|Directed by||Mel Damski|
|Produced by||Carter De Haven|
|Edited by||William H. Reynolds|
|Music by||John Morris|
|Distributed by||Orion Pictures|
|Box office||$4.3 million|
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, Spike Milligan, and Peter Bull.
The pirate Yellowbeard (Graham Chapman) is incarcerated for 20 years for tax evasion. He survives the sentence, but he 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 and had the map tattooed on their son's head. Things go wrong when his traitorous former bosun Mr. Moon (Peter Boyle) takes over the ship. With the Head of the British Secret Service (Eric Idle) hot on their trail, they eventually find the island, where the terrible despot "El Nebuloso" (Tommy Chong) and his majordomo "El Segundo" (Cheech Marin) have taken residence with the treasure, and the battle for the prize commences.
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.: 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 is "truest to Chapman and McKenna's original version" is published in the book Yellowbeard: High Jinks on the High Seas.: 37 Major difference between Chapman and McKenna's script, which was altered at Hollywood's request, is 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.: 9
In casting, producer Carter De Haven wanted to choose actors that would broaden the film's appeal to American audiences.
The actor set to play the romantic lead changed 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 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.": 22
Haven told The New York Times, "I got the cast I wanted. All the actors are integral. They are not just playing cameo roles."
David Bowie makes a cameo appearance as the Shark – a character named Henson who dons a rubber shark fin on his back. Bowie was on holiday in Mexico in late 1982 after completing his album Let's Dance when he met with Chapman and Idle on a beach, agreeing to make a cameo appearance. Bowie also appeared in the 50-minute behind-the-scenes feature titled Group Madness.
Apart from a couple of weeks spent in England, the entire film including interiors was shot in Mexico.
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.: 24–25
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.": 32
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.: 34
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."
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.