Karavansara

East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Swashathon!: The Court Jester (1955)

19 Comments

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.

swashathon-header

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?
AND dancing?
Ah!

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.

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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.

Annex - Kaye, Danny (Court Jester, The)_NRFPT_02The 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.

CourtJ2

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.


  1. yes, this is shameless. 
  2. and yes, this duel was hommaged in Sam Raimi‘s The Army of Darkness 
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Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

19 thoughts on “Swashathon!: The Court Jester (1955)

  1. I remember seeing this one for the first time as a child. I was entirely infatuated with the Middle Ages, back then, and my tolerance for humour on the subject was embarassingly low. I must have been a dreadful little girl, in some ways.

    It took me another viewing, many years later, to appreciate the colourful loveliness, the parody and nonsense, and the swordfight… Quite a bit of fun, actually, when you are an adult with a healthy sense of humour.

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    • … in some ways?
      (ducks for cover)
      Jokes apart, this is probably my favorite Kaye movie (A Song id Born is also good, but i never could stand Virginia Mayo)
      And this also caused me a terrible crush for Glynis Johns 😀

      Like

  2. A very funny movie and I’m not the most fond of Danny Kaye’s schtick, so that’s a lot coming from me. Great review!

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  3. I didn’t realize “The Court Jester” was not a success in its day as it is beloved in our family. Boy, first stop in my time machine is slapping movie audiences of the time into shape.

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  4. Thanks so much for joining in! This film may not have please 1950s audiences but it sure has a following today! This was the single most requested film of the event.

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    • Really?
      I’m happy to learn there’s so much interest for this little gem.
      And thank you for setting up the blogathon – I read a lot of great posts on some movies I love.

      Like

  5. The Court Jester was a favorite of ours growing up and still is today. I had no idea it was such a financial failure! Thanks for this entertaining review!

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  6. I’d never even heard of this before I happened across it on TV a few years ago, but I’m glad I did because it’s loads of fun. Shame it didn’t succeed on its first release, but at least it continues to find an audience today.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Thanks for this! This has to be the most “meta” of all swashbuckler films.

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  8. Great review! Don’t like to admit that I’ve never seen this one – I’m very guilty of judging it by appearance only and deciding it wasn’t for me. Clearly it’s time to admit I might’ve been wrong.

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  9. Many people my age have mixed feelings about Danny Kaye because people thought he acted oddly when he got old. He certainly did a lot of good work for unicef. The movie didn’t make a big impression on me when I saw it years ago. You have inspired me to give it another try.

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  10. Pingback: That archer guy from Sherwood | Karavansara

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