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File:TheCourtJester.jpg


 Giacomo: "King of Jesters..." (gets hit on the head, falls unconscious)

Maid Jean: "And jester to the king!"

The royal family of old England has been wiped out. Roderick recently usurped the throne as king and now only an infant boy survives from the true line. The Black Fox, and his band of outlaws, have sworn to protect the true king.

But fate conspires to put the child in greater danger than ever before. When two of the outlaws, Hubert Hawkins and Maid Jean, try to take the child to safety, they wind up within the walls of the usurper's castle. Now they must rely on their wits to keep the child from being found.

If this were a drama, the odds would be against them. But this is Played for Laughs.

This 1955 Paramount film, written and directed by Norman Panama and Melvin Frank, and starring Danny Kaye, Glynis Johns, Basil Rahtbone, Angela Lansbury, Cecil Parker, Mildred Natwick, and John Carradine, has been a Comedy Cult Classic on TV for years, mercilessly mocking the conventions of medieval Swashbuckler films of the 1930s through the 1950s. A lot of it is thanks to the talent of Danny Kaye, who is about as unlikely an adventure hero as you could get, and the film makes sure to milk every drop of that.

It flopped when it came out, but was later a hit on TV. Now it's on the American Film Institute's list of "100 Years... 100 Laughs," and preserved in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress for being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".


Tropes from this film include:

  • Action Girl: Maid Jean, especially for the standards of the time.
  • Actor Allusion: Hawkins at one point addresses the baddie as "Ravenhurst, you rat-catcher" ― alluding to the fact that Basil Rathbone, who played the part, had played Tybalt in the 1936 film version of Romeo and Juliet.
  • Alliterative Name: Hubert Hawkins.
  • Arranged Marriage: Griselda trying to get Gwendolyn out of being forced to marry Sir Griswold sets up a lot of the plot. Although it's hinted Gwendolyn may end up with the "Grim, Grisly, Gruesome" Griswold anyway.
  • Bathe Her and Bring Her to Me: More or less happens to Maid Jean, but she uses it as a way to get the castle key needed for their plan.
  • Birthmark of Destiny: The Rightful Heir (still an infant) has a birthmark on his butt. There are a couple of scenes of Hawkins holding the infant in his arms, lowering the swaddling clothes just far enough to reveal the birthmark.
  • Bumbling Dad: Kind of, in that Hawkins is actually a more than competent foster father to the young king (in fact, he's the most competant parental type in the whole movie), but he's bumbling at pretty much everything else.
  • A Child Shall Lead Them: The infant king.
  • Courtly Love: Parodied, not only with Hawkins only doing it because he has been Brainwashed, but by Danny Kaye making silly poses to spoof the almost implausible complexity of many romantic heroes.
  • Deadly Decadent Court: Ravenhurst and his associates scheme murder to retain their influence with Roderick.
  • Distinguishing Mark: the Purple Pimpernel on the royal posterior
  • Does Not Like Shoes: Jean might be an example of this but it's hard to tell if she is or the bare feet are just part of her costume in the disguise and better than wearing heels in the final scene. She does wear boots as part of her regular "outlaw uniform."
  • Evil Chancellor: Ravenhurst.
  • Excuse Me While I Multitask: In the climactic battle.
  • Farce
  • Flynning: Parodied in the climax.
    • It should be noted that Danny Kaye was such a quick study at fencing that, in any shot where you don't see Basil Rathbone's face, Kaye is fighting a fencing master... because Rathbone (himself an expert fencer since childhood, but twenty years Kaye's senior) couldn't keep up -- and the fencing master, Ralph Faulkner, is said to have told Kaye to take it easy on him!
  • Fun with Subtitles: The opening song.
  • Gambit Pileup: And how!
  • Gorgeous Period Dress / Hollywood Costuming: Supplies the heading picture for the latter. Angela Lansbury looks like she should be posing next to an Oldsmobile Dynamic 88 at the 1955 GM Motorama.
  • Guile Hero: Maid Jean
  • Hollywood History: But of the Artistic License kind. Of course there has never been any Roderick on the throne of England, legitimately or illegitimately, and that any resemblance in this film to the real Middle Ages is a coincidence not intended.

 We did research --

Authenticity was a must.

Zooks! Did we search --

And what did we find? *sneeze* A lot o' dust!

  • Hypno Fool: It seems to give Hawkins skills he never had, such as seduction and sword fighting.
  • Implausible Fencing Powers: Hawkins slashes a set of candles, apparently to no effect, and Ravenhurst laughs at him. Then he blows on the candles, and they fall apart.
    • This is another Actor Allusion, as well, as Tyrone Power had pulled a similar, if less exaggerated, bit of swordplay on Basil Rathbone's Captain Esteban in 1940's The Mark of Zorro.
  • Incredibly Lame Pun: Kaye's song "The Maladjusted Jester" exists to lead up to "A jester unemployed/Is nobody's fool!"
  • The Jester: Hawkins is forced to impersonate one to infiltrate the castle, hence the film's title.
  • Knighting: Spoofed in so many ways.
    • Yea, verily, yea.
  • Lightning Can Do Anything: At one point Hawkins' armor is hit by lightning. After Hawkins puts it on anything made of metal sticks to him!
  • The Middle Ages
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: The villains wonder whether Giacomo is doing this.
    • Helped by the secret self-serving actions of Griselda.
  • Pimped-Out Cape: Roderick wears an ermine cape most of the time, perhaps compensating for how he got on the throne. His daughter wears one for just one scene.
  • Pimped-Out Dress
  • Princesses Prefer Pink: Griselda wears at least one pink outfit.
  • Poisoned Chalice Switcheroo: One of the most famous plays on it, even if it's trying to remember which cup instead of trying to switch them.

 The pellet with the poison is in the vessel with the pestle, the chalice from the palace has the brew that is true!

  • Punch-Punch-Punch Uh-Oh: Not quite, but similar as Hawkins slaps Griswold in the face with a gauntlet repeatedly and Griswold doesn't even seem to notice that it's happening, but when Griswold slaps Hawkins in the face it nearly knocks him over.
  • Recitation Handclasp: One of several postures taken (he can't seem to stand still) while Danny Kaye is singing.
  • Rightful King Returns
  • Royal Blood
  • Running Gag: "Get it?" "Got it." "Good."
    • Finger snapping breaking him in and out of his spell.
  • She Cleans Up Nicely: Maid Jean.
  • Siege Engines: A small one was used to launch the villains over the battlements.
  • Supporting Leader: The Black Fox.
  • Supporting Protagonist: Hawkins wants to be a hero, but he's mainly just thrown around in the events of the film.
  • Swashbuckler: The film is an ingenious combination of this and the Comedy genres.
  • There Is Only One Bed: When Jean and Hawkins spend the night in the woodman's hut.
  • Tomboy: Maid Jean. Her father taught her how to fight. She suspects he wanted a boy.
  • Totem Pole Trench: Well actually cloak.
  • Translation: "Yes": Jean pretends to be deaf and mute, Hawkins pretends to be her grandfather. When asked by a soldier if she has seen a group in the forest, she speaks at length in sign language. Hawkins translates this as "No."

 Soldier: What took her so long?!

Kaye: Stutters.

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