For the snake, see Bothrops asper.


Theatrical release poster.
Directed by Mel Damski
Produced by Carter De Haven
Written by
Music by John Morris
Cinematography Gerry Fisher
Edited by William H. Reynolds
Distributed by Orion Pictures
Release dates
  • 24 June 1983 (1983-06-24)
Running time
96 minutes[1]
Country United Kingdom
Language English
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. Led by an ensemble cast starring Graham Chapman, Peter Boyle, Cheech Marin, Tommy Chong, Cook, Marty Feldman, Martin Hewitt, Michael Hordern, Eric Idle, Madeline Kahn, James Mason, and John Cleese, the film features the final cinematic appearances of Marty Feldman and Peter Bull.


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.




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." [2]

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.[3]

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.[4] 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.[5]


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."[6]

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.[7]

Three ships in the film were portrayed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's Bounty II, built for the 1962 version 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. His work on the film was nearly finished except for his character's death scene, filmed a few days later using a stunt double. 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."[8]

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.[9]

Critical reception

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, it's still funny, at times hilarious.[10] Roger Ebert on the other hand gave the film one and a half stars and said "Yellowbeard is soon over and soon forgotten."[11] Yellowbeard currently has a 22% rating at Rotten Tomatoes indicating a "Rotten" overall reception by the critics.[12]

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."[13]

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."[14]

Group Madness documentary

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."[15] 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 Graham Chapman, Eric Idle, John Cleese, Marty Feldman, Peter Boyle, Peter Cook, and Madeline Kahn.[16]

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 Saturday, June 11, 1983, pre-empting Saturday Night Live.[15][17] In the mid-1990s, video copies of the documentary could be ordered from Mileham.[15] The documentary was released on DVD in 2007[18] and later streamed on[19]


  1. "Yellowbeard (PG) (CUT)". British Board of Film Classification. 28 July 1983. Retrieved 24 September 2016.
  2. Peter Cook, speaking about 'Yellowbeard', The Film Yearbook, 1984, p. 135
  3. Chapman, Graham Yellowbeard: High jinks on the high seas, Carroll & Graf 2005, p. 1
  4. Chapman, p. 37
  5. Chapman, p. 9
  6. Chapman, p. 22
  7. Chapman, pp. 24-5
  8. Chapman, p. 32
  9. Chapman, p. 34
  10. "DVD Verdict Review - Yellowbeard:". Retrieved 2010-09-18.
  11. Blog, Chaz's. "Yellowbeard :: :: Reviews:". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2010-09-18.
  12. "Yellowbeard Movie Reviews, Pictures - Rotten Tomatoes:". Retrieved 2010-09-18.
  13. 2001 interview included as an extra on the DVD release of the John Cleese movie Clockwise.
  14. "You Ask The Questions". London: The Independent. 6 October 1999. Retrieved 28 July 2012.
  15. 1 2 3 ten Cate, Hans (1995-12-21). "Pythonline's Daily Llama News: Michael Mileham's 'Group Madness' a Must-Have For Python Fans!". Pythonline's Daily Llama. Archived from the original on 2011-08-19. Retrieved 2016-01-19.
  16. McCall, Douglas. Monty Python: A Chronology, 1969-2012 (2nd ed.). Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company. p. 96. ISBN 978-0-7864-7811-8.
  17. "Group Madness:The Making of Yellowbeard". TV Guide. Radnor, Pennsylvania: Triangle Publications. 1983-06-11. Retrieved 2016-01-19.
  18. The Weedmaster (2007-05-29). "On DVD For the First Time. Group Madness: The Making of Yellowbeard". Cheech and Chong Fans .com. Archived from the original on 2016-01-19. Retrieved 2016-01-19.
  19. "Group Madness: The Making of Yellowbeard". 2016. Archived from the original on 2016-01-19. Retrieved 2016-01-19.
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