Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

The Court Jester


I am a big fan of Danny Kaye, and I think this is his best movie … with The Inspector General running a close second. All the gags work wonderfully well, the plot gets delightfully complicated, the Technicolor photography is dazzling, and the supporting cast are uniformly great. Mildred Natwick in particular does a great straight-faced comic turn, and Glynis Johns is lovely and funny. Basil Rathbone, Angela Lansbury, and Cecil Parker round out the cast.

Every schtick works, from the wild fast marching when Danny is being knighted in a big hurry, by The American Legion Zouaves of Richard F. Smith Post No. 29, Jackson, Michigan, to the comic mayhem by a group calling themselves Bob Hermine’s Midgets.

(These days, of course, you can’t call them midgets. I think the preferred term for this type of person—other than “little people” for all those we used to call dwarfs—is “proportionate dwarf.” They are like General Tom Thumb, not like Peter Dinklage. I don’t know what form of dwarfism Dinklage has; I’ve read somewhere that there are about 80 forms of dwarfism. Political correctness can sure induce complications. How about easing up? Why can’t someone say dwarf or midget without it being a pejorative? I certainly don’t mean it that way.)

Oh, well. What everyone remembers most vividly about the movie is the joust near the end. The crazy routine about which container has the poison in it. Is it the chalice from the palace, the vessel with the pestle, or the flagon with the dragon that holds the brew that is true … or is it the pellet with the poison? It is side-splitting to see Danny and his burly, not-too-bright opponent both struggling with the tongue twister.

And it all climaxes with one of the best sword fights ever filmed. It is hilarious, but you can see the real skill that went into it. Danny worked hard to learn fencing, and his opponent, Rathbone, was already a skilled swordsman who said he was amazed at how good Danny got. Well, the man was always a superb physical comic. Fencing was just one more way to be funny.