The Court Jester (1956)

2012 #29
Melvin Frank & Norman Panama | 97 mins | TV | 1.85:1 | USA / English | U

The Court JesterOn its release in 1956, The Court Jester was the most expensive comedy ever made, at a cost of $4 million. For that sum you could make precisely 2 minutes & 11 seconds of more recent most-expensive-ever comedy flop Evan Almighty. The Court Jester wasn’t a success at the box office either, though apparently it’s full of famous moments – and, at the very least, (and much to my amazement, because it’s a commonly uttered phrase in my family and I’d never heard of the film), it originated the saying, “Get it? Got it. Good.”

The plot is intricately farcical, packed with mistaken identities and items being passed from person to person which get mixed up for one another. That all works well comically but is inexplicable in print, so suffice to say Danny Kaye plays a member of a Robin Hood-a-like’s gang who ends up in the castle of their nemesis under the guise of the new jester (hence the title). Hilarity ensues.

And, actually, it does. Kaye is the focus of the film and, an experienced pro, he carries it with aplomb. The supporting cast offer no weak links, with an ageing Basil Rathbone making a fine villain. He isn’t required to do much in the comedy department, but his straight villainy and the association of his previous roles (particularly in Errol Flynn’s Robin Hood, of course) add to proceedings. This includes an amusing climactic sword fight, though for the most part the role of The Jester and the VillainRathbone’s character is played by the film’s fight choreographer, the 63-year-old star finding Kaye’s movements a bit fast for him at that age.

There are also some songs, though I can’t for the life of me remember a single one of them… with the notable exception of the opening title sequence. Not that I remember the song, I just remember there being one: Kaye pushes the credits around while singing said song. And apparently the lyrics relate to the credits that are coming up too, though I didn’t notice at the time. It’s very neat.

I’d never heard of The Court Jester before it popped up on on-demand while I had Sky Movies for the Oscars, but apparently it’s “a television matinee favorite”. Maybe just in America (note the spelling in the quote); maybe it just passed me by. Either way, it’s an entertainment worth catching if you can. Get it?

4 out of 5

This review is part of the 100 Films Advent Calendar 2012. Read more here.

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