Favorite Movies A-Z: The Court Jester

It’s a crime that no one remembers Danny Kaye except vaguely as the second banana to Bing Crosby in White Christmas. He was a decent singer, a good dancer, and an excellent comic. He plays the titular character in The Court Jester. The plot may matter more than it does in a standard Marx Bros. film, but not by lots and lots. here Kaye is Hubert Hawkins, an insignificant member of The Black Fox’s band. (The Fox is a kind of off-brand Robin Hood in a retelling of the Robin Hood story in almost all but name.) Hawkins’ main job in the band is caring for the deposed infant king who the band of outlaws is committed to protecting and restoring to his rightful throne.

Another compatriot of Kaye in the band is Maid Jean (see?) played by Glynnis Johns. Arrayed against them are Basil Rathbone’s Lord Ravenhurst (read: Sherriff of Nottingham) and Cecil Parker as King Rodney (John) and their various henchmen. A chance encounter with the king’s new jester on his way to court allows the band to substitute Hawkins in his place as a means of infiltrating the castle. Complications ensue, as of course they do in a comedy such as this. The inexperienced jester has more to him than meets the eye. Beyond this, Jean gets caught up in the confusion and Angela Lansbury (yes, the very same) devises her own designs on Hawkins in her role as the daughter of Rodney, Princess Gwendolyn.

It’s a ridiculous comedy in a style that I’m afraid is becoming nearly incomprehensible to modern audiences. Internal consistency, though important, could give way temporarily to a joke. It would be safe to say that a movie like this is more akin to the old Warner Brothers cartoons than to modern comedies.

The plot resolves, but it’s almost an afterthought. Really it feels as if the movie ends just as much because enough jokes have been told during the needed 100 minute run time as because the story reaches a conclusion. The jokes are worth it though! I still laugh out loud and long at many points and at one in particular I can have trouble breathing. You’ll enjoy this far more if you’re familiar with Errol Flynn as Robin Hood, if you’re ready to accept people bursting into song at the slightest provocation, and aren’t bothered overmuch by sets that are pretty obviously sets. Still, I think with an open mind, you too can gasp with laughter at this movie.

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