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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