Captain Kidd | Sunday Observer
Retro reviews: Cinema of yesteryear

Captain Kidd

13 December, 2020

Directed by Rowland V. Lee, Captain Kidd is a 1945 adventure film that brings thrills of piracy in the high seas where villainous swashbuckling buccaneers venture out to fearlessly plunder merchant ships that were carrying treasures from the East to Europe. With Charles Laughton as the eponymous Captain William Kidd and Randolph Scott playing the role of the heroic Adam Mercy, together with Barbara Britton as Lady Anne Dunstan who plays the leading female role, this movie is a classic that brings action adventure and romance woven in a plot that works on the dynamics of a hero, a villain and a damsel in distress.

Attack on ship

The story begins in 1699, the pirate Captain William Kidd loots and destroys the English ship named The Twelve Apostles near Madagascar.

He and three of his fellow pirates bury the stolen treasure in a cave on a remote island. Captain Kidd arrives in London and begins a process of ‘culturing’ himself and posing off as a gentleman who then presents himself at the court of King William III of England and claims to be an honest shipmaster seeking a royal commission as a privateer.

He claims he has successfully fended off pirates while on his voyages and can be of service to the English merchant Navy. Kidd claims that the captain of The Twelve Apostles who was an English nobleman called Lord Blayne, turned pirate and has disappeared with the valuable bounty the ship was carrying, which was supposed to be brought to the King.

The King grants the commission to Kidd and tasks him with being a security escort to the English merchant ship Quedagh Merchant which is en-route to England from India with a cargo of valuable treasure. There is, however, another factor that Kidd requests the King grant him to fulfil the objective optimally, which is permission to recruit a crew from condemned pirates in England’s prison with a promise to pardon them at the end of their voyage.

This request is met with astonishment by the King and his ministers. However, Kidd says that pirates on death row, if granted the promise of a pardon will serve unquestioningly.

When Kidd surveys the cell with men convicted as pirates, he finds among them a quarrelsome though cultured man named Adam Mercy who claims he had served as master gunner aboard the ship of the pirate Captain Avery. Mercy is made the new master gunner on Kidd’s ship.

They set sail with an intriguing band of persons, among them Cary Shadwell, Kidd’s valet who is a respecter of English old traditions and culture and with a strong sense of integrity and also Orange Povey, an old pirate colleague of Kidd’s.

Nefarious plan

What follows is a string of events that unfold discoveries of villainy, deceit and deception, murder, betrayal, self-sacrifice, chivalry and revelations of how Kidd’s past crime destroying The Twelve Apostles ship and killing its captain Lord Blayne, has come back to bring him down in the form of Lord Blayne’s son Adam Blayne who had taken on the false identity of Adam Mercy!

It is revealed that Kidd’s nefarious plan is to destroy the Quedagh Merchant, take possession of their previous cargo of gems and jewels, take part of the treasure and then return the remaining treasure to the King on the pretense that the Quedagh Merchant was destroyed by a pirate ship they fought with on the high seas, and then claim his reward in the form of being granted the title and estates of Lord Blayne.

Moving with guile and the pretense of being a humble and obedient servant of the King of England, Kidd’s plan to take possession of the treasure on board the Quedagh Merchant proves successful after he instills in the captain the fear that a pirate ship they fought off earlier could still be lurking and waiting to attack.

He has one of his henchmen set a fuse to go off in the munitions hold of the Quedagh Merchant and destroys it.

Subsequently, Kidd engineers the adroit murder of Lord Fallsworth, the King’s Ambassador to one of the Princely states in India, who was on board the Quedagh Merchant and conducted on board Kidd’s ship along with Lord Fallsworth’s daughter Lady Anne Dunstan for their personal safety should the Quedagh Merchant fall victim to the attack of the pirates!

Villainy revealed

What follows is a series of fast paced developments that shows how Kidd’s plan to successively eliminate all his colleagues one by one comes to the point of near success but is foiled when he underestimates Adam Blayne’s willfulness to avenge the wrong done to his family, and also the depth of affections for Lady Anne who also reciprocates her admiration for Adam. The finale shows how Captain William Kidd attending the court of King William III in England, purporting to be a daring hero of the seas who had risked his life for his King but only to be revealed as a reviled pirate against whom testimony is provided by Adam Blayne and Lady Anne who had preceded Kidd to England and sought audience with the King following their successful escape from Kidd’s ship under the cover of night; which escape attempt Kidd thought he had thwarted with cannon fire, which he assumed had killed Adam Blayne and Lady Anne.

And thus Kidd’s reign of villainy meets its end at the end of the hangman’s noose.