on 17 February 2007
This is one of those films that stays in your psyche as nothing more than pure fun and entertainment and when seen again does not disappoint. Anyone who recalls the phrases "the pellet with the poison/the vessel with the pestle/flagon with the dragon/chalice from the palace" will remember how funny this delightful Danny Kaye vehicle can be.
Yes, Kaye at his least annoying and most endearing in a colourful period comedy with lots of memorable scenes and a typically wonderful villainous performance from the inimitable Basil Rathbone. So throw away those old grainy VHS copies taped from analogue tv and bask in sumptuous digitally restored (we hope!) technicolor and enjoy what Leonard Maltin called "one of the best comedies ever made"! A classic - Enjoy!!
Possibly the funniest musical comedy ever made. Even if you are not a Danny Kaye fan, you should try this film. Don't be put off by the opening sequence, which looks rather dated now. The film contains some excruciatingly funny scenes, including the classic "Flagon with the dragon" routine. This is Kaye at his brilliant best.
The story (set in a mediaeval England which cheerfully makes no attempt at historical accuracy) is remarkably solid and complex, which helps maintain the film's brisk pace.
So when you are in the mood for some good old-fashioned fun, put your feet up and summon "The Court Jester".
Update: I saw this DVD again recently and I think I was too mean with my original 4 stars. This is a 5-star classic.
on 29 January 2005
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...?
One of Danny Kaye's finer hours, this farce stands the test of time pretty well. Kaye was the Jim Carrey of his time - if you don't like his pratfalling style of physical comedy once, you won't ever like it - but even if not a fan of his particular brand of tomfoolery, the verbal patter alone is worth the price of admission.
The plot should be brushed over - it's intricate and daft as a good farce should be, revolving around mistaken identities and wooing the girl, and multiple characters up to nefarious deeds. Complications arise when Kaye tries to pretend he is the Jester, and is then hypnotised to believe he is a great swordsman and lover, and changes between identities at the snap of a finger. It is the wonderful script that makes the difference, particularly in Kaye's verbally dextrous moments. This is the movie that first did the `The vessel with the pestle has the brew that is true, the chalice from the palace has the pellet with the poison' sketch, which is still classic these many years later. However, there are plenty of other classic scenes such as `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.' speech, and any scenes with the incomparable Basil Rathbone - still the dashing figure and fencer even at 63.
Support from the brilliant Cecil Parker as the King and even Angela Lansbury as the King's daughter elevate proceedings to make this worth watching, as all of the cast are faultless in their comic timing.
In vivid Technicolour, and with a clean print and clear sound, this is a great buy - shame it is presented as a vanilla disc (no extras) but even so, worth acquiring for repeated viewing. This is the quintessential light hearted and high spirited swashbuckler spoof, with appeal to both kids and adults.
on 30 May 2009
Probably Danny Kayes finest film. Brilliantly written and performed, fantastic songs and jokes, it stands the test of time perfectly. There are very few films which exploit their genre perfectly;Toy Story, ET, The Godfather, well you can add The Court Jester to the list! Don't be fooled, students of screenwriting, this film is one of the most perfectly realised comedies of the last 50 years; great characters, perfect plot line with exquisitely worked twists and turns, some of the best visual gags and word play ever to grace a mainstream hollywood film and songs to boot!! There isn't second on screen that is wasted, a joy to watch with all the family. I'm sure someone will desperately try to remake this film in some form sooner or later, as they did the Bishops Wife (oh dear), instead sit back and enjoy Danny Kaye and this wonderful film from Hollywoods golden age.
on 22 October 2010
If you have young kids there's a horrible possibility that you've never heard of Danny Kaye. And even worse, your kids will never get to see him. So you MUST buy this movie. Don't worry about the age of it. It's as fresh as the day it was made. Don't worry about the style of the movie. Your kids no doubt dote on THE WIZARD OF OZ which is yonks older and THE COURT JESTER has many of its attributes. Treat yourself and your family to a work of comic genius. Or is it?
I confess I have to be careful here. THE COURT JESTER is a childhood treasure. My sis and I, dragged off the rainy streets into a fleapit cinema, sat back enthralled as a blaze of colour flashed before us, a lavish, comic romp which left us wet-eyed and aching with laughter. So am I guilty of nostalgia? Well, I bought the DVD at Amazon's wonderfully silly price, sat back to watch with intent objectivity and ended up (yes, you guessed it) wet-eyed and aching with laughter.
Danny Kaye was unique in that he combined sublime, razor-sharp physical comedy with hilarious tongue-twisting wordplay. I can think of no one else who combined them so skilfully. Comparisons with Jim Carrey amaze me. Like comparing Russell Brand with Peter Sellers - completely different league. And the film outplays most modern equivalents in every area, even the best of them. It's cram-packed with comic sequences of mind-blowing quality. The famous joust with it's glorious build up is just one of them. The Knighting Ceremony is to my mind in the top ten comic scenarios ever filmed. The amazing fencing scene with Basil Rathbone, the hilarous courting sequence with the princess and the glorious finale are just as good. Look out for the fabulous disposal of the king's soldiers into the moat.
The plot is excellent, a maze of twists and turns, unexpected turn-ups - farce at its best. Few modern scripts match it. The writing is top drawer, wonderfully funny wordplay and rhyme, great little one-liners and tongue in cheek parody of its Errol Flynn origin. And Danny Kaye delivers with such jaw-dropping skill - sometimes you watch in disbelief.
The music is good too. A couple of great melodies, steeped in the craft of the fifties musical songwriters and some lightning, virtuoso verbal gallops, Danny's trademark deliveries which delighted kids of the fifties and which have lost none of their sparkle.
The cast is fabulous. He's supported by an excellent Rathbone and a brilliant Cecil Parker as the King - a performance never given the credit it deserves. Glynis Johns still ticks all my boxes and all the minor parts are played (and over-played) superbly. I love the hypnotic lady in waiting.
But a word of warning. Danny Kaye (like many of his contemporaries) was prone to outbursts of whimp-cringing, bottom clenching sentimentality. Though this in my opinion is the best of his movies and the least infected, it's a feature of many American films of the period and genre (even worse today). But we hardy Brits can turn away from such sick-making drippery and return to the film when it has passed like an unwanted cloud. Unfortunately much of it occurs at the outset of the movie as the plot is introduced so STICK WITH IT! All the fabulous stuff is twenty minutes into the film and well worth waiting for. Strap the kids to the settee!
So. Is this film a work of comic genius?
YEAH! VERILY YEAH!
And what should you do with this DVD?
GET IT! GOT IT? Good.
on 29 December 2002
I had fond memories of this movie from a TV showing when I was a kid - the "flagon with the dragon" dialogue, the "get in, get on with it, get it over with, get out - get it?" - "Got it" - "Good" snappy exchanges between Kaye and Basil Rathbone (excellent villian). I am happy to say that thirty years later, I was not disappointed when I saw it again. The performers (and writers/producers) are all on top form. It still works (as testified by the enjoyment of my young sons). Don't just take my word for it, read Halliwells' glowing testimonial. If you are off sick from work or it's a rainy sunday, this is perfect. It is the original feel good movie, and I commend it to all.
on 2 June 2001
This film is a must, for young and old alike. I saw this film when it first came out, and loved it so much, I have watched it eversince. I have brought my children up on it, and although grown up, they too, still enjoy it,along with all the sci-fi, and blood and gore films! It seems timeless. There is nothing in this film to offend anyone, and with Danny Kay's unique timing, marvellouse acting,and great voice, I defy anyone, of any age, not to laugh at this film, not to enjoy it!It's just good fun, with a capital 'F' I would not hestitate in recommending this film to anyone!
on 29 June 2000
A lovely comedy set in the Medieval Age. Full of heroism, romance and intrigue, this film with delight children and adults alike. You will be smiling, laughing and singing along all the way through, not to mention trying to imitate the hugely funny tongue-twisting dialogue. Please don't miss this one!
on 23 January 2003
I can't say enough about this film. Danny Kaye was a comic genius and this, by no means, is not just another one of those channel 4 films they put on at Christmas to fill the gaps.
Kaye's humour is so appealing, and this Jester is truly happy to make a fool out of himself. The Court Jester is a lively, colourful, musical comedy and will make you smile every time you think of it. Just remember, the vessel with the pestle has the pellet with the poison, the flagon with the dragon has the brew that is true. Or does it...?