Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Court Jester (1956)



“I've got it! I've got it! The pellet with the poison's in the vessel with the pestle; the chalice from the palace has the brew that is true!”


            The Court Jester is one of those classic comedy films that not many people may have heard of. I remember seeing this film when I was younger and I remember laughing the whole time at how silly it was. Watching now a few years later I was still laughing the whole time at how silly it was. The film is a wonderful spoof of the swashbuckling films of early cinema.
            Hawkins (Danny Kaye) is a former circus performer who has joined a rebel group of the Black Fox. England is under tyrannical rule after the royal family has been disposed by the evil King Roderick. Fortunately a baby who is the heir to throne has survived and the Black Fox and his team plane to return the baby to the throne. Hawkins desperately wants in on the action but the Black Fox will not let him. But his chance finally comes when the “captain” Maid Jean (Glynis Johns) comes back to camp with news of how they can infiltrate the castle. The Black Fox is wanted so cannot go with Jean. Hawkins is finally given his chance to go on a mission.
            Jean and Hawkins disguise themselves as a young deaf woman and her old grandfather. They hide the baby in a barrel on a cart. They narrowly (and hilariously) slip by the guards who are on the lookout for the Black Fox and his men. Hawkins, Jean, and the baby stop for a night at an inn. There they meet a court jester named Giacomo who is on his way to the palace. This is the perfect opportunity to get into the castle and the private quarters of the king. Jean knocks out the jester and Hawkins takes his clothes and wagon.
            Hawkins gets to the castle the next day all song and smiles. He sings a song and includes a whistle which is the signal of the Black Fox to find one of the bands followers who has been working in the castle. Hawkins thinks that the evil Sir Ravenhurst (Basil Rathbone) is the one who has been placed in the castle from the band but it turns out the real man is only a stable hand and whenever he tries to subtly tell Hawkins, Hawkins pushes him away. The jester that Jean knocked was just an entertaining jester but also an assassin who was to kill three men that opposed the king. Hawkins does not know this but in true comedic style signals get crossed and they agree to things that they should not have.

            Meanwhile Princess Gwendolyn (Angela Lansbury) wants to kill herself rather than marry Sir Griswold, she wants to marry for love but the king wants her to marry her for an alliance. Her servant and sorceress Griselda tells her that her true love will arrive shortly and then Hawkins as the jester shows up. Griselda puts a spell on Hawkins that makes him a strong dashing romantic man ready to fight for love and honor. With the snap Hawkins can come in and out of his bravery.
            Jean sneaks into the castle but she is caught and the king thinks she is pretty so he has her put into a pretty dress and jewels to be his escort for dinner that night. Jean’s capture works perfectly to balance out Hawkins’ craziness with trying to be a jester and being put under Griselda’s spell for Gwendolyn.
            The king and Ravenhurst believe they see that the jester is in love with Gwendolyn. This is not good news to them so they have Hawkins as Giacomo quickly become a knight so he can joust with Griswold and be killed. Somehow Hawkins wins the joust which does not sit well with the king and Ravenhurst.
            Hawkins, Jean, and the Black Hawk save England and restore the baby king to the throne.
            The entire cast was perfect. Danny Kaye was one hell of a talented man. His energy seems boundless as he clumsily yet gracefully stumbles scene to scene. The scenes where he goes from being Hawkins the timid and cowardly to the hypnotized Giacomo he was truly incredibly graceful and hysterical. One of the best scenes of the film is when Hawkins is being knighted. The ceremony is going very slow so the king has the ceremony sped up and poor Hawkins has no idea what is going on! I am sure sometime in your childhood you have seen Mary Poppins with Glynis Johns as suffragist mother. Johns is great in this film I love the fearlessness and feistiness of her character. Her best scene was when she was trying to get close to the king to steal a key from his chain but she did not want to lead him on romantically. When the king was trying to get close to her romantically she said that she has a skin disease that was carried down in her family and this completely grosses him out and she just keeps going for him. I loved how she played this scene it was just really funny. Angela Lansbury looked beautiful in her costumes. Her character really did not have too much to do except to just show up, look pretty, and create some problems. Basil Rathbone pretty much played the same character he played in The Adventures of Robin Hood eighteen years before. Ravenhurst was a bad guy looking to get ahead and get whatever he wanted. Rathbone was such a good actor that it does not matter to me if he is playing a bad guy or a good guy he was always great.
            Edith Head along with Yvonne Wood created the costumes. Even with period gowns Head’s designs are so distinct that if you have seen her gowns and outfits before in other films you automatically know that they are her dresses. The dresses Angela Lansbury wears were beautiful. Every color dress she wore matched her skin and her hair and made the color of her eyes stand out.
            The Court Jester from beginning to end is one of the most entertaining comedies ever made. There is not a dull moment in the entire film it perfectly holds your interest. The comedy does not let up for a second. The Court Jester deserves so much more recognition