Having supper last evening in The Saint, our favourite Brighton restaurant, I overheard one of the people at the next table say:
“You see, he has to remember this instruction; ‘The pellet with the poison's in the vessel with the pestle; the chalice from the palace has the brew that is true!’ Then something happens and he has to forget it and remember something else... but the trouble is I can't now remember what it was…”
I readily admit to habitually eavesdropping on other people’s conversations in restaurants, but I seldom if ever ‘join in’… However, on this occasion (having already briefly - but passionately - spoken up in favour of the chilled beetroot and cucumber soup when they were debating what to order), I felt comfortable enough to lean over and say:
“I can tell you what happened… They broke the chalice from the palace and replaced it with a flagon with a dragon! And now the pellet with the poison's in the flagon with the dragon and the vessel with the pestle has the brew that is true!”
Immediate smiles of recognition! Gales of laughter!
No doubt, had any of the other diners heard this exchange, they would have put it down to a touch of the sun - or just the usual kind of eccentricities one runs across in Brighton!
But WE knew what we were talking about! This was the most quotable quote from one of the most hilarious films ever made: The Court Jester (1956) with the incomparable Danny Kaye as Hubert Hawkins, an inept member of a Robin Hood-style gang of medieval freedom-fighters, who impersonates a jester (and assassin) called Giacomo in order to infiltrate the castle of bad King Roderick.
Songs by Sylvia Fine and Sammy Cahn, gorgeous costumes by the great Edith Head and a classic cast - Glynis Johns, Basil Rathbone, Angela Lansbury, Cecil Parker and Mildred Natwick - effortless managing to play high-camp farce with total straight-faced seriousness!
In the case of Rathbone, as the villainous Ravenshurst, he also simultaneously succeeds in engaging the lunatic Kaye in one of the finest, fastest (and funniest) sword fights ever put on film.
If you’ve seen it, you’ll undoubtedly not only agree but already be chuckling at the memory of scriptwriters Melvin Frank and Norman Panama’s string of witty bon mots - such as Hawkins' observation: “A jester unemployed is nobody’s fool!” - and their rapid-fire comic dialogue:
KING RODERICK: The Duke. What did the Duke do?
HUBERT HAWKINS: Eh... the Duke do?
KING RODERICK: Yes. And what about the Doge?
HUBERT HAWKINS: Oh, the Doge!
KING RODERICK: Well what did the Doge do?
HUBERT HAWKINS: The Doge do?
KING RODERICK: Yes, the Doge do.
HUBERT HAWKINS: Well, uh, the Doge did what the Doge does. Eh, uh, when the Doge does his duty to the Duke, that is.
KING RODERICK: What? What's that?
HUBERT HAWKINS: 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: Who did what to what?
HUBERT HAWKINS: 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: Duchess with her dirk?
HUBERT HAWKINS: Yes! The Duchess dove at the Duke just when the Duke dove at the Doge. 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: Curious… All I heard was that the Duchess had a siege of rheumatism. She's 83, you know.
And if it just so happens that you HAVEN’T seen it, well, what are you waiting for? It’s a gem! Hire it - better still, BUY it - immediately!
It’ll certainly provide a far less stressful way of passing the afternoon than sitting through the England v Portugal World Cup match!