Sunday, June 20, 2010

Tonight's Movie: The Court Jester (1956)

THE COURT JESTER is a colorful medieval comedy which shows off the talents of a fine cast headed by Danny Kaye and Glynis Johns.

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!"


Blogger Missy said...

Oh my, The Court Jester! This used to be on the WGN Weekend Matinee at least once every other year! I haven't watched it in years. I have a friend that knows all the words to "The vessel with the pestle has the pellet with the poison, the chalice from the palace has the brew that is true." I'm completely shocked this is your first viewing! You clearly didn't have WGN access as a kid. ;-)

This same friend and I led a group in The Scarlet Pimpernel's "They seek him here, they seek him there, those Frenchies seek him everywhere..." in a bookstore cafe recently. "Because I hear that they do, you know." LOL! OK, a different movie, but the quotes, the quotes!


8:19 PM  
Blogger Irene said...

One of our families favorite movies. My daughter and I still say "get it. got it. good." all the time and at one point she had that whole vessel with the pestle dialog memorized ;)

8:48 PM  
Blogger Ivan G Shreve Jr said...

I'm never been a fan of Danny Kaye's, but this is the film that won me over. (Well, this and Knock On Wood.) It is one of the most perfect movie comedies ever made--I've lost count how many times I've seen it but every time I revisit it it's a positive joy.

8:51 PM  
Blogger Sally said...

I simply adore this movie. One of my absolute favorites! Great choice!

9:27 PM  
Blogger panavia999 said...

I am also not a fan of Danny Kaye - he's a genius, but it's just not my style. Sometimes, there's just too much "Danny Kaye". THE COURT JESTER is his film that I like best, probably because there is such a great ensemble. The sword fight is great. Basil Rathbone was in his 60's when he did that! (I never tire of Basil Rathbone in a swordfight.) I also love the bit where Danny Kaye moved around the castle by swinging around the castle walls on ropes.

9:06 AM  
Blogger Gordon Pasha said...

Thank you Laura.

Very good review. And let us not forget the Duke and the Doge and the Duchess and the dirk. I loved Jester when I first saw it in a theatre and still do every time my wife and I watch it. And they were wise enough to enlist a drill team for the knighthood ceremony.

I was going to say that Mildred Natwick has never been better – but she is special in everything.

How do you set this reviewing pace? Best


11:42 AM  
Blogger James Corry said...

Pound-for-pound "The Court Jester" has got to be (still!) one of the most consistently funny movies I've ever seen; with one "gag" topping another from beginning to end.

4:44 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

I have so enjoyed all your comments! This is a film which clearly has struck a strong cord with many people, judging by the reactions here. Thanks to each one of you by sharing your memories!

Missy, it's interesting I remember watching many of Kaye's films -- including WONDER MAN, UP IN ARMS, and WALTER MITTY -- on KTLA CH. 5 growing up, but I never came across THE COURT JESTER.

Gerald, I was fascinated to learn the soldiers in the ceremony were a drill team. Vis-a-vis movie viewing, it helps that for the most part I don't watch TV series, other than occasionally on DVD. I love to read but since I read hundreds of pages a week for my business, and also do quite a bit of reading as a homeschooler, by 9 or 10 p.m. my eyes are ready to take a break from that and watch a movie. I keep a list of short movies (under 80 minutes) which are easier to fit in later in the evening, although I still often must split them into two viewings. I find being able to share movie information and recommendations with others via blogging is also a good motivator! (P.S. I think my favorite Natwick role is in SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON...)

Panavia, Rathbone's age hadn't even occurred to me when I was watching him fencing -- *wow*, he was in fabulous shape, wasn't he?

Irene, I have a feeling I'm going to find myself saying "Get it? Got it. Good!" a lot in the future. :)

Thanks also to Sally, Ivan, and Brad for stopping by and contributing!

Best wishes,

10:30 PM  
Blogger panavia999 said...

Rathbone was considered the best movie swordsman. It was supposedly his favorite form of exercise. The final duel in "Mark of Zorro" is a high mark in movie sword fights and Tyrone Power does a great job too; also consider that Rathbone was 48 and Power was 26 when it was done. Interested parties can watch it here:
In Comedy of Terrors, Rathbone's character is reading MacBeth in bed when he leaps out of bed, grabs a sword and acts out the play - very spry at 71.

I like Danny Kaye in smaller doses. He is so energetic and spontaneous that a feature length movie is often too much. ( Jim Carrey's comedy has the same effect on me - best seen in sketches not full length movies.) I prefer ensemble work in comedy which is why The Court Jester works for me.

11:03 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks for your additional thoughts, Panavia. THE MARK OF ZORRO and THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD are two of my very favorite movies, and Rathbone's skill is a big part of what makes each film work so well.

Best wishes,

11:07 AM  

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