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The Court Jester Movie Review

king hawkins ravenhurst sir

1956 – Norman Panama, Melvin Frank –

Not everyone is partial to the antics of Danny Kaye, but the richness of The Court Jester combines so many comic devices that it has still earned a wide, appreciative audience. The film gently spoofs swashbuckling, adventure films in the tradition of The Adventures of Robin Hood and The Mark of Zorro. It has the added merit of featuring Basil Rathbone (at a youthful-looking sixty three when the film was made), who played the villain in both of those classics and who shows great facility for comedy in this one. The complicated plot by Norman Panama and Melvin Frank adds many pleasing touches.

The true king of England is an infant tended to by a Robin Hood-like forest rogue called the Black Fox (Edward Ashley). One of his men, Hawkins (Danny Kaye), seeks to enter the castle of the usurper, King Roderick (Cecil Parker), steal the key to the underground passage, admit the Black Fox's men, and return the rightful king to the throne. Hawkins happens upon the king's new jester Giacomo (John Carradine) on the road, and Hawkins subdues him and adopts his identity as a disguise. Once in the castle, however, he discovers that Giacomo is really an accomplished assassin hired by Ravenhurst (Rathbone) to murder some rival knights. The magic of Griselda (Mildred Natwick) enables Hawkins to change his behavior with the snap of her fingers from that of the bumbling goof he is to that of a polished swordsman who convinces Ravenhurst of his deadly skill.

In addition to the comic slapstick of Kaye in his role as the jester, the film's verbal comedy is consistently enjoyable. In one scene, the lecherous king tries to accost Maid Jean (Glynis Johns), but she quickly concocts a story about the ravages of Breckenridge's Scourge, a highly contagious illness that has all but decimated her family. As the king's lust changes to caution then to repulsion, Jean begins an ardent pursuit of him (“Oh, sire, let us not spoil the magic of this moment by thinking of their swollen, pain-ridden bodies”). The film also manages both to showcase some impressive swordplay and to satirize this staple of adventure epics. In the climactic fight between Hawkins and Ravenhurst, they battle impressively with rapiers. Hawkins at one point nonchalantly quenches his thirst while fending off Ravenhurst's vigorous attack, enraging him further. Other comic reversals include the method for verifying the true king, who must possess the royal birthmark, the “purple pimpernel.” In a great visual touch, Hawkins holds the infant before the assembled masses in the throne room, and dozens of courtiers drop reverently to their knees when he lowers the royal diaper to reveal the birthmark on the baby's bottom.

Cast: Danny Kaye (Hawkins), Glynis Johns (Maid Jean), Basil Rathbone (Sir Ravenhurst), Angela Lansbury (Princess Gwendolyn), Cecil Parker (King Roderick), Mildred Natwick (Griselda), Robert Middleton (Sir Griswald), Edward Ashley (the Black Fox), John Carradine (Giacomo), Herbert Rudley (Captain of the Guard), Noel Drayton (Fergus), Alan Napier (Sir Brockhurst), Lewis Martin (Sir Finsdale), Patrick Aherne (Sir Pertwee), Richard Kean (Archbishop) Screenwriter: Norman Panama, Melvin Frank Cinematographer: Ray June Composer: Sylvia Fine, Sammy Cahn, Vic Schoen Producer: Norman Panama and Melvin Frank for Paramount Running Time: 101 minutes Format: VHS, LV Budget: $4M (reportedly the most expensive comedy at that time).

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