Monday 29 August 2011


For any early-day readers of this blog I was rather caught (literally) napping by blogger when a part-completed post was 'published' instead of being 'saved'!

SO! What I was going to say was that the best bit of this Bank Holiday weekend for me was Friday night with a take-away Chinese meal watching one of my top ten favourite films, Danny Kaye's 1956 Hollywood hybrid – part-musical, part-romantic-comedy, part-swashbuckler – The Court Jester!

It is impossible – IM-POSSIBLE – to watch this film and not feel cheerier than you were before the Paramount Mountain gives way to the VistaVision logo and the tirelessly versatile Kaye comes dancing onto the screen in motley, reacting to the rolling credits of his distinguished co-stars: Glynis Johns, Angela Lansbury, Cecil Parker, Alan Napier, Mildred Natwick and, in particular, Basil Rathbone who plays Kaye's nemesis in the film and whose name menacingly returns again and again in an evil-looking type-face!

The plot is simplicity itself: Kaye plays Hubert Hawkins, a former troubadour, now part of a band of woodland outlaws, headed by the Robin Hood-like Black Fox, fighting to overthrow the usurping tyrant King Roderick I (Cecil Parker). The outlaws have the rightful heir to the throne in their possession – a baby boy bearing the hereditary birthmark of a purple pimpernel on its left buttock!

Aided by Maid Jean (the outlaw band's Maid Marian figure), Hawkins sets off to infiltrate Roberick's castle in the guise of Giacomo – "King of Jesters and Jester to the King" – an entertainer from the Italian Court.

The rest is blissful foolery.

Americans always claim to have no understanding of the British theatrical tradition of Pantomime, but this film is evidence to the contrary as some of its top-name players camp it up in a wonderfully silly romp with a score (by Sammy Cahn and Kaye's wife, Sylvia Fine) comprising a couple of ballads and a string of patter songs worthy of Messrs G&S.

There are also hilarious set-piece sequences of quick-fire, punning banter that must have been a nightmare to learn – let alone deliver with a straight face...

Probably the film's most famous sequence – at least its most quoted – is the one in which the hapless Hawkins is about to enter the lists opposite Sir Griswold (known as "the grim and grisly Griswold"), a man built like a brick out-house, in an attempt to win the hand of the Princess Gwendolen (Lansbury). Fortunately – perhaps – Gwen's witchy handmaid, Griselda, has spiked one of the pre-tournament toasting cups.

BUT –– which one has the pellet with the poison...?

One of the joys of the film is seeing Basil Rathbone, a superb swordsman who crossed blades with the best, spoofing his famous sword-fight with Errol Flynn in Robin Hood this time round with Hawkins who is currently under one of Griselda charms so that when anyone snaps their fingers he becomes – SNAP! – a brave as Douglas Fairbanks or – SNAP! – once again the inept buffoon he truly is...

Anyway, if you've never seen The Court Jester don't just take my word for it: get the DVD and see it for yourself. And if you have seen it then you'll now that, like an old friend, reunion is always pleasurable. So, why not watch it again? Go on – you know you want to!

So, what do you say...?


scb said...

Thank you, Brian! My smile and giggle muscles got a good workout just now. Danny Kaye is always a delight, and that is one of my favorite movies.

Anonymous said...

After you mentioned this on twitter I got a bit "lost" on youtube" watching Danny Kaye. I am falling in love all over again.

Michael said...

This has been one of my most favorite films for many years, from the Sylvia Fine incredible lyrics to John Fulton's wonderful Matte Effects!
Love it!

Brian Sibley said...

Thanks, guys. You know, I don't think anyone likes this film, they either LOVE or they don't!

Suzanne said...

Well, I've never seen the film. But yesterday, I did think you were starting some kind of new caption competition!

Unknown said...