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The unhistorical adventures of pirate Captain Kidd revolve around treasure and treachery. In 1699, William Kidd (Charles Laughton), a pirate who has recently captured the ship The Twelve Apostles and killed its crew, presents himself at the court of King William III (Henry Daniell) as an honest shipmaster seeking royal backing. With this backing, he recruits a crew from the inmates of Newgate and Marshalsea prisons, promising them a royal pardon at the end of their voyage. Among the new recruits is the quarrelsome, though cultured Adam Mercy (Randolph Scott), whom Kidd makes his new master gunner because of his claimed prior service with a famous pirate.

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