Review of The Court Jester (1955) starring Danny Kaye, Angela Lansbury, Glynis Johns, Basil Rathbone
I can safely say that The Court Jester with Danny Kaye is one of the funniest movies that I’ve ever seen. The film begins in medieval England with a band of outlaws led by the Black Fox, determined to put the rightful king of England on the throne. The king is only a baby, with the tell-tale birthmark, a purple pimpernel, on his royal bottom. In charge of the infant is Hubert Hawkins, a carnival performer played wonderfully by Danny Kaye. He and Maid Jean (played by Glynnis Johns) must take the child to safety, hidden inside a secret compartment in a cart, as Danny Kaye pretends to be an old man, who has to ‘interpret’ for his ‘deaf granddaughter’ when interrogated by the king’s men—a very, very funny scene—‘she stutters.’
They stay in a stable for shelter from a storm, and after revealing their true love for each other, and revealing the rebels’ plan needing to sneak into the castle for the audience’s sake, they are interrupted by another traveler seeking refuge from the storm—Giacomo (pronounced Jock-o-mo), king of jesters, and jester to the king! A quick blow to the head later, Maid Jean reveals her plan to Danny Kaye—he must impersonate Giacomo, sneak into the castle, meet their ‘inside man’ there by whistling a certain tune, and open the hidden passage so that the Black Fox and his men can storm the castle. Frightened but willing, Hubert (Danny Kaye) impersonates Giacomo, and the next morning is off to the castle, while Maid Jean plans to take the infant to safety.
While ‘Giacomo’ is on the way to the castle, the pretty Maid Jean is taken by the king’s guards to the castle as well. Once they are at the castle, misunderstandings and changing personalities come fast and furious. At the castle is the king’s romantically-frustrated daughter, Princess Gwendolyn (Angela Lansbury), who’s maid Griselda has been promising that her ‘true love’ is about to appear—and the princess has had all that she intends to put up with, until Griselda persuades her that the newly-arrived Giacomo is her one true love. Being a bit of a witch (or a hypnotist) Griselda hypnotizes ‘Giacomo’ into being a brave, foolhardy suitor for the princess, leading to a hilarious scene where Danny Kaye is in the princess’ bedroom, when her father comes in—and every time someone snaps their fingers, Danny Kaye’s character changes from the bumbling Hubert to the swashbuckling suitor—and back again. More along this line happens later, when in a hilarious sword fight with the villainous Sir Ravenhurst, played wonderfully by Basil Rathbone.
But before then, Basil Rathbone’s character wants to meet with Giacomo for a different reason—the real Giacomo is not only a gifted jester, but an assasin as well—and later Griselda poisons the men that ‘Giacomo’ is expected to kill, in a very funny moment. But when the princess reveals her love for the commoner ‘Giacomo’, he’s going to be killed—until the king decides to make him a knight (Danny Kaye passing the knight tests is worth the price of admission) so that a jealous suitor can meet him in a jousting tournament, which the Princess is determined that he win—leading Griselda to put poison in one of the two goblets that the contestants will drink from, and leading to the one the greatest verbal comedy exchanges of all time—”the vessel with the pestle.” But ‘Giacomo’ miraculously wins without the poison, and the film, which wasn’t slow-paced before, really gains speed. Soon the Black Fox and his men (including Herbert’s friends, midgets) are in the castle, a frenetic battle happens, along with the “snapping” sword fight between Danny Kaye’s character and Basil Rathbone’s—utterly, tears-running-down-your-face hilarious. At the end, all is well, and this very, very funny movie is over all too soon. A very funny movie, and well worth watching—highly recommended.
plot summary for “The Court Jester” starring Danny Kaye, Angela Lansbury, Glynnis Johns
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–and all he needs is the king’s key to a secret tunnel. And while he’s trying to steal it, someone has to change the king’s diapers. The task falls to Hawkins, the gentlest member of the Fox’s band. The Fox’s lieutenant, Maid Jean, 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 Hawkins becomes Giacomo: the king of jesters and jester to the king. But things begin to get zany when the King’s daughter falls for Giacomo, the King falls for Jean, people randomly sing what are supposed to be recognition codes, and a witch with very effective spells (and poison pellets) begins to interfere.
Editorial review of The Court Jester, starring Danny Kaye, Glynnis Johns, Angela Lansbury, Basil Rathbone, courtesy of Amazon.com
Danny Kaye spoofs Robin Hood and Scaramouche in this inventive slapstick swashbuckler. Portraying the clownish but good-hearted entertainer Hawkins, he infiltrates the court of the corrupt Basil Rathbone (up to his usual brand of cruel villainy) disguised as the legendary king of jesters, Giacomo. After a court sorceress hypnotizes Hawkins into believing he is also a legendary assassin, Hawkins has more identities than he can keep straight, and Kaye zips back and forth between them at, literally, a snap of the fingers. Comic highlights include a wonderful sword fight with Rathbone in which he constantly switches identities, and the classic “chalice from the palace/vessel with pestle” wordplay as Hawkins plays “hide the poison” and forgets where it is. With comely Glynis Johns as his spy-in-arms love interest, Angela Lansbury as the scheming princess, and Mildred Natwick as the dotty spellcaster, this is Danny Kaye at his comic best. –Sean Axmaker
Funny movie quotes from The Court Jester, starring Danny Kaye
King Roderick (Cecil Parker): The Duke. What did the Duke do?
Hubert Hawkings (Danny Kaye):Eh… the Duke do?
King Roderick (Cecil Parker): Yes. And what about the Doge?
Hubert Hawkings (Danny Kaye):Oh, the Doge!
King Roderick (Cecil Parker): Eh. Well what did the Doge do?
Hubert Hawkings (Danny Kaye):The Doge do?
King Roderick (Cecil Parker): Yes, the Doge do.
Hubert Hawkings (Danny Kaye):Well, uh, the Doge did what the Doge does. Eh, uh, when the Doge does his duty to the Duke, that is.
King Roderick (Cecil Parker): What? What’s that?
Hubert Hawkings (Danny Kaye):Oh, it’s very simple, sire. When the Doge did his duty and the Duke didn’t, that’s when the Duchess did the dirt to the Duke with the Doge.
King Roderick (Cecil Parker): Who did what to what?
Hubert Hawkings (Danny Kaye):Oh, they all did, sire. There they were in the dark; the Duke with his dagger, the Doge with his dart, Duchess with her dirk.
King Roderick (Cecil Parker): Duchess with her dirk?
Hubert Hawkings (Danny Kaye):Yes! The Duchess dove at the Duke just when the Duke dove at the Douge. 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!
King Roderick (Cecil Parker): Curious. I… I… hm? What? What’s that? All I heard was that the Duchess had a siege of rheumatism. She’s 83, you know.
Hubert Hawkings (Danny Kaye): What manner of man is Giacomo? Ha ha! I shall tell you what manner of man is he. He lives for a sigh, he dies for a kiss, he lusts for the laugh, ha! He never walks when he can leap! He never flees when he can fight (thud) oop! He swoons at the beauty of a rose. And I offer myself to you, all of me. My heart. My lips. My legs. My calves. Do what you will – my love endures. Beat me. Kick me. (kiss, kiss) I am yours.
King Roderick (Cecil Parker): What are you loo-loo-looing about?
Hubert Hawkings (Danny Kaye):Oh, I’m not loo-loo-looing, Sire, I’m willow-willow-wailing.
King Roderick (Cecil Parker): All right, all right. Willow away, willow away.
Hubert Hawkings (Danny Kaye): After months of pleading for just this kind of action, what makes you think that anybody – anybody could make me reveal the identity of my confederate?
Maid Jean (Glynnis Johns): Because they’d put you on the rack, crack your every bone, scald you with hot oil, and remove the nails off your fingers with flaming hot pincers.
Hubert Hawkings (Danny Kaye): I’d… like to withdraw the question.
King Roderick (Cecil Parker): Would you grant the king a little kiss?
Maid Jean (Glynnis Johns): Oh, certainly, sire, and don’t worry. They say it isn’t catching.
King Roderick (Cecil Parker): Oh, you are a little… catching?
Maid Jean (Glynnis Johns): Just because it runs in the family doesn’t mean that everyone has it. Kiss me, sire!
King Roderick (Cecil Parker): Has it? Has what?
Maid Jean (Glynnis Johns): Don’t I please you, sire?
King Roderick (Cecil Parker): Oh, yes, yes, but, eh, these brothers and cousins and uncles…
Maid Jean (Glynnis Johns): And aunts. But let us not talk about their swollen, twisted, pain ridden bodies. Hold me, take me in your arms, tell me I am yours!
King Roderick (Cecil Parker): But this, this uh writhing on the floor…
Hubert Hawkings (Danny Kaye): Hawkins-Good stock. Good battle. Good-bye.
King Roderick (Cecil Parker): Rules of Chivalry be hanged! Ravenhurst, take that nincompoop, and knight that nincompoop by noon tomorrow!
Captain of the Guard (Herbert Rudley): [Hawkins is being tested for Knighthood] He must scale a wall in full armor.
[Hawkins is tossed over the wall]
Captain of the Guard (Herbert Rudley): Candidate passes!
Captain of the Guard (Herbert Rudley): He must bring down a hawk in full flight.
[a hawk with an arrow is tossed on the ground]
Captain of the Guard (Herbert Rudley): Candidate passes.
Hubert Hawkings (Danny Kaye): But I didn’t even shoo…
Captain of the Guard (Herbert Rudley): [shouts] Candidate passes!
Captain of the Guard (Herbert Rudley): He must capture a wild boar with his bare hands.
[a piglet comes out of a chute followed by sound effects of splashing in the mud]
Captain of the Guard (Herbert Rudley): He passes!
Hubert Hawkings (Danny Kaye):Why be gloomy, cut off thy nose to spite thy face? Listen to me. A nose is hard to replace.
[picking his weapon for the joust against Griswold]
Hubert Hawkings (Danny Kaye):I’ll take one of those, one of those, ooh, a couple of those.
[he pauses and glances over at Griswold]
Hubert Hawkings (Danny Kaye):I’d better take them all.
Hubert Hawkings (Danny Kaye): [on training to become a jester] I’m proud to recall that at no time at all and with no other recourses but my own resources, with firm application and determination… I made a fool of myself!
Trivia for The Court Jester (1956) starring Danny Kaye
- Unimpressed with him in tights, producers of the film made Danny Kaye wear ‘leg falsies’ to improve the shape of his legs.
- Danny Kaye’s daughter, Dena Kaye, said for the rest of his life, when people recognized Danny in a restaurant, they would walk up and spout the entire “brew that is true” speech.
- Basil Rathbone was a world-class fencer and it was due to his efforts that the hilarious fencing scene was filmed without injury. He later admitted that several times he was almost skewered by Danny Kaye’s sword.
- But then again… In the famous “snapping” swordfight between Kaye and Rathbone, Kaye’s sword movements were too fast for Rathbone, as he was 63 at the time of filming. The film’s fight choreographer dressed up as Rathbone’s character and was filmed from behind for the fast sections. If you look, you can see that most of the fight consists of “Rathbone” from the back, then shots of the real Rathbone standing “en garde”.
- The “Now I can shoot and toot” speech during “The Maladjusted Jester” was previously said by Danny Kaye in his first feature role in Up in Arms (1944)
- Some songs that were written but not heard in the film a
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