My nascent appreciation for Charles Laughton burgeoned earlier this year when I first experienced his acting in The Old Dark House. It is a fantastic movie reuniting James Whale and Boris Karloff after their history making success with Frankenstein and is well worth your time if you haven’t had the pleasure. Charles Laughton stole the show in October 1932’s The Old Dark House and two month’s later became a bonafide screen-kleptomaniac in The Island of Lost Souls. The making of Jamaica Inn was reportedly a battle of the super-egos with Laughton and Hitchcock fighting over creative differences and ending with Hitchcock declining his signature cameo out of protest. Such is the tidal wave of Charles Laughton’s charisma.
I delighted to discover whilst examining The List for the next feature that Charles Laughton hoists the titular role in the swashbuckling adventure film Captain Kidd. An oddly archetypal pirate film, Captain Kidd does everything you’d expect from a pirate film. A pirate captain cons the King of England into giving him command of a ship and crew tasked with defending an English treasure ship as it navigates the pirate infested waters of Madagascar on its journey home. His obvious goal is to take the treasure for himself and along the way, retrieve treasure he buried with his previous crew on a deserted island in the area. I don’t think I’ve seen too many pirate films to find this entertaining but it did reek of a sort of ordinary picture nonetheless. Except for Charles Laughton. This isn’t his juiciest role, it didn’t cement him in the annals of history like his most famous work, but you can bet he’s entertaining.
Glassy eyed, either drunk or knowing just how to play a pirate and with a bottom lip that betrays his pronunciation of words starting with ‘B’, Laughton mumbles through the picture in a swarthy fugue. I don’t know much about Captain Kidd the man or the movie but Charles Laughton is a tyrannical force of screen energy. Think about how powerful a performance has to be to elevate a terribly low quality film above forgettable. Laughton achieves this with a sly knowing, as if the challenge itself was enticing enough to attempt. He’s just so damn cool.