Disney's Blackbeard's Ghost, 1968 directed by Robert Stevenson (Mary Poppins) is based on a middle school book by Ben Stahl about teenagers reviving the ghostly pirate. The screenplay by Bill Walsh (The Shaggy Dog) and Don DaGradi (Bedknobs and Broomsticks) makes some welcome changes to reunite the romantic leads of The Ugly Dachshund, 1966 Dean Jones and Suzanne Pleshette, opposite the energy and girth of Peter Ustinov as the phantom privateer. The movie begins with the following forward.
"In the early years of the eighteenth century lived the pirate, Edward Teach, known as Blackbeard.
From the Spanish Main to the Carolinas, he wrought a bloody tale of destruction unparalleled for its ferocity and terror.
Blackbeard was killed in sea battle off the American shore. This was followed by widespread joy when it became known the dread pirate had gone at last --- Or had he?"
Steve Walker: "Well, that's just great. That is just great! I couldn't have an ordinary ghost on my hands! I got a rummy! A big, ugly, booze-soaked rummy!"
Blackbeard's Ghost: "Hold on there! There be no call to put the fuddler's name on your newfound shipmate."
How did Steve Walker (Dean Jones), new track and field coach at Godolphin College come to have this "newfound shipmate?" Innocently enough, he booked lodgings at Blackbeard's Inn, run by senior citizens known collectively as the "Daughters of the Buccaneers," descendants of Blackbeard and his crew.
The "little old ladies" embrace their disreputable ancestor and all things piratical. However, the Inn has a large mortgage and the residents are in danger of losing their home. The location is on an island whose uncertain boundary is of interest to the shady Silky Seymour (Joby Baker) and he intends to own the property for his casino.
Steve arrives on the night of the Buccaneer Bazaar which is raising money for the cause of keeping the inn. Taken with Professor Jo Anne Baker (Suzanne Pleshette), executive of the bazaar and a fellow professor at Godolphin College, Steve buys at auction the bed warmer of Adeltha Teach, the next to last of Blackbeard's wife, and the witch who cursed him to Limbo for turning her over to the authorities. In the hollow handle of the bedpan, Steve found her book of curses and inadvertently recalled Blackbeard's Ghost (Peter Ustinov).
Steve's life is turned upside down with a constant companion whose own constant companion is rum. The spirit is loquacious in the extreme and belligerent by inclination and nature. The actions of the wraith land Steve in jail, and have his colleagues at the college questioning his sanity. It is determined through Adeltha's writing that if a spark of good were to be found in Blackbeard's Ghost that he would be free of the curse, and Steve would be free of the spirit.
Partly to free himself, and mostly because he likes the adventure of gambling, our larcenous spectre steals the money the ladies raised ($900) from Jo Anne and surreptitiously places a bet with Silky on Godolphin to win an upcoming track meet; something the school has not done in the 63 years of their existence.
Blackbeard's Ghost, an established trainer of his own crew, knows how to get the Godolphin team to win by any means possible. Steve is strictly against cheating even if it would help, as Blackbeard calls them, "the small old ladies."
The night of the track meet finds the perpetually last place Godolphin shocking the crowd with their amazing feats. Think of the basketball game in The Absent-Minded Professor and the players with flubber on the soles of their sneakers. Think of Dumbo emboldened by "the magic feather." Think of the Daughters of the Buccaneers winning big from Silky Seymour. Think about Silky Seymour refusing to pay off.
Slapstick abounds as Steve, Jo Ann, and Blackbeard's Ghost raid Silky's joint and gleefully knock around his crew to their great satisfaction and bring the money home to the Daughters of the Buccaneers. Steve uses the old spell so these descendants can meet their beloved Blackbeard who is freed from his curse and returned to his crew to sail what he sincerely hopes is a hospitable sea.
Cue the almost clinch for our leads, as we don't want romance to mar the story too much. Dean Jones and Peter Ustinov are a delight as the comedic tag team in this movie. Jones knows how to mug subtly and how to support the deliciously over-the-top antics of the superb Ustinov. Suzanne Pleshette by her talent and personality brings more to the role than was written.
Familiar faces in the cast include Elsa Lanchester, Richard Deacon, Michael Conrad, Elliott Reid, Herbie Faye, and Ned Glass. These old pros deliver the laughs and they are plentiful. However, for me, it is watching Ustinov take on the title role that is the greatest delight of Blackbeard's Ghost.
Fun with Dean and Suzanne:
The Ugly Dachshund, 1966
Blackbeard's Ghost, 1968