Cast & Crew
Rowland V. Lee
In the late 17th century, off the coast of Madagascar, Captain William Kidd and his band of pirates attack Admiral Lord Blayne and the crew of H.M.S. The Twelve Apostles and set the frigate on fire. Then, before heading back to England, the ruthless Kidd and his men bury their ill-gotten treasure in a cave, intending to return for it sometime in the future. Three years later, in London, Kidd, who poses as an honest ship's captain based in New York, is granted an audience with King William III. Kidd offers to escort the treasure-filled Quadagh Merchant on its upcoming voyage through pirate-infested waters, and convinces the king that his crew should be made up of condemned pirates who have been promised a royal pardon in exchange for their services on the dangerous trip. The socially ambitious Kidd also suggests that if he can prove that the missing Admiral Blayne turned to piracy, as has been rumored, he will be allowed to assume Blayne's crest and estate. After the king agrees to Kidd's plan, Kidd and his right-hand men, Cyprian Boyle and Jose Lorenzo, arrange to have the imprisoned pirates released. Among the convicts is Adam Mercy, who impresses Kidd with his intelligence and sophisticated manners. Learning that Adam had previously worked as a master gunner on a pirate ship, Kidd assigns him the same job, making him an officer. Just as Kidd's ship, the H.M.S Adventure Galley , is to set sail, Kidd is startled by the appearance of Orange Povey, a ship's surgeon, whom Kidd had abandoned on a coral reef near Madagascar and presumed dead. Povey insists that Kidd take him along and warns him that he has left with a friend a letter exposing Kidd as a pirate, which the friend will make public should anything untoward befall Povey. Once at sea, Kidd, who has brought along valet Cary Shadwell to instruct him in the ways of a gentleman, demands that his officers dine with him and becomes angry when Adam refuses to toast the king. Adam's apparent hatred of the king makes Kidd suspect that he is actually the king's spy, and he instructs Shadwell to question Adam about his background. The honest Shadwell reveals Kidd's suspicions to Adam, who tells the valet to report that he is a "nobody." Later, Kidd, who wants all of the treasure for himself, cuts the ropes to the ship's yard and causes it to fall on top of Boyle, killing him. His suspicions aroused, Adam sneaks into Kidd's cabin and finds both a pirate flag and a ring with the Blayne seal on it. When Kidd catches him with the ring, Adam declares that he is, in fact, a spy for the king, but offers to keep quiet for a cut of the treasure. Soon after, Kidd, Lorenzo, Povey and Adam board the Quadagh Merchant and, while Kidd frightens the ship's captain with stories of pirate encounters, Lorenzo plants a slow-burning fuse next to the ship's gunpowder barrels and lights it. As hoped, Kidd is asked to transport the Quadagh treasure, as well as passengers Lady Anne Falconer and her father, Lord John. As soon as the treasure is loaded onto the Adventure Galley , Kidd kills Lord John in another apparent accident. The Quadagh then explodes, killing everyone onboard. Later, Anne's fears are aroused when Shadwell discloses that the Adventure Galley never encountered any pirates. Shadwell encourages her to confide in Adam, who finally confesses that he is Lord Blayne's son and has been posing as a pirate in an effort to clear his name. After Adam advises Anne to be friendly with Kidd, the lecherous Lorenzo, who has offered Kidd his share of the booty in exchange for Anne, bursts into her cabin and attacks her. Adam comes to her defense, as does Kidd, who has vowed to deliver Anne safely home in order to assure his longed-for peerage. Adam finally forces Lorenzo overboard at swordpoint, and after the fight, Kidd finds a broken medallion with the Blayne crest on it and deduces that Adam is a Blayne. Kidd then takes Adam and Povey with him to the cave in which The Twelve Apostles treasure is buried. Once the treasure is unearthed, Kidd reveals that he is aware of Adam's identity. During the ensuing fight, Povey pushes Adam over a cliff and into shark-infested waters. Sure that Adam is dead, Kidd and Povey return to the ship, but soon after, Adam sneaks aboard, grabs Anne and steals a rowboat. Kidd and Povey fire on the fleeing couple and kill Shadwell when he tries to protect them. Although the boat is destroyed, Anne and Adam are unharmed and swim to shore. Later, in London, Kidd reports to King William that he found nothing regarding Lord Blayne during his voyage. To his dismay, the king reveals that The Twelve Apostles treasure has been recovered from Kidd's ship and that Anne and Adam are alive. After Anne and Adam accuse Kidd of piracy, Kidd is executed. The king then rewards Adam with his own frigate and names it the Lady Anne in honor of the couple's upcoming nuptials.
Rowland V. Lee
Joseph I. Kane
Arthur M. Landau
Robert N. Lee
Norman Reilly Raine
William H. Wilmarth
Best Music, Original or Comedy Series
The narrative opens on the seas off Madagascar, where Kidd and his crew have just waylaid and torched the British ship 12 Apostles and murdered its captain, Lord Blayne. With the aid of his smarmy lieutenants, Povey (John Carradine), Lorenzo (Gilbert Roland), and Boyle (Sheldon Leonard), Kidd secretes the 12 Apostles' treasure cargo in a cove, and returns to England's shores, where he slanders Blayne as having stolen the goods and to have died in the attempt. By 1799, Kidd finds himself championed by Lord Bellomont for a commission from William III (Henry Daniell) to rendezvous off Madagascar with the King's galleon Quedah Merchant. From there, he is to assure safe passage home through the pirate-laden seas for diplomat Lord Falsworth (Lumsden Hare) and his beautiful daughter Lady Ann (Barbara Britton). The audacious Kidd requests Blayne's lands and title as reward for a successful voyage.
To find the needed manpower for his vessel, Kidd turns to the convicted pirate populace of Newgate Prison, reasoning that rescue from the gallows will be sufficient guarantee of their gratitude. From this legion of the damned, he is impressed by the wit and bearing of a young seaman answering to Adam Mercy (Randolph Scott), and singles him out to serve as ship's gunner. The promotion is of course calculated by the shrewdly suspicious Kidd, who can't help but wonder if the too-perfect Mercy isn't following a hidden agenda.
The pacing of Captain Kidd is relatively stately for a swashbuckler, but the film's virtues are less to be found in the action sequences than in the uniformly strong performances. Besides the aforementioned, Reginald Owen is effective in providing the film's lighter moments as the valet that the socially ambitious Kidd retains in order to provide himself with a veneer of breeding. Of course, Laughton binds the entire affair with his bravura villainy. "His assumption of a slightly off suburban London accent is witty and appropriate; his revelation of the depth of his ambition quite chilling; his rage and pride at bay when finally confronted, animal and fearsome," Simon Callow observed in his Charles Laughton: A Difficult Actor (Methuen).
As directed by period-drama veteran Rowland V. Lee, the scenario provided by Robert N. Lee and Norman Reilly Raine bore only tangential similarity to the life and exploits of the Scottish-born William Kidd. The historical facts behind the legendarily fearsome buccaneer actually make him out to be something of a patsy. Commissioned in 1695 by Whig politicians to prey upon cargo ships flying under the flag of France, Kidd turned to piracy outside his mandate when there were no French targets to be had. He boarded the Quedah Merchant in 1698 under the supposition that it was a French vessel, only to find it with a British captain. Kidd's crew ultimately mutinied, and on his return to the colonies, he found himself deported to London to face piracy charges. Exculpatory evidence linking the Quedah Merchant to France was suppressed at the subsequent trial, and Kidd's former backers quite literally left him to twist in the wind, as he was executed in 1701.
Producer: Benedict Bogeaus, James Nasser
Director: Rowland V. Lee
Screenplay: Robert N. Lee, Norman Reilly Raine
Cinematography: Archie Stout
Art Direction: Charles Odds
Music: Werner Janssen
Cast: Charles Laughton (Capt. William Kidd), Randolph Scott (Adam Mercy), Barbara Britton (Lady Anne Dunstan), John Carradine (Orange Povey), Gilbert Roland (Jose Lorenzo), John Qualen (Bart Blivens).
by Jay Steinberg
There's none would be so loyal, nor fight so desperate, as cutthroats under sentence of death...if they knew that at the end of the voyage a royal pardon would be in their pockets.- Capt. William Kidd
I shall hold you responsible for their good conduct.- King William III
Between their conduct and mine, your majesty, there will be little to choose.- Capt. William Kidd
You cold-gutted shark.- Orange Povey
Ahh! ...You're a flatterer.- Capt. William Kidd
Who might this be?- Adam Mercy
Perhaps a man that asked too many questions.- Orange Povey
Now then, me bullies! Would you rather do the gallows dance, and hang in chains 'til the crows pluck your eyes from your rotten skulls? Or would you feel the roll of a stout ship beneath your feet again?- Capt. William Kidd
The film opens with a brief voice-over narration. Although Captain Kidd was inspired by the real-life pirate, many liberties were taken with the facts. Born in Scotland in 1645, the real William Kidd began his nautical career as a privateer and became a wealthy shipowner in New York by 1690. In 1696, Kidd, better known as Captain Kidd, turned to piracy during a voyage to East Africa and captured and looted several ships. Believing that his privateering commission would shield him from arrest, he returned to Long Island in 1699, but was subsequently ordered to London, where he was tried for piracy and murder. He was executed in 1701. Although stories about Kidd's buried treasure were legendary, the only booty ever recovered was found on Gardiners Island off Long Island.
In February 1940, Film Daily announced that Charles Laughton was to star in a "Captain Kidd" picture at RKO, the studio at which he had recently made the highly successful The Hunchback of Notre Dame. That picture was never made. For the 1945 film, Thomas Lawless built a miniature of a 1695 London dock at General Service Studios, and scale models of vintage sailing ships were also constructed there, according to news items. The film's budget was estimated at 1.5 million dollars. The Variety review credits Miles Mander in the role of "King William III," but Henry Daniell is listed in the part onscreen. Composer Werner Janssen received an Academy Award nomination in the Music (Music Score of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture) category for his work on the film.
Other films inspired by Captain Kidd include the 1954 United Artists release Captain Kidd and the Slave Girl, directed by Lew Landers and starring Anthony Dexter and Eva Gabor; and The Trial of Kidd, an episode of the ABC network's Omnibus show, broadcast on March 10, 1957 and starring Victor Jory as Kidd.