Cast & Crew
Despite his recent ascension to the throne via his massacre of the royal family, the crown of the tyrannical King Roderick of England weighs heavy, as rumors persist throughout his kingdom that a true heir to his title lives, a male infant who bears the royal birthmark, that of a purple pimpernel. Roderick's fears are well-founded, as one of his spies informs the king that such a child does exist and is being cared for in the hidden forest lair of the masked thief known as The Black Fox. Despite the objections of his top advisor, Sir Ravenhurst, Roderick hopes to secure his crown by making a marriage alliance between himself and a powerful Northern knight, Sir Griswold. Princess Gwendolyn, the king's daughter, rejects such an arranged marriage, proclaiming that she will only marry for love, as prophesized by the witch Griselda. Meanwhile, back in his forest hideout, The Black Fox is warned that the king's soldiers are nearby, so he orders Hubert Hawkins, an ex- carnival performer, and the maid Jean, a captain in the Fox's army, to transport the child king to an abbey in Dover. Disguised as a deaf old man and his mute granddaughter, Hawkins and Jean manage to safely elude the king's men. Later, they are forced to seek shelter from a sudden rainstorm in a woodsman's hut, where Hawkins and Jean proclaim their love for each other. Their romantic interlude is interrupted, however, by the arrival of Giacomo, "King of Jesters and Jester of Kings." After subduing the jester, Hawkins assumes Giacomo's identity in order to gain access to Roderick's court, unaware that he is impersonating a deadly assassin hired by Ravenhurst to kill his rivals. Matters are further complicated when Hawkins mistakes the evil Ravenhurst for an agent of the Fox, and Griselda, fearful for her life if her mistress Gwendolyn is forced to marry Griswold, hypnotizes Hawkins into believing he is a dashing swashbuckler and orders him to woo the love-sick princess. Meanwhile, Jean and the infant king, who is hidden in a wine casket, are captured by Roderick's men, who have been ordered to search the countryside for beautiful wenches meant to provide "entertainment" at a royal banquet in Griswold's honor. That night, Griselda poisons Sir Brockhurst, Sir Finsdale and Sir Pertwee after the three pledge their lives to the consummation of Gwendolyn and Griswold's marriage, though Ravenhurst mistakenly credits Hawkins with their deaths. Soon thereafter, Gwendolyn publicly proclaims her love for the jester, so the insulted Griswold challenges Hawkins to a duel. In order to meet the rules of chivalry, the commoner Hawkins is then rushed through the sacramental rights of knighthood. Meanwhile, Jean procures from the lecherous Roderick the key to a secret passageway into the castle, and sends it by messenger pigeon to the Black Fox, requesting that he fight in Hawkins' place. A cave-in makes the hidden tunnel seemingly impassable, however, so Hawkins is forced to face Griswold in mortal combat. Though Griselda's attempt to poison the Northern knight fails, Hawkins manages to best Griswold after his armor is magnetized by lightning. Before the victorious Hawkins can claim Gwendolyn as his prize, however, Ravenhurst accuses him of being the Black Fox. Tried before the royal court, Hawkins and Jean are saved from execution when the real Black Fox infiltrates the castle with the help of Hawkins' midget friends. During the ensuing battle, Hawkins slips in and out of Griselda's spell long enough to defeat Ravenhurt in a sword fight. With Roderick's forces now vanquished, the infant king is placed on the thrown of England, and Sir Hawkins' is rewarded with the hand of Jean.
The American Legion Zouvaves Of Richard F. Smith, Post #29, Jackson, Michigan
William Augustus Fuller
Robert E. Smith
Edward P. Gibbons
Thomas J. Cotton
A. J. Buster Resmondo
Little Billy Rhodes
Henry Lewis Stone
George Louis Spotts
James B. Jordan
Floyd Hugh Dixon
Paul "tiny" Newlan
Chad Dee Block
Gerald R. Peters
Kenneth B. Harp
Wallace J. Russell
Thomas G. Royal Jr.
John P. O'malley
Harry Lloyd Nelson
Roy G. Gunther
Ronald R. Rice
Roger Lee Mckee
A. H. Barnett
John P. Fulton
D. R. O. Hatswell
Hal C. Kern
Bernard Mceveety Jr.
The Court Jester
Their first effort, Knock on Wood (1954), contained promising glimpses of the company's mission, but it wasn't until the second try that Kaye would have his due. The Court Jester, released in 1956, showed Kaye at the top of his game, backed by a stellar supporting cast that included Angela Lansbury, Basil Rathbone, and Glynis Johns. The ambitious production hit Paramount's operating budget with a 4 million dollar price tag, only to be topped by its enormous belly flop at the box office, grossing only 2.2 million. Despite the film's impressive onscreen pedigree, critics were kind but rather cool. Since its release, however, The Court Jester has come to be regarded as possibly Kaye's finest film with some classic comedy routines that have entered the annals of film history.
A burlesque parody of the medieval genre, The Court Jester highlighted Kaye's gift for physical comedy. Co-star Lansbury observed in the Kaye bio Nobody's Fool by Martin Gottfried, "His use of hands was inspired by commedia dell'arte, and in the way he moved, he was absolutely original¿he was one off the mold." His hands may have been divine, but Kaye didn't hold his legs in such high regard: according to his bio, the actor employed some extra help, "wearing 'symmetricals'- stockings padded with sponge rubber to fatten up spindly legs." His vanity, however, was quickly overshadowed by his verbal talents. His ability to effortlessly maneuver through tongue-twisters was put to good use with the scene that became one of comic legend - the alliterative skit known as "The pellet with the poison's in the vessel with the pestle, the chalice with the palace has the brew that's true". With respected character actress Mildred Natwick--a favorite of director John Ford - and interjections from Johns, the routine delighted audiences. Kaye's daughter Dena once commented that for the rest of her father's life, enthusiastic fans would recite the entire scene aloud upon encountering him in public.
The outstanding supporting cast of The Court Jester undoubtedly played a heavy hand into its ultimate success. As the Gottfried bio points out, "In this picture, he works with the actors instead of in front of them." Second billing went to Johns, who earned an Oscar® nomination for The Sundowners (1960), a film that also featured her father, Mervyn Johns. Her most memorable role, perhaps, is that of the feisty suffragette mother in Mary Poppins (1964). Basil Rathbone made a career out of sword-wielding villains - a tradition he continues in this film--before redefining Sherlock Holmes in no less than 14 films from 1939 to 1946. Rathbone was considered Hollywood's finest swordsman, and his talent is evident in the film. His talents were carefully observed by Kaye; according to one account, "With his quick reflexes and his extraordinary sense of mime, which enabled him to imitate easily anything seen once, Kaye could outfence Rathbone after a few weeks of instruction."
Angela Lansbury, forever known to fans as mystery solver Jessica Fletcher in the long-running television series Murder, She Wrote (1984-96), continued her upward trajectory started with films like Gaslight (1944) and The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945). The Court Jester was a welcome respite for the actress, who increasingly attracted roles that portrayed her as older - the greatest example would come in later years with The Manchurian Candidate (1962), in which she played the mother of an actor despite only being three years older than him in real life!
Lansbury's biography Balancing Act, also by Martin Gottfried, says of Jester, "It allowed her to play not only a princess, but a princess her own age. She was made up to look young and lovely. She got to wear beautiful clothes that showed off her fine, slender figure." Lansbury had the keenest insights into the group's dynamic and of the legend himself, observing in the Kaye bio that "Danny wasn't an ensemble player - he was the one around whom everyone danced, and we all dressed to him." But for an actor who was known to be temperamental, she recalled, "We never stopped laughing. There was none of that moodiness he could have elsewhere, that abruptness, ignoring people. If something interested him, sparked him, he came alive. The minute that was over, he was closed for business, which I think is true of many of the great comic performers. They are constantly out to lunch. Where they are, I don't know."
Producer: Melvin Frank, Norman Panama
Director: Melvin Frank, Norman Panama
Screenplay: Melvin Frank, Norman Panama
Cinematography: Ray June
Film Editing: Tom McAdoo
Art Direction: Roland Anderson, Hal Pereira
Music: Sylvia Fine, Vic Schoen
Cast: Danny Kaye (Hubert Hawkins), Glynis Johns (Maid Jean), Basil Rathbone (Sir Ravenhurst), Angela Lansbury (Princess Gwendolyn), Cecil Parker (King Roderick I), Mildred Natwick (Griselda).
by Eleanor Quin
The Court Jester
You spent some time in the Italian court?- King
Why, yes. What better place to court Italians?- Hawkins
I'm Fergus the Ostler.- Fergus
Whogus the Whatsler?- Hawkins
I'm Griselda.- Griselda
A jester unemployed is nobody's fool!- Hawkins
I've got it! I've got it! The pellet with the poison's in the vessel with the pestle; the chalice from the palace has the brew that is true! Right?- Hawkins
Right. But there's been a change: they broke the chalice from the palace!- Griselda
They *broke* the chalice from the palace?- Hawkins
And replaced it with a flagon.- Griselda
A flagon...?- Hawkins
Unimpressed with him in tights, producers of the film made Danny Kaye wear 'leg falsies' to improve the shape of his legs.
Danny Kaye's daughter, Dena, said for the rest of his life, when people recognized Danny in a restaurant, they would walk up and spout the entire "brew that is true" speech.
Basil Rathbone was a world-class fencer and it was due to his efforts that the hilarious fencing scene was filmed without injury. He later admitted that several times he was almost skewered by Danny Kaye's sword.
But then again... In the famous "snapping" swordfight between Danny Kaye and Basil Rathbone, Kaye's sword movements were too fast for Rathbone, as he was 63 at the time of filming. The film's fight choreographer dressed up as Rathbone's character and was filmed from behind for the fast sections. If you look, you can see that most of the fight consists of "Rathbone" from the back, then shots of the real Rathbone standing "en garde".
The "Now I can shoot and toot" speech during "The Maladjusted Jester" was previously said by Danny Kaye in his first feature role in Up in Arms (1944)
During the opening credits, while singing "Life Could Not Better Be", Danny Kaye constantly pushes Basil Rathbone's re-appearing credit off the screen. The Court Jester was the second film by Dena Enterprises, a film production company owned by actor Danny Kaye and his wife, songwriter Sylvia Fine. In partnership with writer-producer-directors Melvin Frank and Norman Panama, Dena Productions had previously filmed another Danny Kaye comedy, Knock on Wood, a 1954 Paramount release . Though Hollywood Reporter news items report a production starting date of July 1954, The Court Jester did not begin filming until late Nov. At that time, New York Times reported that the picture's budget had been set at $3,000,000, with its two main sets-the castle interior and its courtyard-having been built on two separate Paramount sound stages at the cost of over $200,000.
According to the file on the film in the Paramount Collection at the AMPAS Library, The Court Jester was originally given a production budget of $2,487,000, with a forty-eight day shooting schedule. After the first week of filming, cinematographer Ray Rennahan was dismissed from the production and replaced by the credited director of photography, Ray June. After filming for nearly three months, The Court Jester temporarily shut down production on February 16, 1955, then resumed on February 25, 1955 and finished its initial shooting on March 12, 1955. The production was reopened and closed for a single day-March 18, 1955 -for additional cuts and retakes.
According to a October 29, 1955 Paramount breakdown of the film's expenses, The Court Jester's total cost to that point was $3,702,103, having used seventy-six actual days for filming, eighteen days of rehearsal, and another eighteen days for second unit work, including location shooting in Palos Verdes, CA. In its January 1956 feature article on the film, Life stated that The Court Jester was the most expensive film comedy produced to date.
According to Hollywood Reporter, the extended shooting on The Court Jester almost cost Glynis Johns a featured role in the 1955 Boulting Bros. production Josephine and the Men, as the start date on that film conflicted with The Court Jester's extended schedule. The scheduling was worked out, however, and the actress did appear in the British film. According to the file on the film in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, there were two Sammy Cahn-Sylvia Fine songs-"Pass the Basket" and "Where Walks My True Love"-that were approved for use in The Court Jester, but were not performed in the released film. Also, the original title for Fine's composition "The Maladjusted Jester" was "The Court Jester's Lament."
In his review of The Court Jester, Hollywood Reporter critic Jack C. Moffitt claimed that the hypnosis joke, in which Kaye changes from swashbuckler to fool and back at the snap of Mildred Natwick's fingers, was stolen from him. Calling the supposed plagiarism "a feeling of flattered nostalgia," Moffitt stated that he had originally written a similar scene for the 1937 Paramount film Mountain Music (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40) in which Bob Burns falls in and out of love with Martha Raye each time he is hit on the head. Moffitt did admit in his review, however, that he had stolen the comic piece himself from Charlie Chapin's 1931 classic City Lights, which contains a sequence in which millionaire Harry Myer loves Chaplin when he is drunk, but despises the little tramp when sober (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40). Moffitt also went to lengths to point out that the famous "The pellet with the poison is in the chalice from the palace, while in the vessel with the pestle has the brew that is true" sequence in The Court Jester was a "shortened version" of the old Bob Hope tongue-twister routine: "There's a nick on the muzzle of the pistol with the bullet and a scratch on the barrel of the pistol with a blank."
Hollywood Reporter production charts and news items include Marilyn Watson, James Robertson, Joe Ploski, Ethan Laidlaw and George Ford in the cast, but their appearance in the released film has not been confirmed. According to modern sources, Kaye was trained for his fencing scenes by U.S. Olympic coach Ralph Faulkner. Kaye received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Performance by an Actor, Musical or Comedy for his work in the film. Soon after concluding filming on The Court Jester, Paramount released the Danny Kaye short subject Assignment Children, a documentary for the United Nations Children's Fund, for which Kay was Ambassador-at-Large. In June 1966, The Court Jester was selected to open the Film Society of Lincoln Center's Danny Kaye Festival, with its opening night fund raiser held on behalf of UNICEF's 50th anniversary. Kaye had acted as the special ambassador for the United Nation's children's organization during its first thirty-four years.
Released in United States 2013 (Cinema's Legacy)
Released in United States Spring March 1956
Released in United States 2013
Released in United States March 1979
Released in United States Spring March 1956
Selected in 2004 for inclusion in the Library of Congress' National Film Registry.
Released in United States March 1979 (Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition (Bring the Kids) March 14-30, 1979.)