Court Jester, The (1955)

“I’d like to get in, get on with it, get it over with, and get out. Get it?”

Court Jester Poster

Synopsis:
A lowly performer (Danny Kaye) helps a revolutionary maiden (Glynis Johns) restore the rightful heir — a baby with a purple pimpernel birth mark — to the throne of England by going undercover as a court jester.

Genres:

Review:
Along with his title roles in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947) and Hans Christian Andersen (1952), Danny Kaye is probably best known for his performance in this spoof of Robin Hood-era swashbucklers. As in most of his other films, Kaye is cast here as a mild-mannered nebbish who is suddenly thrust into a world of excitement and danger, and must call upon inner resources to help save the day (all while tentatively romancing a beautiful leading lady — in this case, Glynis Johns). I find the film on the whole not all that amusing or particularly inventive, but there are some enjoyable sequences — most memorably, of course, Kaye’s confusion over a “vessel with a pestle” and a “chalice from the palace”, one of which is poisonous and the other of which contains “brew that is true”. This lively scene is indicative of the film’s overall infectious sense of wordplay — as in the following exchange (Kaye’s tongue is limber indeed!):

The Duchess dove at the Duke just when the Duke dove at the Doge. Now the Duke ducked, the Doge dodged, and the Duchess didn’t. So the Duke got the Duchess, the Duchess got the Doge, and the Doge got the Duke!

Watch for Angela Lansbury, Basil Rathbone, Mildred Natwick, and John Carradine (among others) in nicely turned supporting roles.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Danny Kaye as Hubert Hawkins
    Court Jester Kaye
  • Glynis Johns as Maid Jean
    Court Jester Johns
  • The justifiably famous “pestle in the vessel” sequence
    Court Jester Pestle
  • The amusing final swashbuckling encounter between Kaye and Rathbone

Must See?
Yes. While The Secret Life of Walter Mitty remains my favorite Kaye film, The Court Jester is beloved by many, and should be seen at least once by all film fanatics.

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2 Responses to “Court Jester, The (1955)”

  1. A delightful must – as entertaining as it is timeless!

    So I suppose I veer from the assessment to a noticeable degree. It’s been awhile since I’ve seen that other DK biggie ‘Walter Mitty’ (so I’ll have to see how that strikes me once I revisit) – and I’m not an overwhelming fan of Kaye’s. However, I don’t see this primarily as a Danny Kaye movie, even if he is front and center.

    Each time I see this film, I’m taken with what an ensemble piece it is – not speaking only of the cast, but the writers and crew as well. It’s one of those magical movies in which everyone clearly seems to be on the same page – and is having quite a delicious time being there.

    The marvelously intricate farce script by directors Melvin Frank and Norman Panama (as the opening theme song tells us, “…plot we’ve got, quite a lot”) – combined with the fiendishly clever lyrics by Sylvia Fine, mostly set to music by Sammy Cahn – makes for just about non-stop glee. This is a movie I tend to see at least once a year, and love it every time. It is simply a refreshing potion (if you will) of ingenious comedic set-ups – madcap mayhem at its finest!

    And the laughs start from the get-go, with Kaye’s opening number. I’m always tickled by how Fine’s lyrics here comment on the opening credits. We also get Basil Rathbone’s name tossed back in again and again, making it humorously clear who the villain will be.

    With the sterling aid of Lansbury, Rathbone and Natwick, the entire cast is at the top of their game – but who wouldn’t be with a script this good? (My favorite of Kaye’s routines has to be when he is hypnotized by Natwick. That and the subsequent finger-snappings that send him reeling from courageous to cowardly never fail to slay me.) What makes the cast shine even brighter is the expert timing in every detail. A real treat and kudos to all! “Life could not better be!” indeed!

    NOTE: The preciousness of this tale is very similar to what’s found in the musical ‘Once Upon a Mattress’ – and its silliness rests on a similar level.

  2. OMG! (See? Since there are many wonderful scenes to recall,) I failed to mention a particular fave: Glynis Johns (thoroughly charming – actually, alluring throughout) visits the King in order to retrieve a key. Realizing the King is (again) lusting after her, she tries to hold him off by concocting a tale of fatal illness running in her family. The King – being sex-mad and, therefore, only vaguely interested in what she has to say – does *finally* hear her and then tries to hold *her* off as she implores him to make love to her. Hilarious!

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