King Roderick (Cecil Parker) has usurped the throne, but an infant who is the rightful heir to the throne has been hidden away by the Black Fox (Edward Ashley) and his band of merry men...and women, including lovely Jean (Glynis Johns). Hubert Hawkins (Danny Kaye), a former carnival performer who is one of the Fox's men, replaces Giacomo (John Carradine), the king's newly hired court jester, in order to obtain the key to a secret passageway which will enable the Black Fox to overthrow the pretender to the throne.
Hubert and Jean find themselves entangled in all sorts of intrigue while they attempt to gain possession of the key. Perhaps most problematic is that Roderick's daughter, Princess Gwendolyn (beautiful Angela Lansbury), wants to marry the court jester!
The excellent cast also includes Basil Rathbone (bringing to mind his 1938 ROBIN HOOD role as Sir Guy of Gisbourne) and Michael Pate as Sir Ravenhurst and Sir Locksley, who believe the court jester is an assassin they secretly hired; Mildred Natwick as a witch whose spells constantly confuse matters; and Robert Middleton as "grizzly, gruesome" Sir Griswold, who wants to marry Gwendolyn. Alan Napier and Patrick Aherne (brother of Brian) play knights.
The film's first few minutes are the weakest in the movie; the opening credits didn't do much for me, nor did Kaye singing "Outfox the Fox" on an unattractive set. After that, however, the film really takes off; it's colorful, funny, and filled with outstanding performers and clever set pieces. As the plot complications grow over the film's 101 minutes, it becomes ever funnier. My children saw this years ago and loved it; I can't believe it took me so long to catch up with it myself!
There are many memorable scenes, including Hubert crooning a lullaby to the baby king, dueling with Ravenhurst (there's a priceless bit with candles), and trying to remember "The vessel with the pestle has the pellet with the poison, the chalice from the palace has the brew that is true." Or was it "the flagon with the dragon"? (Kaye's wife, Sylvia Fine, wrote the tongue-twisting songs along with Sammy Cahn.) This film features Danny Kaye in very top form.
I've been enjoying a mini Glynis Johns festival in recent weeks, also seeing her as the title mermaid in MIRANDA (1948) and as a sympathetic stewardess in NO HIGHWAY IN THE SKY (1951). She is wonderful in this -- not to mention absolutely gorgeous -- as the resourceful, fearless Jean.
THE COURT JESTER was produced, written, and directed by Melvin Frank and Norman Panama.
This film has been released on VHS and DVD. The DVD print is beautiful; the only extra is the trailer, which is available at the TCM website.
Paramount films are not often shown on TCM, but they have aired the film in the past, so perhaps it will turn up again, especially as there are plans for TCM to show more Paramount films in the future.
THE COURT JESTER is must viewing for the entire family.
"Get it?" "Got it." "Good!"