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Court Jester, The (1956)

Hyperkinetic funnyman Danny Kaye turned his antics to spoofing Arthurian films in the 1956 classic The Court Jester. Switching personalities as deftly as he shuffled his dancing feet, Kaye used his comic gifts to tweak the notions of chivalry, magic and more.

Wicked King Roderick has usurped the throne from the rightful king, a baby with a purple birthmark. A gang of peasant warriors, led by the masked Black Fox, determines to restore the true monarch, by any means necessary.

As part of the plan, lowly peasant Hawkins (Kaye) disguises himself as the king’s new jester to gain access to the court. What follows is a non-stop barrage of comic bits, including a madcap swordfight, a ludicrous knighting ceremony and the famous “poison pellet” mix-up.

Kaye’s talent as a song and dance man served him well in the film, which included several memorable musical numbers.

To give a bit of swashbuckling legitimacy to the proceedings, Basil Rathbone (Sir Guy in 1938’s The Adventures of Robin Hood) took the part of the wicked Sir Ravenhurst, while Angela Lansbury (Queen Anne in 1948’s The Three Musketeers) played the beautiful Princess Gwendolyn.

The combination was a winner, as many fans consider this to be the best (and funniest) of Danny Kaye’s film work.

The best comic moment comes when, as a reluctant participant in a joust, Hawkins is provided with knockout drops for this antagonist, but must remember in which cup they have been put.

Thus the mnemonic: “The pellet with the poison’s in the vessel with the pestle, the chalice from the palace has the brew that is true”.

Norman Panama and Melvin Frank took equal credit for the direction and the screenplay.

Hubert Hawkins
Danny Kaye
Maid Jean

Glynis Johns
Sir Ravenhurst

Basil Rathbone
Princess Gwendolyn

Angela Lansbury
King Roderick

Cecil Parker

Mildred Natwick
Sir Griswold

Robert Middleton
Sir Locksley

Michael Pate
Captain of the Guard

Herbert Rudley

Noel Drayton

John Carradine
Black Fox

Edward Ashley
Sir Brockhurst

Alan Napier
Sir Finsdale

Lewis Martin
Sir Pertwee

Patrick Aherne

Melvin Frank
Norman Panama