Whimsical satire of swashbucklers offers melody and mirth to a colorful package. 4 Stars

A musical swashbuckler spoof tailored specifically for the talents of comic Danny Kaye, Norman Panama and Melvin Frank’s The Court Jester is a lark for the ages.

The Court Jester (1955)
Released: 27 Jan 1956
Rated: Approved
Runtime: 101 min
Director: Melvin Frank, Norman Panama
Genre: Adventure, Comedy, Family, Musical
Cast: Danny Kaye, Glynis Johns, Basil Rathbone, Angela Lansbury
Writer(s): Norman Panama, Melvin Frank
Plot: A hapless carnival performer masquerades as the court jester as part of a plot against an evil ruler who has overthrown the rightful King.
IMDB rating: 7.9
MetaScore: N/A

Disc Information
Studio: Paramount
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio: English 2.0 DTS-HDMA, French 1.0 DD (Mono)
Subtitles: English SDH, French
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 1 Hr. 41 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray, Digital Copy
Case Type: keep case
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Region: All
Release Date: 01/26/2021
MSRP: $29.99

The Production: 4/5

A musical swashbuckler spoof tailored specifically for the talents of comic Danny Kaye, Norman Panama and Melvin Frank’s The Court Jester is a lark for the ages. Filled with mirth, wit, music, and farce, The Court Jester proudly takes its place among the great comedies of Hollywood’s Golden Age.

With a usurper king (Cecil Parker) claiming the throne from the infant who’s the true next king of England, the bandit The Black Fox (Edward Ashley), his captain Jean (Glynis Johns), and his Merrie Men have a plan of invading the palace and tossing out the faux monarch, but to gain entrance to the castle, they must get the key to the vault tunnel door which is always on the king’s person. Thus former circus performer Hubert Hawkins (Danny Kaye) is tasked with impersonating incoming Italian jester Giacomo (John Carradine) long enough to steal the key. But fate takes a hand when the king’s daughter Gwendolyn (Angela Lansbury) becomes smitten with the jovial jester, and it’s revealed that the real Giacomo was in reality a hired assassin brought in by the evil Sir Ravenhurst (Basil Rathbone) so he could take over the kingdom and have the beauteous Gwendolyn for himself.

Writer-directors Norman Panama and Melvin Frank have collected just about every possible trope from the Douglas Fairbanks/Errol Flynn/Tyrone Power swashbucklers and turned them on their ears highlighting their verbal comedy with lots of alliterative word play (“Get It-Got It-Good,” the brilliant “vessel with a pestle” sequence) and letting slapstick rule the roost with clown Danny Kaye at the center of it all. They’ve also threaded through their screenplay five songs by Sylvia Fine (Danny Kaye’s wife) and Sammy Cahn, all of which give Kaye the chance to run the gamut of rhythms (much as Frank Loesser did for him in Hans Christian Andersen) from a soothing lullaby for the sleeping infant king (“Let Me Take You Dreaming”), a sedate ballad (“My Heart Knows a Lovely Song”), two up-tempo numbers to begin the movie (“Life Could Not Better Be” over the opening credits and “They’ll Never Outfox the Fox” to introduce the Merrie Men), along with a patented Sylvia Fine showcase patter number for her husband “The Maladjusted Jester” which allows him to pull out all the stops to prove to the king what a marvelous jester he really is. The songs are all tuneful with loads of whimsy, but one can’t help wishing the musical menu had been spread out just a bit, especially seeing that Kaye’s two leading ladies Lansbury and Johns would each go on to win Best Musical Actress Tony Awards in upcoming years. Panama and Frank do well staging an action-filled jousting tournament, an accelerated knighting ceremony, and the climactic duel between Kaye and Rathbone which wonderfully veers from comic to dramatic continuously.

It’s another tour de force for Danny Kaye who remains the focus of the entire movie (it must have been quite a shock that coming off of the blockbuster success of White Christmas which was the highest grossing movie of its year, Kaye’s next project The Court Jester was a major box-office disappointment). He was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for his performance (having won previously for On the Riviera) but lost to Cantinflas for Around the World in Eighty Days. Still, it’s among the best movies he ever made. Glynis Johns is quite fetching as Maid Jean despite not being given as much to do as her talents would allow, and Angela Lansbury is likewise gowned exquisitely but given a bit more screen time once the action moves to the palace. Cecil Parker is a thundering usurper king while Michael Pate and Herbert Rudley offer solid support. But the movie’s two key cherished players must be Basil Rathbone and Mildred Natwick. Rathbone plays his evil Sir Ravenhurst completely straight while allowing those around him to clown it up making himself more prominent as a result, and, of course, he’s maintained his skill with a rapier (allegedly, he schooled Danny Kaye on sword fighting and was astonished the actor picked it up so quickly that he could best Basil in a match by the end of shooting). And Mildred Natwick’s Griselda with witching powers of hypnosis and skill with drugs lends all of her scenes with great good cheer (she’s key to the “vessel with a pestle” sequence working so brilliantly).  

Video: 4.5/5

3D Rating: NA

The VistaVision movie has been framed at 1.85:1 and is presented in 1080p resolution using the AVC codec. Once past the opening credit sequence (a long optical that is soft and rather unappealing visually), the movie is sharp, clean, and wildly colorful. Flesh tones are most appealing, and the costumes by Edith Head and Yvonne Wood display bright hues and fine details. Contrast has been perfectly dialed in for an arresting viewing experience. The movie has been divided into 32 chapters which can be accessed from the main menu.

Audio: 4/5

The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono sound mix offers a hearty aural experience but contains some slight distortion in the upper registers that required me to lower the volume a bit. Dialogue has been well-recorded and comes through without issue mixed professionally with the music and sound effects. There are no problems with age-related hiss, flutter, crackle, or pops. However, it’s disappointing that the Perspecta stereo tracks allegedly available for this movie were ignored in the preparation of this release.

Special Features: 2/5

Filmmaker Focus (7:03, HD): historian and critic Leonard Maltin comments on the positives he finds in the film, awarded with four stars (out of four) in his film guide.

Theatrical Trailer (2:24, SD)

Digital Copy: code sheet enclosed in the case.

Overall: 4/5

Norman Panama and Melvin Frank’s The Court Jester remains one of the wittiest and most effervescently original comedies of Hollywood’s Golden Age. The Paramount Presents Blu-ray edition offers excellent video and above average audio for fans of the stars or for lovers of fine comedies. Recommended!

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Matt Hough

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john a hunter

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Surprised to read about how it was a box office disaster.
I recall seeing it in the UK during the school holidays in a packed theatre.
It was one of the first films I was allowed to attend.
Looking forward to revisiting it after more years than I would like to remember.
 

haineshisway

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Listen, you cannot trust Wikipedia for ANYTHING, or the iMDB for that matter. This movie cost nowhere NEAR four million dollars. What, someone thinks The Court Jester cost more than Carousel, Anastasia, High Society, Lust for Life, The Man Who Knew Too Much, The Searchers, and just about every other film made that year? In fact, I can only find four or five films whose budget exceeded four million dollars. There's no way this cost over two million, and there's no way it didn't make that back.
 

Matt Hough

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Listen, you cannot trust Wikipedia for ANYTHING, or the iMDB for that matter. This movie cost nowhere NEAR four million dollars. What, someone thinks The Court Jester cost more than Carousel, Anastasia, High Society, Lust for Life, The Man Who Knew Too Much, The Searchers, and just about every other film made that year? In fact, I can only find four or five films whose budget exceeded four million dollars. There's no way this cost over two million, and there's no way it didn't make that back.
Leonard Maltin says in his bonus material that the film cost four million. He doesn't mention what it grossed.
 

Robert Harris

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Leonard Maltin says in his bonus material that the film cost four million. He doesn't mention what it grossed.
And he probably pulled it from IMDB, which as Mr. Kimmel suggests is not a perfect fount of information. Unless, of course, the Jackson, Michigan Zouave Drill Team and Hermine’s Midgets were grossly overpaid.

For perspective, the budget of Lawrence (with neither the drill team nor midgets) was 12 million, five years hence. But it was less of a studio film.

Compare the two.
 

Bob Furmanek

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According to the two most reliable sources, the film performed well above average throughout 1956. It opened with "resounding success" at the New York Paramount.

Here are the year-end rankings in Boxoffice (100 is considered average business) and Variety.

The film did extremely strong business overseas.

Based on the cost of other VV titles at the time, I would estimate the budget to be slightly north of one million.
 

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Matt Hough

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And yet the grosses quote from Boxoffice ($2.2 million) is also in that Wikipedia article. Whoever supplied those budget figures had to have gotten them from somewhere.
 

haineshisway

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And yet the grosses quote from Boxoffice ($2.2 million) is also in that Wikipedia article. Whoever supplied those budget figures had to have gotten them from somewhere.
Well, we could make a supposition as to where that might have been :) Seriously, it could not have cost four million dollars - Paramount would never have spent that kind of money on a film geared for Kaye's audience.
 

marcco00

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my blu ray is on the way and should arrive on wednesday, really enjoying this great run of

beautifully restored , vividly colored films, hope it continues in 2021!!!
 

jackR

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It also contains one of the all-time great sword fighting sequences between Kaye and Basil Rathbone. Basil was a fencing champion, but Kaye was a revelation. I wonder if it influenced the astounding sword sequence in The Princess Bride where both actors switched sword hands. Both were rare in their blend of comedy and fencing. Don't forget, the vessel with the pestle holds the brew that is true!
 

cinefan

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Thanks for the review. I love this film and am anxiously awaiting my copy of the blu-ray.

Regarding the film's budget I found this interesting article from the AFI which cites "the file on the film in the Paramount Collection at the AMPAS Library". That seems to give the figures at least an air of authority. I know budgets can be framed in different ways for different audiences. So maybe it's more like "hot air" of authority :). And I further know I'm supremely ignorant on these matters compared to others in this thread.

Anyway, for what it's worth, it notes an initial production budget quoted from said file of just under $2.5 million for 48 days of shooting, but then goes on to say:

According to a 29 Oct 1955 Paramount breakdown of the film's expenses, The Court Jester's total cost to that point was $3,702,103, having used seventy-six actual days for filming, eighteen days of rehearsal, and another eighteen days for second unit work, including location shooting in Palos Verdes, CA. In its Jan 1956 feature article on the film, Life stated that The Court Jester was the most expensive film comedy produced to date.

So, while not a clear source for where the 4M number might have come from, it's at least approaching the neighborhood.
 

Patrick McCart

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I pre-ordered this the day it was up on Amazon. While I would have liked a bit more substantial supplements, not to mention a Perspecta option for the sound... it's wonderful to finally get rid of the 4th oldest DVD in my collection and from a beautiful new 4K restoration.
 

Rob W

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This 4k restoration is actually several years old, and premiered at the 2017 TCM Classic Film Festival, where I saw it in the Chinese Theatre in a spectacular presentation.
 
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