Sunday, July 5, 2020

The Court Jester (1955)

In Medieval Britain, a ruthless tyrant controls the local kingdom, and is subjecting the people to all manner of oppression. All that stands against him and victory is the cunning Black Fox and his band of rebels, which includes the entertainer Hubert Hawkins. He's sent out on an important mission with rebel captain Jean to escort the infant heir to safety. While on the way, the two develop a plan to infiltrate the castle, and Hawkins disguises himself as Giacomo, king of jesters and jester for the king. Expected at the castle, it proves to be an easy way inside, but once there Hawkins must work out who's on his side, evade the villains as well as the attentions of a lovestruck princess and her = witch, all while trying to ...

Out of the many performers back in the 1940 and 50s, Danny Kaye was really the [cat's meow]! =. I saw a few of his films as a kid on public-domain sets, but the one that really caught my attention was The Court Jester! While not a failure upon its release it wasn't a major hit, but it took a very short time indeed for it to receive a critical reappraisal, and it's consistently been voted as the star's best film.

From beginning to end this is a fun movie. While fairly long, it moves by at a brisk pace, as if it was half its length, and there's never a dull moment, with various forms of shenanigans taking the stage. There's action aplenty, clever mile-a-minute wordplay, and a sense of exuberance throughout the whole production.

The story is simple but effective, and there's never a moment where you're too lost, even if you can get swamped in the cast sometimes.

The tone of The Court Jester is a really good one. I've heard it described as a parody of the old swashbucklers, and I suppose that could be true, but to me it's simply a swashbackling adventure that also happens to be a comedy. It inhabits both genres perfectly, never letting the story get in the way of the gags or let the comedy overshadow the story. This is a great example of what parodies should be. Movies that respect the genre they're parodying, and work just as well as the genuine article!

Something I really appreciate here is the characters! Overall they're great, though there are perhaps a few too many. There are quite a lot of names here to remember, and not all of them were necessarily necessary, but for the most part they're =. The best of course are the leads. Hawkins is a likeable hero, somewhat hapless, but never useless, or so clumsy he never gets anything done. Jean is a tough dame,   What I like most of all is their relationship! With characters such as these they usually hate each-other for much of the film, spending all their time sniping before finally falling in love halfway through. Here though it's the opposite, as these opposites attract! They fall for each-other fairly early, and it's sweet seeing how they interact. It always feels sincere and romantic, and seeing this endure for the whole film is a real treat.

The remainder of the cast is fun. Lord Ravenhurst is the main villain, and  The king is =, and I like that he and Ravenhurst are characterised differently, rather than being Evil Overlord No. 1 and 2. While Ravenhurst is a traditional power hungry villain, the king is more like a =. This must've rubbed off on his daughter too, as she's good at heart, but a little crazy, and jumps to execution as a threat a little too quickly to win the hearts of many men I'm sure. She's fun, though a little underused.

The actors all do splendid jobs. Kaye is a great lead, and really gets to cut loose with his various disguises, all of them convincing. Glynis Johns is as pretty as she is talented, providing a straight man, action, and half the romance, all in one. Rathbone is a delightfully evil villain, never failing to be charming, and a young Angela Lansbury is fun as the slightly amoral princess.

The Court Jester looks truly spectacular! You can really see the money and attention to detail on the screen, with lavish sets, great costumes, and dazzling colours. If there was anything to criticise, the film is a little overproduced in places, and dare I say cluttered? None of these moments are bad per se, of course, and don't hurt the experience.

The songs here are a real treat! Predominately sung by Danny Kaye, they're peppy, funny, and really get you in the mood for =. The highlight is the opening/closing track Life Could not Better Be, which has a certain unique touch to it to boot! I do wish they were spaced out a little more evenly though, as it's quite a long movie, and there are only = tracks. Some are only a few minutes apart, while others might be separated by half an hour.

The Court Jester has truly stood the test of time, and is one of Danny Kaye's best films, and one of the best comedies to come out of the era. It's well worth a watch...

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