The Court Jester (1955)

The perfect example of Kaye's comic versatility.

“King of jesters and jester to the king.”

Due to limited time, limited brainpower, and the aggravating unreliability of modern technology, this week’s post will be somewhat shorter than usual. *all four of SC’s regular readers emit a sharp gasp*

Are you ready to laugh? You’d better be. The Court Jester is perhaps the perfect introduction to comedy legend Danny Kaye. To give you an idea of how funny he really was, listen to this: he was Bob Hope’s favorite comedian, he received a Special Tony Award for heading a variety bill at the Palace Theatre, and he once conducted the Philharmonic Orchestra at New York’s Carnegie Hall with his feet. That’s what I call skill.

Anyway, a movie like this is indeed a rare find. It blends romance, adventure, and superb comedy. Wit, thy name is Kaye!  And Fine. And Frank. And Panama. And–sorry.

But seriously, The Court Jester is, quite simply, whimsy. It’s pure merriment. It’s one of those movies from which you walk away saying, “I didn’t learn a thing. But I had fun.” And, really, that’s what comedy is all about. Satire is great, I’ll admit. But, overall, I enjoy innocent and/or senseless humor much more than humor that makes a statement.

I contradict myself a lot, don’t I? Well, I apologize. But seriously, you’re going to have to get used to it.

There are some classic routines in this film, including “Vessel with the pestle…”, “The Maladjusted Jester” (a tongue-twisting song written by Kaye’s wife, Sylvia Fine), and the oft-repeated line, “Get it?” “Got it.” “Good.” Dana Carvey did NOT create that line. Carvey may be The Master of Disguise, but the title of Master of Comedy belongs to Danny Kaye.

(Wasn’t that a clever, bitingly sarcastic statement? I thought so.)

Here’s my professional suggestion: Make yourself comfortable. Watch this movie. Eat chocolate. That’s my technique, and it hasn’t failed me yet.

Synopsis

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. The task falls to Hawkins (Kaye), the gentlest (and perhaps most clueless) member of the Fox’s band. The Fox’s lieutenant, Maid Jean (Johns), 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, bumbling Hawkins becomes Giacomo: the king of jesters and jester to the king.

Information

Directed by Melvin Frank and Norman Panama;

Written by Melvin Frank (screenplay) and Norman Panama (screenplay);

Starring Danny Kaye as Hubert Hawkins, Glynis Johns as Maid Jean, Angela Lansbury as Princess Gwendolyn, and Basil Rathbone (who is awesome, by the way; one of my favorite dramatic actors) as Sir Ravenhurst;

Produced by Melvin Frank (producer), Norman Panama (producer), Sylvia Fine (executive producer), and Danny Kaye (executive producer);

Music by Vic Schoen, Walter Scharf (uncredited), Sylvia Fine (songs);

Facts

Apparently Danny Kaye’s legs (in tights) were not satisfactory to the film’s producers, so they made him wear “leg falsies” to improve the shape of his legs. I, of course, would not need any such assistance.

Basil Rathbone was, in real life, a world-class fencer. Thanks to his efforts, the scene was filmed without injury. Supposedly, he later admitted that several times he was almost run through with Kaye’s sword. However…

…It’s also been said that Kaye’s sword movements were too fast for poor Basil, who, though still in great shape, was 63 at the time. Also supposedly, the fight choreographer dressed up as Rathbone’s character and was filmed from behind for the fast sections.

Oh, and if this post is completely incomprehensible, I have an excuse. I’ve been preparing for a big debate tournament all week, and I’ve just returned from the actual event. So, in conclusion, I apologize if the post is cryptic. It’s no fault of my own.

-luke

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Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968)

The Wonder Car.

“Good morning. I hope you had a pleasant journey. In a few minutes we will be landing in Vulgaria.”

It’s fantastic. It’s absurd. It’s whimsical. It’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Sure, it’s juvenile. That’s what makes it so fun!

If you’re like me, you remember this film from your childhood. And if you’re like me, you remember the undeniably singable songs, “Up from the Ashes”, “P.O.S.H.”, and, of course, the theme song. The songs in this film, masterfully created by the Sherman Brothers, are some of the rare songs you are happy to have stuck in your head.

But the songs aren’t everything. There is an exceptionally imaginative story, written by Roald Dahl (the mind behind Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, and last year’s Fantastic Mr. Fox) and based on a novel by Ian Fleming (the creator of the enormously popular James Bond series). For pure, unhindered, surrealistic storytelling, there isn’t a better team on Earth.

Dick Van Dyke (who plays the eccentric inventor, Caractacus Potts, to perfection) had gotten his start in showbiz only a few years before Chitty’s release. A mere five years earlier, he had gotten his first starring role in the musical comedy, Bye Bye Birdie. In autumn of the next year, the extremely popular family film, Mary Poppins, was released, in which he played Bert/Mr. Dawes Senior. Then, of course, there was “The Dick Van Dyke Show”, which enjoyed a five-season run, from 1961-1966. Although Chitty was not well-received by critics (or audiences, at the time of its release), it remains my favorite Van Dyke film.

This film is nostalgia for many of us, but for those of you who have not seen the movie, I have a few warnings for you. Firstly, this film was made for children. However, it’s considerably more intellectual than anything you’ll find “for kids” nowadays. It’s a movie that explores imagination. Most modern children’s films ignore the miracle altogether. It’s a movie to make you wonder. It’s an exhilarating breath of fresh air. A rare find: a movie with heart.

Synopsis

In early 20th century England, eccentric inventor Caractacus Potts (Dick Van Dyke) struggles to make ends meet. He lives with his equally eccentric father (Lionel Jefferies) and his two children. When the children beg Caractacus to purchase their favorite plaything–a broken-down jalopy in a local junkyard–he does everything he can to obtain the funds with which to buy it. One scheme to raise money involves the unexpected assistance of a beautiful and wealthy young woman they have just met named Truly Scrumptious (Sally Ann Howes), the daughter of a candy factory owner. Caractacus eventually acquires the needed money and buys the car.

Using his inventing skills, Caractacus transforms the piece of junk into a beautiful working machine, which they name Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (because of the noise the engine makes). At a seaside picnic with his children and Truly, Caractacus spins a fanciful tale of an eccentric inventor, his pretty girlfriend (who is the daughter of a candy factory owner), his two children, and a magical car named Chitty all in the faraway land of Vulgaria. The ruthless buffoon Baron Bomburst, the ruler of Vulgaria, will do whatever he can to get his hands on the magical car. Furthermore, children have been outlawed in Vulgaria. Caractacus and the gang must save Chitty–and the children of Vulgaria.

Information

Directed by Ken Hughes;

Written by Ian Fleming (novel on which it was based), Roald Dahl (screenplay), Ken Hughes (screenplay), Richard Maibaum (additional dialogue);

Starring Dick Van Dyke as Caractacus Potts, Sally Ann Howes as Truly Scrumptious, Lionel Jefferies as Grandpa Potts, Gert Fröbe as Baron Bomburst, Anna Quayle as Baroness Bomburst, Benny Hill as Toymaker, and Robert Helpmann as Child Catcher;

Produced by Albert R. Broccoli (producer), and Stanley Sopel (associate producer);

Music by Irwin Kostal (conductor, music supervisor), Richard M. Sherman (music and lyrics), and Robert B. Sherman (music and lyrics).

Facts

Lionel Jeffries played Dick Van Dyke’s father, despite the fact that Dick Van Dyke is actually six months older than Jeffries.

Besides the failed Bob Hope film, Call Me Bwana, and the unfinished Nijinsky, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is the only non-James Bond film to be produced by Albert R. Broccoli.

The colors of the floating Chitty–purple, green, and white–were the colors of the women’s suffrage movement of that time.

This is the first non-Disney film to feature songs by the Sherman Brothers.

Van Dyke only accepted the lead role on the condition that he would not have to attempt an English accent.

Director Ken Hughes reportedly hated the finished film.

Dick Van Dyke’s character was named for Caractacus, the last independent ruler of England before the Roman conquest of southern England.

The role of Truly Scrumptious was originally intended for Julie Andrews, but she was unavailable. Dick Van Dyke helped choose Sally Ann Howes because he thought her singing voice was ideal for the part.

The scenes in and around Baron Bomburst’s castle in Vulgaria were shot on location at King Ludwig II’s Castle Neuschwanstein, located at the foot of the Alps on the Bavarian-Austrian border.

The musical number ‘Toot Sweets’ took three weeks to film and involved 38 dancers, 40 singers, 85 musicians and 100 dogs. How would you like to wrangle that?

-luke