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 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).
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.
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.
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!
Some of our content may contain marketing links, which means we will receive a commission for purchases made via those links. In our editorial content, these affiliate links appear automatically, and our editorial teams are not influenced by our affiliate partnerships. We work with several providers (currently Skimlinks and Amazon) to manage our affiliate relationships. You can find out more about their services by visiting their sites.