COURT JESTER, THE (director/writer: Melvin Frank/Norman Panama; cinematographer: Ray June; editor: Tom McAdoo; music: Sylvia Fine/Vic Schoen; cast: Danny Kaye (Hubert Hawkins), Glynis Johns (Maid Jean), Basil Rathbone (Sir Ravenhurst), Angela Lansbury (Princess Gwendolyn), Cecil Parker (King Roderick I), Mildred Natwick (Griselda), Noel Drayton (Fergus), John Carradine (Giacomo), Herbert Rudley (Captain of the guard), Robert Middleton (Sir Griswold), Edward Ashley (Black Fox), Michael Pate (Sir Locksley), Alan Napier (Sir Brockhurst), Lewis Martin (Sir Pinsdale), Patrick Aherne (Sir Pertwee), Richard Kean and Hermine’s Midgets (Midget helpers the Black Fox); Runtime: 101; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Melvin Frank/Norman Panama; Paramount Pictures; 1955)
“The cleverly written plot is suitable for Kaye’s talent.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
This Danny Kaye spoof on costumed swashbucklers flopped at the box office (budgeted for a 4 million dollar price tag, but only grossing 2.2 million at the box office). The reason for the failure is that the 42-year-old Kaye seemingly has outworn his welcome with the public, but this energetic and lushly filmed musical comedy is one of the star’s more tolerable efforts. It has the memorable burlesque “pellet with the poison” tongue-twisting skit of the “vessel with the pestle”and the “chalice from the palace,” that remains the film’s centerpiece comedy bit. The film relies on its success on how well the viewer goes for Kaye’s physical comedy, who is in almost every shot. This is probably Kaye’s funniest part since his first feature film, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947).
The directing, writing and producing team of Melvin Frank and Norman Panama fill it with every timeworn medieval cliché possible, as it mainly spoofs Errol Flynn’s Robin Hood.
The tyrannical usurper King Roderick (Cecil Parker) of England, in the 12th century, has killed off the royal family except for a baby boy who bears in his rear end the royal birthmark, that of a purple pimpernel. The baby is cared for in the forest by an outlaw named the Black Fox (Edward Ashley), who hopes to restore the rightful king to the throne. When the Black Fox learns the king’s soldiers are nearby, he sends Hubert Hawkins (Danny Kaye), a bumbling ex- carnival performer and caretaker for the child, and the pretty maid Jean (Glynis Johns), a captain in his army, to transport the child king to an abbey in Dover. But things turn complex in the convoluted story, as Giacomo (John Carradine), “King of Jesters and Jester of Kings,” suddenly arrives from the Italian court and intrudes where Hawkins is romancing Jean in a forest shelter. After Jean conks Giacomo on the noggin, Hawkins assumes his identity to become the imposter jester, in order to gain access to Roderick’s court, but he’s unaware that Giacomo is an assassin hired by the king’s right-hand man, Sir Ravenhurst (Basil Rathbone), to kill his three main rivals.
When all is said and done, Hawkins, the baby and Jean end up at the king’s castle and due to a series of mistakes all their lives are in danger. Also the king’s daughter Princess Gwendolyn (Angela Lansbury) is being forced to marry Sir Griswold (Robert Middleton), a powerful Northern knight her father wants to be allies with, but she chooses to marry the court jester and has her witch-like lady attendant Griselda (Mildred Natwick) cast a spell on the court jester to fall in love with Gwendolyn and to be brave so he can take her away from the brutish Griswald. Gwendolyn constantly reminds Griselda, “If he dies, you die.”
The cleverly written plot is suitable for Kaye’s talent, and has a few good turns in its lively and gaudy VistaVision filmed romp. Kaye sings five songs by his wife Sylvia Fine, including the one about a maladjusted jester.
REVIEWED ON 3/23/2008 GRADE: B-
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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