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Set in an era similar to Arthurian England, The Court Jester features a
questionable king, Roderick I (Cecil Parker), who has taken over by
killing off all of his opposition. He's working on building alliances
between the most important, powerful and aristocratic families in his
kingdom, including Sir Ravenhurst (Basil Rathbone); this will help
build a trustworthy legitimizing base. His plans include trying to
marry his off his daughter, Princess Gwendolyn (Angela Lansbury), to
the gruff Sir Griswold (Robert Middleton)--a scheme she firmly opposes.
However, Roderick's men overlooked an infant of the otherwise massacred
competing royal family. The infant, whom many in the kingdom would
believe to be the rightful heir to the throne, is being looked after by
the "Black Fox" (Edward Ashley). The Black Fox leads a motley crew;
they live in the forest and bear some similarity to Robin Hood and his
merry men. One of the Black Fox's men is Hubert Hawkins (Danny Kaye).
After running into a court jester named Giacomo (John Carradine),
Hawkins and Maid Jean (Glynis Johns) end up in a scheme to infiltrate
Roderick's castle and give the Black Fox's men access for a coup.
Although you cannot tell from my accounting of the premise above, The Court Jester is a comedy, and a very funny one at that. However, it does have a fairly complex plot in its early stages--all of the above is relayed within the first 10 15 minutes. This is a slow burner, but as such, the last hour at least is a very solid 10. It's unfortunate that a few minor flaws in the earlier sections of the film (including the complicated plot) caused me to rate The Court Jester as a 9 instead. The last half is so incredible that I wanted to give the film a 10 instead; perhaps on subsequent viewings (this is only the second time I've seen the film; the first was many years ago) the opening sections will work better for me.
As one of the earliest "VistaVision" films, The Court Jester looks gorgeous. It is full of lush, extremely saturated color. The few panoramic landscape shots are stunning and almost surreal. Most of the film is set within Roderick's castle, however, which is no less attractive visually. Producers/directors/writers Melvin Frank and Norman Panama and their crew certainly got the period setting right. The Court Jester is just as authentic feeling as Knights of the Round Table (1953) or The Black Knight (1954), both part of a popular trend of the era of Arthurian and related films, leading to this satire.
The cast is excellent, even if some members such severely underused, such as Carradine and to an extent Rathbone. Of course, The Court Jester is really a showcase for Kaye's considerable and diverse talents. Kaye was adept at quickly changing characters, as in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947), and gets to put that skill to great use here, first in disguises, then as the jester, and most importantly, as a hypnotized pawn in a number of "games". Princess Gwendolyn's matron, Griselda (Mildred Natwick), finds cause to put Hawkins under a spell to make him fall in love with the Princess, making a finger snap the cue for his hypnotic transitions. This leads to a hilarious extended sequence where different characters are interacting with Hawkins for different covert ends--some fueled by mistaken identity--and continually snapping their fingers. Kaye as Hawkins as Giacomo has to keep toggling back and forth between two personalities, neither of which knows about the other. Meanwhile, complicated plans are being made which he is expected to follow. Even funnier is that despite himself, he basically manages to follow the plans.
It's a bit silly, but the humor in The Court Jester is all about silliness--it's appropriate for the titular role and more importantly, it's just plain funny. From the finger snapping sequence through the end of the film is one long build up with increasingly outrageous situations, until we finally arrive at pandemonium, complete with tens of acrobatic midgets battling a cadre of knights in a scene remarkably prescient of the anarchic screwball comedies of the latter half of the 1960s.
Kaye's vocal talents are also put to considerable use, both in songs and in rapid-fire, sometimes nonsensical alliterative rhymes. There are a number of very famous--and rightfully so--instances of the latter throughout the film including the "vessel with the pestle/chalice from the palace/flagon with the dragon/brew that is true" bit, which has oddly taken on a life of its own outside of the film, and which like all of the comedy throughout the film slowly builds up to a hilarious climax.
Kaye also does a lot of physical comedy, including my favorite bit--the super-fast knighting ceremony, and he even does a bit of mostly serious fencing with Rathbone. Watching The Court Jester can only make one lament that Kaye was not featured in even more films; he was extremely talented and very unique.
The Court Jester has influenced many later films, including such diverse works as Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975) (and by extension Jabberwocky, 1977) and A Kid in King Arthur's Court (1995). But influence or not, this is a masterpiece despite its flaws, and should be viewed at least once by any cinephile worth his or her weight in purple pimpernels.
IMHO, one of the top funny films. I saw it when it first came out, and
we enjoyed it so much, we nearly bought tickets to see it again, right
There are so many high points in the film that listing them would put me over quota. A close relative who's nearly humorless to this day says, "Get it? Got it. Good," when she wants to underscore a point she's made. Once in a while, I'll mutter "The vessel with the pestle..." when things seem to be getting a tad complicated. The film has impacted me significantly.
The lyrics of some of the sings are really good. "The Malajusted Jester" seems like something out of a Gilbert & Sullivan operetta.
This is doubtless Danny Kaye's comedic magnum opus. It isn't a "must see" (what is?) but if you haven't seen it, you're missing a lot.
Danny Kaye is excellent in this old fashioned family comedy mixed some
musical numbers, slapstick humour with wonderful wit and
The story moves along regardless of the fact that some events occur just to
set up some of the jokes, and also some of the editing effects in one scene
are really dated! But you're laughing so much that it doesn't
This is a wonderfully old fashioned family comedy that despite it's age still feels freshly funny and acts to show us how crude and ham-fisted comedies such as American Pie etc really are.
Go and find this and watch it today! ..Get it? Got it! Good!
Yea, verily, yea; in days of old when knights were bold, and intrigue was a
staple of the Royal Court, there were Utopias usurped, kings killed,
querulous queens, knights knighted, dukes daily doing whatever it is dukes
do and ladies forever in waiting. And in every court there was also a fool;
a merrymaker, an entertainer, one with access to the royal ear and often a
doer of different kinds of deeds, such as the one portrayed in `The Court
Jester,' directed by Norman Panama and Melvin Frank. Danny Kaye stars as
Hubert Hawkins, an entertainer by trade, who due to circumstances within his
control becomes jester to the court of King Roderick I (Cecil Parker).
Roderick, however, is a false king, sitting upon the throne in the stead of
the real heir to the throne, still a baby, who bears the undisputable truth
of his birthright in a birthmark of a scarlet pimpernel upon his backside.
And yea, verily, yea, the intrigue mounts as Sir Ravenhurst (Basil Rathbone)
jostles for position within the court, while a rebel known as the `Black
Fox' (Edward Ashley), along with his beautiful daughter, the Maid Jean
(Glynis Johns), and his band of merry men attempt to install the true king
to the throne. While in the midst of it all, there is Hawkins, now known as
`Giacomo, king of jesters, and jester of kings,' proving beyond the shadow
of a doubt that in the end, it is laughter that is, indeed, the Ruler of any
Co-directors Frank and Panama deliver a real gem with this delightful comedy, bringing the story to life with humor, music and song, and creating some truly memorable moments along the way. From the `Initiation of Knighthood' sequence, to the famous tongue-twisting `The vessel with the pestle has the pellet with the poison, the chalice from the palace has the brew that is true' scene, to Kaye crooning a lullaby to a baby, this film is rich with humor and song that has an innocence and purity about it that makes it readily accessible to any audience. This is humor that runs deep; humor with a heart and soul you'll want to embrace. Simply put, this is terrific stuff; the timing-- especially by Kaye-- is impeccable, the delivery is perfect and the jokes work.
The real key to the success of this movie is, of course, the multi-talented Danny Kaye, who sings, dances, jokes and mugs his way through one of his best performances ever. And what makes Kaye so good, and so special, is the `spirit' of his performance, the sense of joy he emanates while proffering his talents. He gives so completely of himself, so entirely and so honestly, that he's just an absolute joy to watch. You'll never find a false moment in his performance either, and that's something that is discernible in his eyes; it's that twinkle of laughter and love in his eyes that separates and elevates him from so many other performers, in whom you will often find a pretentiousness upon close scrutiny. That's something you will never find in Danny Kaye, a consummate entertainer who obviously loved what he was doing, and was able to successfully convey it to his audience. He was unquestionably unique; a true one-of-a-kind.
The lovely Glynis Johns brings beauty and vitality to her role of Jean, acquitting herself quite nicely alongside Kaye's abundant antics. Though not a part that stretched the limits of her considerable talents, she creates a credible character and most importantly, she makes a nice fit with her co-star and lends a beguiling presence to the film. A nice bit of work by Johns, who some eight years later would create one of her most memorable roles, that of Mrs. Banks in `Mary Poppins.'
Basil Rathbone is a delight, as well, in a role that is essentially a parody of others he's played, specifically his Sir Guy of Gisbourne in `The Adventures of Robin Hood,' opposite Errol Flynn. The success of his Ravenhurst, however, lies in the fact that he plays him straight, without a hint of the humor or parody inherent in the character as presented within the context of this story. It goes without saying that he is perfectly cast here, and his swashbuckling duel with a bewitched Giacomo is a lark.
Also turning in a notable performance, in a role that is minor, yet integral to the story, is Angela Lansbury, as the king's daughter, Princess Gwendolyn. It's a part that demands little more of her than being beautiful and charming, and she succeeds on both accounts. Her screen time is fairly limited, but it's enough to leave an impression, and a good one at that.
The supporting cast includes Mildred Natwick (Griselda), Robert Middleton (Sir Griswold), Michael Pate (Sir Locksley), Herbert Rudley (Captain of the Guard), Noel Drayton (Fergus), John Carradine (Giacomo), Alan Napier (Sir Brockhurst), Lewis Martin (Sir Finsdale) and Patrick Aherne (Sir Pertwee). A fun, feel-good film, `The Court Jester' is a virtual showcase for the versatile Danny Kaye, and he responds with an unforgettable performance. This is true comedy at it's best, and proves overwhelmingly that a movie doesn't have to be hip, crude, rude or vulgar to inspire real laughter. Most of the `comedies' produced in the past decade or so wouldn't even make it to the bottom of the chart this one tops. For some real laughs, just call for a Kaye comedy: Completely conducive to contemporary conviviality. Get it? Got it. Good. Yea, verily, yea. It's the magic of the movies. I rate this one 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.
"The Court Jester" is a terrifically funny movie, with a wonderfully
complicated comic/adventure story, memorable characters, and outstanding
dialogue. It also offers a great showcase for star Danny Kaye's many
The story is a nicely done comic version of the Robin Hood-type adventure tales. Kaye is one of a band of rebels hiding out in a forest, led by "The Black Fox", who are opposing an evil king who has usurped the throne. Their secret plan to restore the rightful king involves having Kaye impersonate the evil king's new court jester, so that he can gain the monarch's confidence. But even as the rebels plot, the king's own nobles are maneuvering for advantage amongst themselves, some with murderous intent. The question of whom the king's daughter should marry also comes into play. The early part of the film moves somewhat slowly as all of this is established, but then things get delightfully complicated, and the laughs and adventure both start coming quickly. There are several outstanding sequences, and a fittingly wild sword fight finale.
The cast is filled with outstanding actors - Glynis Johns, Basil Rathbone, Angela Lansbury, and many others - who make their characters entertaining and memorable. The dialogue is terrific, and the cast does justice to it every time. The story and the medieval setting also make a great showcase for Kaye's varied talents such as singing, dancing, role-playing, and his other comic gifts.
All of this makes "The Court Jester" a wonderful and timeless film, great comic entertainment done with exceptional skill and talent. Don't miss it.
I have seen this movie literally hundreds of times but everytime it is on TV, I sit and watch it again. This is a sweet, funny, light-hearted movie that the entire family can watch--no gratuitous sex, no four-letter words--just fun. They don't make them like this anymore. I still laugh about the "pistol with the poison is in the flagon with the dragon, the chalice from the palace has the brew that is true". Danny Kaye is a genius, no one can utter tongue twisters like he can. This movie also features a very young and beautiful Angela Lansbury (for you "Murder, She Wrote" fans). Of course there is Basil Rathbone, who is of course, suave and dashing. What more could you ask of a movie? Watch this movie--you'll be glad you did.
If this satire of the Middle Ages and hereditary monarchs is not the most hilarious film ever made, in most viewers' books it stands right next to their favorite. The inspired casting of Danny Kaye as a performer who wants to be a patriotic fighter, gorgeous Glynis Johns as his stern captain, Angela Lansbury as a love-prone princess, Cecil Parker as her lascivious and bumbling evil father (a usurper of course), Basil Rathbone and Michael Pate as his co-conspirators and Robert Middleton and Mildred Natwick as roadblocks to the restoring of a baby as the rightful king of the realm guaranteed a film filled with well-acted fun. The script and direction of this colorful, vivid and side-splitting film were delivered by Norman Panama and Melvin Frank. Mention should also be made of the gorgeous Edith Head costumes, the art direction, sets makeup, hairstyling and blocking and the songs by Sylvia Fine, Sammy Cahn and others. Other stalwarts in the cast who do very well also include Alan Napier, Herbert Rudley, Noel Drayton, Edwin Astley as The Black Fox (Kaye's boss), John Carradine and more. Millions to this day are still laughing about: the "An Unemployed Jester" song; the switches from hypnotized bumbler to dashing super-swordsman that afflict Kaye in the course of his penetration of the royal stronghold; the classic duel Kaye fights with with the Gruesome Griswold (Middleton); the switching of poisoned drinks that occurs just before the duel with everyone repeating "The poison is in the vessel with the pestle, etc."; and the high-speed knighting of Kaye that precedes both these scenes. The climax of the film features a battle between midgets and foresters doing combats against the usurper's misguided loyalists, and Kaye's exhibiting the royal birthmark on the baby king's bottom to prove his right to lie on the throne. What ends with a song called "Life Couldn't Possibly Better Be" and begins with "You'll Never Outfox the Fox" has by that scene traversed areas of hilarity few have ever ventured upon, or even dreamed to reach. A key to the film lies in the comedic use of Mildred Natwick as a spell-casting Svengali exercising power over the Princess (lansbury) who is besotted with the idea of romantic love; half the goings on are due to her machinations that complicate an already astonishing situation. The rest is made possible by Kaye's impersonating the jester Giacomo (Carradine) who has been sent for by the bad men to do in the opposition. The colors are gorgeous in this film, the acting far above average, and Kaye is at his absolute best whether doing faked accents, signing a lullaby to the boy king or proving that courage is not a matter of muscles at all. This is a movie to fetch out of the vault on any holiday, or for any other excuse. With a bit more care at cutting down Sylvia Fine's vaudeville- type material for Kaye, the movie might have been as appreciated when it was first released as it is now.
Not much goes wrong with this movie, a delightful spoof of action-costumer movies. Danny Kaye is an absolute delight as the young rebel impersonating a jester in the court of an evil king (although in this film, his evil is blunted) but mistaken for a hit man. There have been few performers who could light up an entire scene by their mere presence, and Kaye is one of them. Who in this day could do what he did? He could sing, he could dance, and he could make you laugh so hard you could only take liquids the next day. And in this movie he gets a chance to do all three, plus do some swashbuckling! Also along for the ride are the elegant Glynis Johns, who plays his superior in the slight rebel force trying to return the throne to its rightful owner, and Basil Rathbone, who could play the clever, suave cad as good as anyone in movies. Film buffs may remember Rathbone's turn as the Sheriff of Nottingham in 1939's "The Adventures of Robin Hood," which starred the eminent Errol Flynn. In that movie, Rathbone has a memorable sword-fighting scene with Flynn; here, that scene is copied, with Kaye a hilarious stand-in for Errol. This movie is a true delight, a must-see for all ages.
The Court Jester finds Danny Kaye in Merry Old England fighting in his
own small way the usurpation of the throne by Cecil Parker. The real
king is an infant who can only be identified by the royal birthmark
that is on all the royal family. It's the purple pimpernel and it's on
a spot where the sun doesn't normally shine.
His contribution is small, as small as that group of traveling midget acrobats Kaye travels with. But the leader of the resistance the Black Fox played by Edward Ashley needs entertainment for the troops. Kaye and the small tumblers provide a kind of medieval USO show for them.
But through a bizarre set of circumstances Kaye, his true love Glynis Johns and the royal babe find themselves in Parker's well guarded palace.
It'a a good thing there were a lot of conflicting agendas working at that time. Cecil Parker who likes being king, especially for the perks it provides like Glynis Johns if he can seduce her. There's prime minister Basil Rathbone who's hired the real Giacomo the Jester more for his ability as an assassin. Giacomo, played by John Carradine had the misfortune to be waylaid by Kaye and Johns on the way to the palace.
And we can't forget Parker's daughter Angela Lansbury who does not want to marry roughneck knight Robert Middleton who really does want to marry her. And of course sorceress Mildred Natwick who keeps the bumbling Kaye alive with hypnotism at critical moments.
With all that to consider The Court Jester turns into one of Danny Kaye's funniest comedies. It borrows from a lot of films, The Adventures of Robin Hood being one, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court being another. And that famous Danny Kaye routine about the poisonous vessel with that elusive pestle was taken from Bob Hope's 1939 movie Never Say Die.
Well no one claimed The Court Jester was original, it's just very funny. As the song says it does end like a fairy tale, though I do wonder just what became of Angela Lansbury. You might wonder that too, when you see the film.
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