Netflix this: ‘The Court Jester’

The Court Jester is a lightweight comedy-musical-adventure that, if made today, would have to be animated. It’s far too upbeat, silly and colorful to be taken as a live action film seriously. Nevertheless, Danny Kaye’s comedic brilliance is reason alone to check out this film.

What’s it about? The premise is unique in the fact that Kaye is technically not the hero of the film. The Black Fox–a Robin Hood-esque swashbuckler–has sworn to protect the sole heir to the royal throne, a baby whose entire family has been executed in a coup orchestrated by the evil Roderick (Cecil Parker). Kaye plays Hubert Hawkins, a wannabe sidekick to the Black Fox who finally gets a chance to prove his worth by smuggling the baby back to the castle.

Court Jester

Hubert poses as Giacomo, the most renowned court jester throughout Europe. Helping Hubert is the beautiful Jean (Glynis Johns, the mom from Mary Poppins), the Black Fox’s right hand–er, woman. Through a series of crazy mix-em-ups, Hubert is mistaken for an assassin and hypnotized into loving Roderick’s daughter, Gwendolyn (Angela Lansbury, who to me has always looked old, even when she was young). Eventually he is knighted (in one of the film’s funniest sequences) and must face off against the gruff Sir Griswold (Robert Middleton) for Gwendolyn’s hand in marriage.

Basil Rathbone plays Sir Ravenhurst, the true villain of the picture, who at first believes Hubert/Giacomo is a skilled assassin, but then thinks that he’s the Black Fox. Sword fighting ensues.

You don’t see too many medieval screwball comedies, and the premise seems fresh (even if the execution feels horribly outdated). Brightly colored costumes designed by Edith Head make The Court Jester feel like Playmobil toys have come to life. (Some of the costumes are so bright and feathery, they look like they could have come out of a Vegas show.)

What’s good about it: Danny Kaye is an expert comedian, and to see him own every scene he’s in is a treat. It’s as if he knows the material is a little hokey, but has fun anyway, and says that it’s okay for you to watch this movie. His duel in a magnetized suit of armor is so clever. There’s a lot of action but not a lot of violence.

What’s bad about it: Some of the plot is contrived, and if you can’t suspend your disbelief, you’re going to have a hard time sitting through this.

Perfect for: Families, fans of slapstick/physical comedy.


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