The opening scene of the movie describes it best: "Once upon a time there lived in Denmark a great storyteller named Hans Christian Andersen. This is not the story of his life, but a fairy tale about the great spinner of fairy tales."
At the turn of the century, Duke and Chester, two vaudeville performers, go to Alaska to make their fortune. On the ship to Skagway, they find a map to a secret gold mine, which had been ... See full summary »
On the Carolina coast, Godolphin College's new track coach lodges at Blackbeard's Inn, run by the Daughters of the Buccaneers who claim to be descendants of the notorious pirate and who risk losing their hotel to the local mobster.
The throne of rightful king of England, the small babe with the purple pimpernel birthmark, has been usurped by the evil King Roderick. Only the Black Fox can restore the true king to the throne--and all he needs is the king's key to a secret tunnel. And while he's trying to steal it, someone has to change the king's diapers. The task falls to Hawkins, the gentlest member of the Fox's band. The Fox's lieutenant, Maid Jean, guards Hawkins and the babe while they travel, but when they meet the King's new jester on the road, they decide to initiate a daring plan for Hawkins to replace him, become an intimate at the court, and steal the key. So, humble Hawkins becomes Giacomo: the king of jesters and jester to the king. But things begin to get zany when the King's daughter falls for Giacomo, the King falls for Jean, people randomly sing what are supposed to be recognition codes, and a witch with very effective spells (and poison pellets) begins to interfere. Written by
The "flagon with a dragon" routine had an antecedent in the Bob Hope Paramount comedy Never Say Die (1939): "There's a cross on the muzzle of the pistol with the bullet and a nick on the handle of the pistol with the blank." The credits do not list any writers in common on the two films. See more »
When Hawkins is in Gwendolyn's chambers, the fur rug and the rose repeatedly change positions between shots. See more »
During the opening credits, Danny Kaye dances around the credits while singing a song about the movie. The lyrics of the song relate to the credits. For instance, when the music credits go by he sings about the music and when the screenwriter credits go by he sings about the story. See more »
The Second of my 5 favourite movies of ALL TIME. 10/10
The Court Jester (1956) is a superlative, priceless treasure of the 20th Century. This classic tale combines several grand legends such as Robin Hood, Giacomo, and Dartagnan's Daughter with the more base nobility of the little baby's royal birthmark. (Once seen, it is impossible to forget the repetitive flipping scene used to obtain more converts.)
Everyone should by now know the plot: once the hapless carnival entertainer Hubert Hawkins (Danny Kaye) assumes the identity of the new court jester Giacomo (who happens to well deserve his reputation as a skillful assassin), Hawkins is thrown into one court intrigue after another, each beyond his control or understanding.
As the socially powerless court jester, Hawkins has to survive not only accidents and royal petulance, but deliberate attempts at his execution as part of court intrigue.
So I won't waste time recapping all that.
Instead, I'd like to mention the still potent generation gap politics and gender politics that routinely consumed the weakest of mediaeval society, sometimes court jesters, or often just women.
King Roderick has a rather cynical and self-possessed daughter in the Princess Gwendolyn (a shockingly young and beautiful Angela Lansbury), whom he nastily views as more a threat than a loved one, and their war of wills is hilarious. But he needs her alive because he has no male heir, so Gwendolyn regularly threatens suicide whenever she doesn't want to do something: "Harm one hair on her head, and I throw myself from the highest turret", she announces when her father tries to get rid of Gwendolyn's nanny.
The king schemes to get his daughter out of the castle by marrying her off "way up North" to the "grim and grizzly, gruesome Griswold".
Of course, she has no intention of going. "I am the King. If it pleases me, you will marry Griswold", he tries to command her. "-If it pleases you so much, you marry Griswold!" retorts his witty daughter.
Gwendolyn has a nanny/personal confidant in Grizelda (Mildred Natwick), the "witch" (actually a scientist, they just didn't have a word for that yet), who has raised the Princess to believe in more girlish romance, partly to soften up Gwendolyn's belligerent cynicism. Unfortunately, with such a brutal horse-trade as her proposed marriage to Sir Griswold of Macklewein, girlish fancies of romance are starting to fly out the window of Gwendolyn's heart, and she matter-of-factly threatens Grizelda with a dirk (a small dagger) if "the witch" can't arrange a better alternative.
Desperate to save both their lives, Grizelda (look, she ain't no witch. She has pills and potions. That makes her a chemist, alright?) pulls out every trick in her book. She first proffers the court jester as a romantic alternative to the princess, and then mesmerizes him to make sure he courts the princess as ardently as the princess wants. Grizelda's hypnosis of "Giacomo" imbues him with super-confidence, so he CAN fight for his life as well as Gwendolyn's hand. Mildred Natwick obviously had a terrific time pretend-hypnotizing Danny Kaye. "Master, you can snap me in and snap me out", he drools at her; and later, Kaye's impeccable talents at physical comedy have him jerking to every unconscious snap of everyone's fingers.
However, Hawkins is already in love with the only woman from their guerilla group back in the forest, Capt. Jean, aka Maid Jean (Glynis Johns), who is, of course, beautiful and smart, and could whip his narrow butt in a heartbeat, if only she didn't LIKE him so much. Before they both arrived through different routes at King Roderick's castle, they had one romantic night together in an emergency hut as they sheltered the true heir to the throne. As they talk of politics in the hut, and regret about the loss of the throne, she ends up seducing herself (and it's nice to see how that works) as she reflects to him that "my father made me everything I am". To his credit, Hawkins reassures her that her father "does beautiful work", in a very satisfying gender role reversal for 1956. Sadly there is not enough chemistry between them, and there SHOULD'VE been, because the rest of the scene is very honest.
The homage scenes to The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), the Errol Flynn classic with the much younger Basil Rathbone, are real gifts. They include the procession of robed monks secreting reinforcements, and Rathbone doing himself in the earlier role.
But my personal favourite is the spoof scene of Errol Flynn accidentally cutting through one humungous candle in the 1938 film. In The Court Jester (1956), Danny Kaye, fencing FAR TOO WELL against Rathbone in his hypnosis-fortified guise, deliberately cuts a swath through an entire row of candles without any apparent effect-until he breathes on the candles, and they all drop off their candlesticks on cue. This Court Jester scene has stuck in my mind from childhood.
The entire supporting cast is terrific. Cecil Parker's King Roderick eventually becomes quite personable as he relaxes into his regal position and quips with "Giacomo"; and he's very funny with Maid Jean as a lecherous royal repelled by her clever claim to having an STD! WOW, pretty contemporary for 1956, don't you think?
I really love all the musical numbers as well. They are so well integrated that they provide a deeper understanding of the plot. Kaye's incredible, once-in-a-lifetime-find wordsmith-wife Sylvia Fine crafted ALL his tonguetwisters, including these (songs). And Kaye just flips them off as if they were nothing.
It's a shame we don't see more jester's hard knocks to establish the jester MILIEU. Nevertheless I always get blown away by the final lyrics of The Maladjusted Jester: ".For a jester's chief employment is to kill himself for your enjoyment/ And a jester unemployed is nobody's fool!"
There is a lot of political commentary in this alleged piece of fluff.
Addictively quotable. No more quibbling: 10/10.
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