Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Court Jester

by C.J. Chase
Most years, April 1 comes and goes with a few pranks to mark its passing. Since tomorrow is Palm Sunday for most North American Christians, I thought I'd have my April Fools fun a day early this year, with a look at arguably the funniest movie ever made--The Court Jester. Though this 1956 flick originally bombed at the box office, over the years it has gained in popularity.

As the movie opens, the current ruler of England, King Roderick the Tyrant, has usurped the throne after the massacre of the entire royal family--except for one surviving baby. A band of outlaws led by the cunning Black Fox are working to remove Roderick and replace him with the rightful heir, the child who bears the royal birthmark on his royal bottom.

Carnival worker Hubert Hawkins (Danny Kaye) joined the outlaws seeking excitement. He wants "to come to grips with the enemy: face to face, steel to steel, fist to fist." But gentle Hawkins is not a fighter and everyone--everyone except the hapless Hawkins, that is--knows it. Instead of giving Hawkins a sword, the Black Fox assigns him nanny duty for the royal infant.

However, while transporting the child to safety, Hawkins and the Black Fox's sword-wielding lieutenant Maid Jean (Glynis Johns) encounter the newly-arrived court jester Giacomo of Italy, "king of jesters and jester of kings." Things go awry when Hawkins and Jean hatch a plan for Hawkins to take the jester's place and infiltrate Roderick's castle. Unbeknownst to Hawkins, the real Giacomo is more than a mere fool--he is also an assassin hired by Roderick's right hand man Ravenhurst. Poor Hawkins soon finds himself planning assassinations, running from a love-hungry princess, and fighting in mortal combat with the grim and grisly gruesome Griswald.

This fast-paced spoof on the swashbuckler genre works because it incorporates so many types of humor--screwball, slapstick, and some of the most clever word play of the English language you'll ever hear. The clip below contains the first minute of the famous "pellet with the poison" tongue twister.

The cast also includes Angela Landsbury as the princess waiting for "someone dashing and romantic who will carry me away as a princess should be carried away" and Basil Rathbone as the evil Lord Ravenhurst in a parody of his Sir Guy of Gisborne role from the 1938 movie Robin Hood. Sammy Cahn and Sylvia Fine (Danny Kaye's wife) wrote the score for the movie, including the popular "Maladjusted Jester."

The Court Jester is a terrific family movie that appeals across generations. I have watched it with my grandparents, and it is a favorite of my children. We have even purchased copies as gifts for people undergoing difficult seasons of life.

"A merry heart does good, like medicine, but a broken spirit dries the bones." (Proverbs 17:22)

Do you like classic movies? Do you have any favorites that cheer you when life is difficult?

After leaving the corporate world to stay home with her children, C.J. Chase quickly learned she did not possess the housekeeping gene. She decided writing might provide the perfect excuse for letting the dust bunnies accumulate under the furniture. Her procrastination, er, hard work paid off in 2010 when she won the Golden Heart for Best Inspirational Manuscript and sold the novel to Love Inspired Historicals. Her next book, The Reluctant Earl, will be out in early 2013. You can visit C.J.'s cyber-home (where the floors are always clean) at


  1. I do love the 50s 'historical' movies in which the 'English' heroes always have American accents and everyone is clad in a rather odd interpretation of 14th century costume- even when the movie is set in like the 5th century.

    I read once that, aside from amusing and entertaining people, one of the purposes of jesters was to impart inconvenient, unpopular and unpalatable truths to the audience, so I rather think they had to be clever. Perhaps that is why Shakespeare's 'fools' were always so 'tuned in' to what was going on.

    I am going to have to seek out this film now.

  2. I love vintage comedies like this. Haven't seen it in years, but they manage to be witty and funny without being crass.

  3. I hadn't even heard of this until you Inky ladies were discussing it. Looks like fun.

    I like to watch old musicals. And when I was younger I was addicted to the Saturday morning Shirley Temple theater.

  4. I cant find it on streaming netfix or on Amazon. I'm hoping its available on disc from Netflix when I switch back from streaming...
    Sounds great and I think I may have seen it a very long time ago. Thanks C.J.!

  5. Anna, this one is a spoof on all those movies, which is what makes it so much fun for adults. The time period is rather nebulous -- just a general medieval-ish England. (Obviously, since there was no Roderick the Tyrant!)

  6. Lisa, that's why these movies are safe for the entire family. Why is it that the industry has so much difficulty making movies that appeal to a broad audience now--when they didn't years ago? Is it just too much work or are they trying too hard to be "edgy"?

  7. Dina, this one is a musical comedy, so it should be right up your alley. Most of the songs are funny, but there is a "serious" section where Jean tells Hawkins that sometimes gentleness and kindness makes a man--a very rare man (as opposed to being a fighter).

  8. Hope you find it, Deb. It's a great pick-me-up.

    I think you have to watch it several times to get all the jokes because some of them go by so quickly.

  9. Spoofs I love even better, and ones that poke fun at the very genre they represent all the more.
    Yes I was fully aware that thre wasnt really a Roderick, would have been fun if there was though!

  10. I love old movies, CJ, but I haven't seen this one. I'll watch for it.

    Last weekend I wasn't feeling good, and hubby turned on one of my all time favorites, Ferris Bueller's Day Off. When it was over, the only movie I've seen more than that one came on, Wizard of Oz. Not really a comedy, but I love them both.

    I also really enjoy Cary Grant movies and Hugh Grant movies. Either or, they both lift my spirits.

  11. I enjoy older movies, too, CJ, but this one is new to me! I'll have to look for it. Sounds like fun.

    Sometimes, I like to curl up with The Sound of Music. Familiar, comforting, and suitable for everybody!

  12. Anna -- this whole movie is done with tongue firmly in cheek. Sounds like it's a great one for you.

  13. Suzie, don't you love "comfort" movies? After 9/11, we got out 1776 and watched it a couple of times.

  14. I adore Danny Kaye! I saw "Hans Christian Anderson" so many times as a kid I know all the songs. My favorite of his movies is "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty." T-pucket, t-pucket, t-pucket... :+)

  15. Hahaha, Susanne. We had to attend a Boy Scout function tonight, and they should a clip of an old Fred MacMurray movie from 1966. We recognized one of the child actors from The Sound of Music. I said to my husband, "That's Kurt!"

  16. i LOVE this movie. if i can buy a copy of it, i would. Danny Kaye was brilliant. I love a bunch of his old movies. I remember watching them on Saturday mornings. I think the local PBS channel showed them. Either way, his movies were always amusing, and taught some sort of moral lesson (at least it seemed that way to me).


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