7.9/10
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112 user 36 critic

The Court Jester (1955)

Approved | | Adventure, Comedy, Family | 27 January 1956 (USA)
A hapless carnival performer masquerades as the court jester as part of a plot against an evil ruler who has overthrown the rightful king.
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ON DISC
Nominated for 1 Golden Globe. Another 1 win. See more awards »

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
Danny Kaye ... Hubert Hawkins
Glynis Johns ... Maid Jean
Basil Rathbone ... Sir Ravenhurst
Angela Lansbury ... Princess Gwendolyn
Cecil Parker ... King Roderick I
Mildred Natwick ... Griselda
Robert Middleton ... Sir Griswold
Michael Pate ... Sir Locksley
Herbert Rudley ... Captain of the Guard
Noel Drayton Noel Drayton ... Fergus
John Carradine ... Giacomo
Edward Ashley ... Black Fox
Alan Napier ... Sir Brockhurst
Lewis Martin Lewis Martin ... Sir Finsdale
Patrick Aherne Patrick Aherne ... Sir Pertwee
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Storyline

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 Kathy Li

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis

Taglines:

SONGS! Where Walks My True Love -- Baby Let Me Take You Dreaming -- Life Could Not Better Be -- The Maladjusted Jester -- My Heart Knows A Lovely Song! -- Outfox The Fox See more »


Certificate:

Approved | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »
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Details

Country:

USA

Language:

English

Release Date:

27 January 1956 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Der Hofnarr See more »

Filming Locations:

Palos Verdes, California, USA See more »

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Box Office

Budget:

$4,000,000 (estimated)

Gross USA:

$2,200,000, 31 December 1956
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Dena Enterprises See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Mono (Western Electric Recording)

Color:

Color (Technicolor)

Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See full technical specs »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

Danny Kaye's daughter, Dena Kaye, said for the rest of his life, when people recognized Danny in a restaurant, they would walk up and spout the entire "brew that is true" speech. See more »

Goofs

During the tournament between Sir Griswold and Hawkins, when Sir Griswold lops off Hawkins' helmet, the helmet's visor opens and a head can be seen inside the helmet. Then Hawkins' head is shown emerging from his armor. See more »

Quotes

[first lines]
Hawkins: Life could not better be / Better be, better be / It could not possibly / No sirrah, sir-rah, sirree! / Songs could not gayer be / Sound your do-re-o-mi, re-mi-fa-so-la-see, fa-la-la-la follow me! / Why be gloomy? / Cut thy nose off to spite thy face? / Listen to me / A nose is hard to replace! / Skies could not bluer be / Hearts in love truer be / I say for you or me / Life couldn't possibly, not even probably / Life couldn't possibly better be! Life could not better be / On a ...
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Crazy Credits

After the cast credits appear, Basil Rathbone's name slides onto the screen two more times, in large type used in ghost or horror films; and Danny Kaye each time knocks it off the screen. See more »

Connections

Referenced in The Master of Disguise (2002) See more »

Soundtracks

Ritual of Knighthood
Performed by Chorus
Written by Sammy Cahn and Sylvia Fine
See more »

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User Reviews

 
The review that is true
8 July 2005 | by BrandtSponsellerSee all my reviews

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.


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