It’s the Swashathon!, boys and girls!
Devised and hosted by The Movies Silently, this is a blogathon about swashbuckling adventure movies.
Could Karavansara miss the opportunity?
Of course not.
Please head to the Movies Silently blog for the full list of participating blogs, for fun browsing and to discover movies you might not know.
As for what we are about to do here, well, we are about to do this…
… because swashing the buckle is no laughing matter, but doing it singing?
The Court Jester is a 1955 Paramount musical usually listed as a comedy.
The movie was the brainchild of Melvin Frank and Norman Panama – the two, that were school chums, were responsible for a number of highly successful comedies between the 1940s and the ’60s – including a few Road to…” Crosby/Hope/Lamarr vehicles and the classic Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House featuring Cary Grant and Myrna Loy.
The Court Jester is fun and it looks gorgeous.
It features two beautiful leading ladies (Glynis Johns and Angela Lansbury).
There’s Basil Rathbone (who else) playing the bad guy.
And there’s Danny Kaye in the leading role.
And yet the movie was a financial disaster, failing to recover the staggering cost of 4 millions.
Set in a very Hollywood-style medieval England, The Court Jester happily rips-off Erroll Flynn’s Robin Hood, possibly the father of all swashbucklers of the swashbuckler genre. It does so throwing in a handful of other classic clichés, playing on a tested and true “comedy of errors” structure.
The mysterious Black Fox opposes the unjust rule of usurper King Roderick (Cecil Parker), and upholds the cause of the rightful heir – an infant with a scarlet pimpernel1 birthmark on his bum.
Evil courtier Lord Ravenhurst (Rathbone, of course) plots against the king, and hires a mercenary asassin, Giacomo the Court Jester (John Carradine).
BUT… Giacomo is captured by the rebels, and Hubert Hawkins (Kaye), a former carny performer now part of the Fox’s band of merry men, is sent in as his replacement – his mission, infiltrate the court, steal the secret passage key and allow the rebels to enter the King’s castle.
And at this point, summing up the plot becomes almost impossible.
Hubert is repeatedly hypnotized by a witch (Mildred Natwick), seduces Angela Lansbury, has to recover the birthmark-bearing infant and save his fellow rebel Maid Jean (Glynis Johns), takes part in a joust, amuses the usurper and must steal the key.
Hard to keep track of all the comings and goings, apart from the fact that…
So, it’s fun, it looks good, it features a terrific cast, and it bombed at the box office.
Why are we talking about this movie as part of the Swashathon?
Because of this, of course…
But most of all, because The Court Jester features the best sword fight in the history of Technicolor cinema.
And it goes like this.
Basil Rathbone was a great swordsman, Danny Kaye was a great comedian – no better match could ever happen on screen2. And yet, Rathbone was replaced for some of the scenes: Kaye’s uncohordinated moves were too fast, and the British actor (63 years old at the time) risked injury.
The third protagonist of this fight is the music, which was composed by Vic Schoen, and according to the composer himself was the piece he was most proud of in his production. It was praised, rather obliquely, by Igor Stravinski.
The Court Jester is a great swashbuckler that pokes fun at the swashbuckler genre – at the same time a signal of the popularity of the genre and a signal that the classic swashbuckler is about to be archived, to be replaced by different, more tongue-in-cheeck movies.
Possibly, the failure at the box office was caused by the genre getting stale, or the audience looking for something more sophisticated. Re-watching The Court Jester today – after it’s been rightfully recognized as a culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant by the Library of Congress – the movie is still fresh and funny. But it also shows its age, and somewhat padded (just as Kaye’s leggings were padded to give him a more swashbuckling look) – a pity considering that at least two musical numbers were cut.
If anything, The Court Jester shows that adventure movies can also be comedic and mix silliness and swashbuckling.