Wednesday, May 16, 2018

NATIONAL CLASSIC MOVIE DAY, THE CLASSIC COMFORT MOVIE BLOGATHON: The Court Jester (1955)


For the fourth consecutive year, the Classic Film and TV Cafe is celebrating National Classic Movie Day on May 16th by hosting a blogathon. This year the spotlight shines on those movies that we can reliably turn to for comfort. The Classic Comfort Movie Blogathon contributions can be found HERE.



Beyond the essence of a movie, there is the emotion we invest in its viewing. Some films are comforting for their story and their cast, perhaps the atmosphere created. Some films are comforting for the memories associated with a viewing. Some movies combine all aspects.


Hubert and Griselda in a covert moment.
Danny Kaye, Mildred Natwick

Hubert Hawkins: "But did you put the pellet with the poison in the vessel with the pestle?"
Griselda: "No! The pellet with the poison's in the flagon with the dragon! The vessel with the pestle has the brew that is true!"
Hubert Hawkins: "The pellet with the poison's in the flagon with the dragon; the vessel with the pestle has the brew that is true."
Griselda: "Just remember that."

I don't recall the first time I saw the 1955 comedy classic The Court Jester. "The vessel with the pestle..." seems to me as familiar and ubiquitous as Mother Goose Rhymes. I do remember the sound of my dad laughing, and pointing out that that lady's name is Mildred Natwick.

I do remember the first time I watched The Court Jester with my kids. My husband had surprised us with a VHS tape of the movie on a wintry day. It was January in 1999. Toronto was alternately enjoying or suffering under the biggest snowstorm in years. Janet, 9, and Gavin, 7, were on the side of "what fun!" while my husband Garry was firmly in the "they don't have to shovel it" camp.

The kids were in and out of the house helping Daddy shovel by throwing the snow around. When they were inside, they grinned and giggled at Danny Kaye, and had favourite scenes rewound. Danny befuddling Herbert Rudley with different accents was a particular hit, as was the famous hypnotic sword fight.

The Oscar-nominated writing and directing team of Melvin Frank and Norman Panama (The Facts of Life, Knock on Wood, Road to Utopia) gave us this musical fantasy set in a merry Medieval era. Danny Kaye stars as Hubert Hawkins, a circus performer who longs to be a hero. Through a series of misadventures, a hero he shall be!


Hubert Hawkins and Maid Jean. Can it be love?
Danny Kaye, Glynis Johns

Jean: "I am a woman and I do have feelings."
Hubert: "I ... I find it hard to believe that the captain could ever be fond of a man who isn't a fighter."
Jean: "Sometimes tenderness and kindness can also make a man. A very rare man."

An infant king has been usurped and The Fox, a masked vigilante, and his gang lead a revolt against the false king (Cecil Parker). Circumstances make Hubert Hawkins the one man perfectly suited to infiltrate the castle with the lovely Maid Jean (Glynis Johns).


Gwendolyn is not an obedient daughter.
Angela Lansbury, Cecil Parker

King Roderick: "Brute or not, lout or not, if it pleases me you will marry Griswold."
Princess Gwendolyn: "If it pleases you so much, you marry Griswold."

The castle is filled with spies, danger, and the constant threat of discovery. King Roderick I is quite taken with Maid Jean. His daughter, Princess Gwendolyn (Angela Lansbury) is equally taken with the new court jester, our Hubert now known as Giacomo, "King of Jesters and Jester of Kings". Lady's maid and part-time witch Griselda (Mildred Natwick) has convinced the princess that the court jester has come to be her true love and keep her from a dreaded royal alliance. Everybody is at cross-purposes with dire consequences if their plans do not work.

Danny Kaye could do it all, and The Court Jester is a grand platform for his talents. Kaye's gifted wife Sylvia Fine and Sammy Cahn wrote a wonderful soundtrack giving Danny a chance to sing patter songs, ballads, and some swingy and unique film credits.

Filmed in VistaVision and Technicolor, The Court Jester has magnificent production values. The scope of the sets is breathtaking. The costumes rival any epic adventure produced. The artistic eyes of  Edith Head and Yvonne Wood overlooked nothing, from the extras in tights to the glamorous leading ladies.


Hubert and Sir Ravenhurst in a covert moment.
Danny Kaye, Basil Rathbone

Hubert Hawkins: "I'd like to get in, get on with it, get it over with, and get out. Get it?"
Sir Ravenhurst: "Got it."
Hubert Hawkins: "Good."

The Court Jester is a series of delights; the exuberant story and music, the talented cast who play the comedy for all it is worth without going too far, the gags that never wear out their welcome, and the echo of loved ones' laughter surrounding me like a warm blanket. Comfort indeed.

Here is the trailer for The Court Jester, which "starts like a scary tale and ends like a fairy tale". The movie was placed on the National Film Registry in 2004.















36 comments:

  1. "Get it. Got it. Good." Words to live by. I find myself saying this all the time but nobody gets it. Ha. LOVE this movie. ABSOLUTELY LOVE this movie, Pat. And I enjoyed your wonderful review. Glynis Johns was my second favorite actress when I was a kid. Jean Simmons being the other. :) I was fortunate to see Glynis Johns years later on Broadway in A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC. She was enchanting.

    I so love Basil Rathbone in this too, and that idiot king. Ha. So many great scenes.

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    1. From now on when you say it, know that somewhere I am getting it!

      I envy you seeing Glynis in A Little Night Music. Nonetheless, I was fortunately to see Jean Simmons in A Little Night Music on tour here in Toronto.

      I adore Basil Rathbone. What a fun villain full of villainy. There is so much to love about The Court Jester.

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  2. P.S. Love Angela Lansbury too. She never disappointed.

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    1. Angela is grand as Princess Gwendolyn. We saw her in Blithe Spirit here in Toronto a couple of years ago.

      I think tonight I shall dig through the Murder, She Wrote DVDs to watch Sing a Song of Murder from 1985 with guest star Glynis Johns.

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  3. Yet another movie that has eluded me! I must admit I never even heard of THE COURT JESTER until reading your delightful essay. I enjoyed your including reminiscences of watching it with your family. Those are precious memories! I'm curious to seek this out, even if just to see the definitive screen Sherlock Holmes and Jessica Fletcher together!

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    1. Thank you.

      Do check it out. Prime movie making. It's funny, I'm crazy for the Rathbone/Bruce Holmes series, but whenever I see Basil as a villain, old Sherlock goes right out of my head.

      We're lucky in that the two leading ladies of The Court Jester, Angela and Glynis are still with us.

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  4. Kaye was so bifurcated that he played two roles often in the same movie. Nerd/Hero. Here he had both in one.As he did with other disciplines, he became so proficient at fencing that Basil required a double. 'Course this was fifteen years after Robin Hood.

    Kaye used this movie's theme, written by his wife, for his weekly variety show.

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    1. Indeed, there seemed to be nothing that Danny couldn't master. The Danny Kaye Show was not something I saw in my youth. YouTube here I come!

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  5. A great choice CaftanWoman for the Comfort Movie. Danny Kaye's Hans Christian Andersen was the first movie I ever remember seeing, and all his movies are very enjoyable, He is under-appreciated as all all-around good actor and entertainer. You do him justice here.

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    1. Thank you very much.

      My daughter would listen to the Hans Christian Anderson soundtrack often in her younger years. I believe Tubby the Tuba was on the B side. She took some Kaye records to a party in Junior High. I wasn't so sure it would go over, but she had they all copying Danny and the Andrews Sisters doing It's a Quiet Town. All we have to do is introduce kids to stuff and let them take it from there.

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  6. Of course I missed this blogathon, again.

    The Court Jester is a great choice for comfort movie. I love it. Other favorites in that category are Singin' in the Rain, The Great Race and Margaret Rutherford's Miss Marple films.

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    1. Miss Marple always cheers me. I just have to hear Ron Goodwin's theme music and whatever is wrong has disappeared.

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  7. I have not seen this film, but I enjoyed your 1999 snow storm memories with your husband and kids on opposite sides of the fun dial.

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    1. Ha-ha. Yeah. Snow - the great generational divide!

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  8. Danny Kaye is SO good, but somehow I've never watched The Court Jester! I believe I deserve the cone of shame... And Angela Lansbury is in this film, too? Oh, my, I need to watch it soon!
    Thanks again for writing so well and showing me another movie I can't miss.
    Happy Classic Movie Day!

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    1. Angela Lansbury, Glynis Johns, and Mildred Natwick. This is a movie you have to see. I hope you do see it soon. I think you'll have a good time.

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  9. This is one of my favourite movies and a definite comfort movie for me. I have always been a fan of Danny Kaye and it is great seeing Dame Angela Lasbury as a sexy young woman closer to her own actual age at the time than many of the characters she played!

    "The pellet with the poison's in the vessel with the pestle; the chalice from the palace has the brew that is true..."

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    1. She's an actress. She could be the glamour girl. She should have been the glamour girl more often. What a career she had/has, more often than not in spite of the suits.

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  10. I left a comment early this morning but for some reason it didn’t show up. My little gray cells must have made a mistake. I absolutely adore “The Court Jester” and find it to be the best comfort film! Danny Kaye is impeccable whether undergoing the trials to be knighted, romancing Angela but loving Glynis, engaging in derring-do with Basil, and being snapped in and out. This film should be required viewing for anyone who loves movies. Thank you for sharing and Happy Classic Movie Day!

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    1. Thank you so much. (I've been having trouble leaving comments lately. I refuse to take responsibility. I'm blaming technology.)

      You are so right about The Court Jester. Those who haven't seen it yet are only missing out on a lot of fun. We hope they find it soon.

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  11. Simply put, THE COURT JESTER is the funniest film ever made! Clever wordplay, great physical pranks, and a perfect cast may it one of the most "re-watchable" movies ever! It's a perfect choice for this blogathon. Get it? Got it. Good!

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    1. Ha-hee-hee! You made me smile. Everyone involved in The Court Jester was at the top of their game and they gifted us with a perfect movie.

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  12. Oh boy, do I LOVE this movie. Everything about it is just perfection. Just the memory of it - and your wonderful post - made me smile - a lot!

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    1. I'm so pleased. This National Classic Movie Day has been filled with lovely memories, and it is wonderful to be one of them.

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  13. Omigosh, here's another one that looks like I would absolutely adore, but sadly haven't seen yet. Great review! Sounds like the comedy is quite witty, and the situations are somewhat absurd, which both tickle my funny bone. Oh, and by the way, your home sounds like a fabulous place to grow up! :-)

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    1. Thank you for that lovely comment on our home. We have our moments.

      I think it is rather nice that you haven't seen The Court Jester yet. A treat is coming your way!

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  14. What a terrific family memory, although that much snow is very annoying.

    The "pellet with the poison" bit always makes me laugh, and that alone is a good antidote to a glum day, never mind the whole movie. It beautifully combines fun with true Hollywood glamour. Time to see it again!

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    1. It is indeed time to watch it again. The Court Jester is suitable for all kinds of weather!

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  15. Ooooo I LOVE The Court Jester!! A total delight from start to finish with several actresses-Glynis, Angela, Mildred-I number among my favorites. Clever writing, an extremely facile Kaye and a fun story. I own it and have introduced it to my nieces and nephew and their kids now. All have loved it as well.

    I can see it being a comfort film though not necessarily one that I turn to for that. I have many but the ones I watch most often for that comforting feeling are the Lauren Bacall/Clifton Webb starrer "Woman's World" and Rosalind Russell's Auntie Mame.

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    1. I would be shocked if there was a kid out there who wouldn't like The Court Jester. I love mid-century soaps like Woman's World. A strong script and a fun cast. We're so lucky Ros was able to play Auntie Mame on screen. It's the closest thing we have to seeing her on stage.

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  16. There are few things in life that make me feel as good as Danny Kaye. Same goes for The Court Jester, actually. As your wonderful review pointed out, this film is ridiculously fun and joyous. Life could not better be, indeed!

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    1. I just knew you were a Danny Kaye gal! I came across Hans Christian Anderson on TCM a few days ago. I don't care much for the movie, but the soundtrack and Danny - I couldn't resist.

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  17. Great film! My kids, now ranging in ages 26 down to 15, love it too. I first saw it with my future in-laws, a delightful experience.

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    1. What a grand way to get to really know the new family by sharing laughs.

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  18. I enjoyed your memory of a most enjoyable film - I recall as a kid just loving Danny Kaye movies (a local TV station at that time always broadcast a Danny Kaye movie right after midnight on New Year's Eve; it was a great thing to look forward to). I think The Court Jester is also his best film (the 'vessel-with-the-pestle' routine NEVER grows old!), and one that give endless comfort. Good choice!

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    1. Thanks. I'm so pleased you enjoyed this piece. Danny Kaye and New Year's Eve sounds perfect to me. I usually like to start things off with a laugh (or 300 laughs).

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