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Yellowbeard poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster.
Directed by Mel Damski
Produced by Carter De Haven
Written by Graham Chapman
Peter Cook
Bernard McKenna
David Sherlock (uncredited)
Music by John Morris
Cinematography Gerry Fisher
Edited by William H. Reynolds
Distributed by Orion Pictures
Release dates
24 June 1983
Running time
96 min
Country UK
Language English
Box office US$4,300,000

Yellowbeard is a 1983 comedy film by Graham Chapman, along with Peter Cook, Bernard McKenna and David Sherlock. It was directed by Mel Damski, and was Marty Feldman's last film appearance.


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" and his majordomo "El Segundo" (Cheech and Chong) have taken residence with the treasure, and the battle for the prize commences.




The original concept for the film was funded by Chapman's close friend Keith Moon, who wanted to play the lead role, but was dropped early on because of his obviously deteriorating health.[1]

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's "truest to Graham and Bernard McKenna's original version" is published in the book Yellowbeard: High jinks on the high seas.[2] Major differences between Chapman and McKenna's script and the one altered at Hollywood request are the original has less emphasis on minor characters, and more emphasis on the overall plot. Peter Cook is credited as a writer because in October 1980, Chapman asked Cook to help with one of the rewrites.[3]


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."[4]

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.[5]

Three ships in the film were portrayed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's Bounty II, built for the 1962 remake of Mutiny On The Bounty. The pirate ship was named the "Edith" after Chapman's mother.

Marty Feldman died from a sudden heart attack while filming in Mexico City in December 1982. As a result, his character is killed off late in the film in an insert shot that was filmed a few days after his death where a stunt double of his character falls into a pool of acid. Chapman said about Feldman's passing: "I try to look at the positive side... I take pleasure knowing that Marty was back on form for his last role."[6]

Chapman was not allowed to assist with the editing, and his editing comments on the first cut were ignored. His comments included shortening the credits so that audience expectation was not too far raised, and making the jokes less obvious.[7]

Critical reception[edit]

The film received some praise, 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 and points out that if the film isn't a comedy classic, that it's still funny, at times hilarious.[8] Roger Ebert on the other hand gave the film one and a half stars and said "Yellowbeard is soon over and soon forgotten."[9] Yellowbeard currently has a 22% rating at Rotten Tomatoes indicating a "Rotten" overall reception by the critics.[10]

Cleese played a part out of loyalty to Graham Chapman. He said he found the script to be one of the worst he'd read, although it is unclear which version he was referring to. In a 2001 interview, Cleese described Yellowbeard as "one of the six worst films made in the history of the world."[11]

Although Eric Idle names other films as the worst he's made, he includes Yellowbeard in that list. However, "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."[12][13]


  1. ^ Chapman, Graham Yellowbeard: High jinks on the high seas, Carroll & Graf 2005, p. 1
  2. ^ Chapman, p. 37
  3. ^ Chapman, p. 9
  4. ^ Chapman, p. 22
  5. ^ Chapman, pp. 24-5
  6. ^ Chapman, p. 32
  7. ^ Chapman, p. 34
  8. ^ "DVD Verdict Review - Yellowbeard:". Retrieved 2010-09-18. 
  9. ^ Blog, Chaz's. "Yellowbeard :: :: Reviews:". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2010-09-18. 
  10. ^ "Yellowbeard Movie Reviews, Pictures - Rotten Tomatoes:". Retrieved 2010-09-18. 
  11. ^ 2001 interview included as an extra on the DVD release of the John Cleese movie Clockwise.
  12. ^  Missing or empty |title= (help)[dead link]
  13. ^ "You Ask The Questions". London: The Independent. 6 October 1999. Retrieved 28 July 2012. 

External links[edit]