The Court Jester
(1956), 101 min. color

King Roderick, the jester, and Ravenhurst

"The Court Jester" is one of the funniest comedies of all time. Danny Kaye is brilliant, and Rathbone has fun spoofing himself in his "villain" roles.

"The child lives?" asks the king, as Ravenhurst looks on.Basil plays an evil character named Ravenhurst, the King's right-hand man. Ravenhurst is a character similar to Sir Guy of Gisbourne (The Adventures of Robin Hood).  The King has usurped the throne by murdering the royal family. One member of the royal family, the rightful heir to the throne, survived the massacre -- a baby with a purple pimpernel birthmark on his bottom. An elusive, dashing outlaw, "The Black Fox," (a Robin Hood-type character) and his followers have kept the baby safe. When the King hears that the child lives, he sends his men into the forest to find the child and kill him. Hawkins (Danny Kaye) and Jean (Glynis Johns) are transporting the baby to safety when they encounter Giacomo, a court jester from Italy on his way to the palace. Jean tells Hawkins that there is a secret passageway underground into the castle, and that if a small group of the outlaws could get into the castle, they could overtake the King's forces. But someone needs to get close to the King in order to get the key to the passageway. They realize that the Jester will be close to the King. So, Jean knocks Giacomo unconscious, Hawkins takes his place as the Jester and sets off toward the castle. 

Before Jean can get the baby to safety, the King's men take her and her cart, with its precious cargo hidden inside, to the castle. Much confusion ensues trying to keep the baby hidden and trying to get the key.Danny Kaye and Rathbone

Unknown to Hawkins, Giacomo is in reality a skillful assassin whom Ravenhurst has sent for to kill his enemies. The King, fearing that the followers of the Black Fox will become an army too strong for his forces, has arranged to form an alliance with Griswold, a knight from the North with a strong army. Ravenhurst opposes the alliance because it puts Griswold at the king's right hand, and Ravenhurst loses influence and power. Therefore Ravenhurst has hired Giacomo to kill those in the court who support the alliance.

The King has also arranged for a marriage between Griswold and the King's daughter, to seal the alliance. The princess is so upset with the thought of marrying Griswold, she threatens to kill herself and her maid Griselda, a witch. Griselda assures the princess that she will not have to marry Griswold. Griselda then hypnotizes the jester to be cavalier and woo the princess. The spell is broken by the snap of the fingers. Several characters snap their fingers, unaware of the effect it has on the jester, who falls in and out of the spell innumerable times, with very comical results.

Danny Kaye and Rathbone
Ravenhurst believes the jester poisoned
Brockhurst, Finsdale and Pertwee, and praises him.
Rathbone and Michael Pate
Ravenhurst and Sir Locksley
enjoy the jester's performance.

To ensure that Hawkins will win a joust with Griswold, Griselda poisons one of the drinks for the pre-joust toast. She tries to explain to the jester which drink is poisoned.

"The pellet with the poison is in the vessel with the pestle.
The chalice from the palace has the brew that is true."

And after he gets that straight, she comes to him again and says,

"Listen! They broke the chalice from the palace and replaced it with the flagon with the figure of a dragon."
"Did you put the pellet with the poison in the vessel with the pestle?"
"No, the pellet with the poison is in the flagon with the dragon.
The vessel with the pestle has the brew that is true."

Hawkins gets it hopelessly messed up, but he manages to survive anyway.

Rathbone and Kaye duelingIn the end there is an interesting bout of fencing with Hawkins and Ravenhurst, with Hawkins alternating between barely managing to stay alive and out-fencing Ravenhurst. The beginning of this duel, when Hawkins slices through the candles with his sword, is a parody of the fencing scene between Rathbone and Tyrone Power in "The Mark of Zorro." Ravenhurst is finally defeated when some midgets sneak up behind him and surprise him. Then Hawkins flips him onto the catapult, which hurls Ravenhurst into the lake. 

Even at sixty-four, Rathbone duels as expertly and easily as he did when he was younger. In his autobiography, Rathbone raves about Danny Kaye, writing that his "exceptional talents have always made a deep impression on me." Rathbone adds that Kaye did not rely on his God-given talents for success, but worked very hard, "with an aptitude for assimilating and perfecting anything he decides to accomplish. ... In 'The Court Jester' we had to fight a duel together with saber. I don't care much for saber but had had instruction in this weapon during my long association with all manner of swords. Our instructor was Ralph Faulkner, a very well-known swordsman on the Coast who had specialized in saber. After a couple of weeks of instruction Danny Kaye could completely outfight me! Even granting the difference in our ages, Danny's reflexes were incredibly fast, and nothing had to be shown or explained to him a second time." (In and Out of Character, page 152, 153)

"The Court Jester" is an enjoyable movie and Basil is a superb villain, as always.

Rathbone and Kaye
Ravenhurst crosses swords with Hawkins
Rathbone and midgets
Ravenhurst about to be tripped by midgets

 

Click here for more pictures from "The Court Jester"

 

Cast

Credits

Basil Rathbone......................Ravenhurst
Danny Kaye................................Hawkins
Glynis Johns.............................Maid Jean
Angela Lansbury...Princess Gwendolyn
Cecil Parker........................King Roderick
Mildred Natwick...........................Griselda
Robert Middleton..................Sir Griswold
Michael Pate..........................Sir Locksley
Herbert Rudley............Capt. of the Guard
Noel Drayton..................................Fergus
Edward Ashley..........................Black Fox
John Carradine.............................Giacomo
Alan Napier........................Sir Brockhurst
Lewis Martin...........................Sir Finsdale
Pat Aherne...............................Sir Pertwee
Richard Kean..........................Archbishop
Larry Pennell......................Novice Knight
Production Co. .....................Paramount
Producer.......................Norman Panama
............................................Melvin Frank
Director.........................Norman Panama
............................................Melvin Frank
Screenplay....................Norman Panama
............................................Melvin Frank
Cinematographer.....................Ray June 
            (Vista Vision, Technicolor)
Editor................................Tom McAdoo
Music Composers...............Vic Schoen,
              Sylvia Fine and Sammy Cahn
Costume Design...................Edith Head
..........................................Yvonne Wood
Choreography...............James Starbuck

Images on this page and page two are from "The Court Jester," copyright Paramount Pictures.

 

 

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All original content is Marcia Jessen, 2007