I am torn. On the one hand, I understand the reasoning, but on the other, I think history should be kept that way it was.

Feminism. I am not a feminist by any definition. While I appreciate a strong woman, I much prefer a damsel in distress. I’m just old school like that and it is my preference. There isn’t much of a female presence to be had in this picture, but there is one Barbara Britton who, for the most part, is a damsel in distress. However, if this film were to be made today, she’s be a disrespectful, man-hating bitch that the audience can’t stand. I’m sure she’d also use her feminine wiles, as well. There is no chance for women to be damsels in distress, they have to be strong and oversexualized, or else it is sexist, and even then someone will have issue with it. Ugh! I hate today’s society! Sorry, I didn’t mean to get on a soapbox, there.

Final verdict on Captain Kidd? Well, I went into this expecting something totally difference and it prejudiced what I saw, I believe. That being said, I feel that Charles Laughton’s performance as the titular character was the strong point (am I the only one who thinks he favors John Candy?). I love how this version had all the pops and crackles that an old black and white film should have. Enough with this restoring crap, leave that in there!!!! The plot is a bit on the weak side, but not unbearably so. Do I recommend it? Eh, it is one of those that exists, but I can’t tell you to go out of your way to find it. You’d be better served with something like Captain Kidd and the Slave Girl.

3 out of 5 stars

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