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The Court Jester

At the Paramount and Fenway

By Jonathan Beecher

In The Court Jester Danny Kaye is the court jester, and he is a funny man. He dances, duels, jousts against "the grim and grisly gruesome Griswold," unwittingly outwits the evil courtiers and tells funny stories. Also, he has little men who do his bidding.

The movie, too, is funny. It starts in a forest--not unlike Sherwood Forest--where the Black Fox--not unlike Robin Hood--is hiding out with his gang of trusty-men. Danny Kaye and Glynis Johns are trusty-men. Miss Johns is a Captain and Danny Kaye is the Prince's nurse. The Prince, who is eight months old, has been brought to the forest after Roderick, the film's usurping tyrant, has massacred the rest of the royal family. The Prince deserves the throne because he, and not Roderick, has on his bottom the royal birthmark--the Purple Pimpernel. By a stroke of good luck the demure Miss Johns knocks out a passer-by named Giacomo the Jester, who is in reality a secret agent. Dressed up in Giacomo the Jester's outfit, Danny Kaye goes to the castle to get the key to the secret passageway "for the cause." Here the plot wanders into a labyrinth of evil subjects.

Despite the tale's complexities, the characters are simple, except for Danny Kaye. Glynis Johns, is also a veteran of the Walt Disney-type saga of the Middle Ages, has by now learned how to be a comely wench in the best neo-medieval style. The most slippery of the courtiers, Ravenhurst, is played by Basil Rathbone who duels once and sneers and stands around. The rest of the people mostly stand around while Danny Kaye does things. He is good at doing things because he is bewitched most of the time, therefore bold, daring, and resourceful.

It would not be entirely right to say the movie is built around Danny Kaye because it tries, at first, to be a parody, and a rather subtle one, of Hollywood's own breed of medieval extravaganza. The turning point seems to come after Roderick, gurgling, "Wenches, laughter, song! That's what we need around this old castle," sends his men out to scour the countryside. In an amusing take-off on Western posse scenes the King's men roll about the land picking up cart-loads of wenches. The cameras linger on the wenches, and good clean medieval escapades soon outdo their parody; after this, The Court Jester becomes a one-man show. Since the man is Danny Kaye, one of him is enough.

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