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Danny Kaye's sublime "Court jester.",
This review is from: Court Jester [DVD]  [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC] (DVD)
This 1956 classic is widely considered to be Kaye's most
inventive and sustained feature. The Robin Hood type parody
of the swashbuckling genre is tailor-made for Kaye's unique
comic gifts for patter, tongue-twisters and slapstick. In
fact, he received a special honorary Oscar for this performance.
Oscar does occasionally get it right.
Danny plays Hawkins, a member of a group of forest rebels
who are protecting the infant heir to the throne from the
usurper King Roderick. To overthrow him Hawkins must infiltrate
the palace and court disguised as Giacomo, King of Jesters
and Jester of Kings.
Once within the palace, the somewhat timid and awkward
Hawkins is hypnotized by court enchantress Griselda (Mildred
Natwick) into believing himself to be a bold and fearless
master swordsman and cunning assassin. A finger snap is
Hawkins trigger to switch to his bold new persona,
and naturally the ensuing scenes have more inopportune snaps than a revival of West side story.
In these scenes Kaye displays rare comic finesse, switching
instantaneously between cringing incompetence and
swaggering, emboldened valor.
There is an impressive fencing scene with the villianous
Sir Ravenhurst (Basil Rathbone, often called Hollywood's
greatest fencer ever). After Rathbone hung up his Sherlock
Holmes deerstalker, he went on to perfect the character of
the elegant, aquilline evildoer. I always thought he deserved
a knighthood for real.
In another uproarious scene, Hawkins entertains banquet
guests with the complex, dazzling word-play of "The Jester's lament", because "...a Jester unemployed is nobody's Fool."
The opposition faction is anxious to knight Hawkins
so that they can kill him properly in tournament. To this
end there is a farcical, warp speed knighting ceremony
that kids just adore. If any scene can cause them to utter
such unthinkable blashpemies as,"This guy is almost as funny
as Jim Carrey!" this will be the scene that does it.
Yea, verily, yea.
Angela Lansbury is the bored, restless Princess
Gwendolyn the Fair, who dallies with Hawkins to escape
an unwanted betrothal. And back in 1956, the comfy auntie
from "Murder, she wrote" was what is generally called a
But Hawkins true love is fellow resistance operative
Maid Jean, played by luscious, warbly-voiced Glynnis Johns.
Cornered by an amorously inclined King Roderick, Jean
cleverly extricates herself by referring to the recent deaths
of her entire family from the dreaded Breckenridge's Scourge,
impishly recalling how,"I saw their swollen, twisted,
pain-ridden bodies writhing on the floor in agony. But let
us not spoil this moment. Kiss me, Sire!" For the rest of
the picture he recoils automatically at the sight of her."
The tournament is a sort of David and Goliath encounter,
only with silk pennants and cup bearing pages. Hawkins is
not optimistic about his chances of prevailing against the
"...grim, grisly, gruesome Sir Griswold" played by burly
Robert Middleton. But the sorceress levels the playing field
considerably by putting a pellet of poison in the chalice
from the palace. Or was it the flagon with the dragon...?