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The Court Jester (1955)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

The Court Jester (1955)

In co-directors Melvin Frank's and Norman Panama's classic musical costume comedy set in medieval England that spoofed swashbucklers (with a masked Robin Hood character, the romancing of a Princess-damsel in a tower, wenches, hypnotic spells, dueling, jousting, and much more); Danny Kaye starred in a dual role as carnival entertainer-acrobat Hubert Hawkins, and as an impersonator of a court jester named "Giacomo" (pronounced "Jockamo"); complicating matters even further was the film's romantic sub-plot and the use of a hypnotic spell; the film featured some of motion picture history's best comedic rhyming wordplay and convoluted dialogue, in its story revolving around mistaken identity:

  • the opening title sequence was accompanied by a musical solo performed by Danny Kaye as an acrobatic "court jester" - "Life Could Not Better Be" - "Life could not better be, better be, better be It could not possibly, no sirrrah, sirrah, sirree Songs could not gayer be, sound your do, re, or mi Re, mi, fa, so, la si, Fa la la la follow me..."
  • the film's narrator explained how conflict arose over ascendancy to the throne: "This is the story of how the destiny of a nation was changed by a birthmark, a royal birthmark, on the royal posterior of a royal infant child"; the royal usurper to the throne was King Roderick the First (Cecil Parker), who had ordered Sir Ravenhurst (Basil Rathbone) to eliminate the royal family and its infant king - but he had obviously failed; the King was supported by three advisors: Lords Brockhurst (Alan Napier), Finsdale (Lewis Martin) and Pertwee (Patrick Aherne)

King Roderick the Tyrant (Cecil Parker) With His Pretty Daughter - Princess Gwendolyn (Angela Lansbury)

(l to r): Sir Ravenhurst (Basil Rathbone) with the King
  • the King (with support from his advisors) was pressuring his pretty daughter - Princess Gwendolyn (Angela Lansbury) - into a politically-important marriage with Sir Griswold of the North (Robert Middleton), who was arriving the next day for a tournament; she was opposed to the unromantic, political alliance; and because of his own political ambitions to the throne, Ravenhurst was also opposed to the alliance
  • a group of loyalists faithful to the throne wanted to ensure that the rightful royal heir (a child with a purple pimpernel royal birthmark on its behind) was restored to the throne and put there instead of a usurper - King Roderick; a rebel group of "Merry Men" who hid out in the forest were led by a Robin Hood-esque or masked Zorro-like hero/outlaw known as The Black Fox (Edward Ashley); the King ordered the execution of the Black Fox ('Wanted - Dead or Alive') and the child
  • in the forest, the great production number: "(You'll Never) Outfox the Fox" was apparently being performed by the Black Fox; however, it was revealed that the Black Fox was being impersonated by one of his aspiring Merry Men - an ex-carnival minstrel-entertainer named Hubert Hawkins (Danny Kaye); he performed with a large band of acrobatic, ex-carnival "little people" (costumed in Black Fox clothing); another member of the Black Fox's band was a maid named Jean (Glynis Johns) - a Captain of the recruits (a character reminiscent of Maid Marian in the Robin Hood tales)

Hawkins with Maid Jean (Glynis Johns)

Hawkins' Group of "Little People"

Hawkins with the Royal Baby - With Purple Pimpernel Birthmark on Its Rear End
  • for safe-keeping and to guard the royal infant, the baby was to be whisked away to the Abbey in Dover by Maid Jean who was accompanied by Hawkins (who was adept at impersonation to avoid detection); they both disguised themselves as wine merchants - as elderly, bearded owner Foltzingdale with his lovely young granddaughter, and they hid the child in a fake wooden wine barrel on a horse-drawn cart
  • in a cleverly played sequence, they were able to evade the King's men who became utterly exasperated when questioning them; Hawkins pretended to be hard-of-hearing and asthmatic, while Jean faked being mute and capable of a weird form of sign language; the two were ultimately dismissed as "dolts"
  • with a storm brewing, they spent the night in a woodman's hut, where they were forced to sleep together in the stable; Jean confessed that she was impressed by his kind tenderness shown toward the royal baby, and admitted that she could love him even if he wasn't a fighter: 'I am a woman. And I do have feelings....Sometimes tenderness and kindness can also make a man. A very rare man" - she hinted that she could marry him once their mission and "fight for freedom" were accomplished - and they kissed
  • she distracted him by describing their ultimate plan - to use a secret tunnel and passageway leading from the forest to underneath the walls of King Roderick's castle, where they could gain access by obtaining a key (in the King's possession in his chambers) and then have the Black Fox launch a surprise attack
  • their plan came to fruition when another traveler on the road entered the stable; he introduced himself as an Italian from the court named Giacomo (John Carradine); he bragged about how he was the newly-hired court jester for King Roderick's court; Jean rendered Giacomo unconscious (off-screen) so that Hawkins could take his place as the 'court jester' in order to enter the King's palace and chambers to obtain the key to the secret passageway
  • Hawkins was instructed to give the key to their confederate inside the castle - who could be contacted and signaled with a whistled secret call. She emphasized: "Hawkins, the future of England depends on this; you cannot fail....Now remember, from this moment on, you're no longer Hubert Hawkins the carnival entertainer; You're the incomparable Giacomo, king of jesters and jester to the king"
  • back at the castle, Princess Gwendolyn again voiced her rejection of her father's demands for a forced marriage and alliance to Griswold: "I've seen this monster, and it's not for nothing he's called the grim, the grisly, gruesome Griswold"; he angrily ordered her to her chambers and called for the marriage to be arranged immediately after the next day's tournament
  • the King's men were ordered to seize the fairest wenches in the kingdom to serve in the King's court; he demanded: "Wenches, laughter, song, that's what this court needs!"; Ravenhurst reminded the King about how he had sent for a court jester named Giacomo who would arrive soon: "By reputation the gayest and wittiest entertainer in Europe." The scheming Ravenhurst privately noted to his henchman Sir Locksley (Michael Pate) about the true talent of Giacomo and his objective - to assassinate the King
  • meanwhile, "Giacomo" (Hawkins in disguise) was separated from Jean and the infant king who continued on their journey to the Abbey; he was unaware that Giacomo had been hired as a skilled assassin by the scheming Sir Ravenhurst in the King's retinue, who wanted to acquire the throne for himself; his dastardly plan was to assassinate King Roderick and his three advisors: Lords Brockhurst, Finsdale and Pertwee, who were pushing for the alliance between the King and Sir Griswold
  • "Giacomo" was also unaware that Jean (and the hidden baby) were kidnapped by the King's men and taken to the castle where she arrived before him, to serve as one of his wenches; Jean was able to whistle and communicate with the castle's stableman (ostler) Fergus (Noel Drayton), Hawkins' original rebel confederate contact who was spying for the Black Fox, to retrieve and take care of the royal child while she was dragged away with the other wenches
  • as the fake "Giacomo" was arriving at the castle, Princess Gwendolyn was promised by the ambitious court witch and her evil-eyed lady-in-waiting Griselda (Mildred Natwick) - when held at knifepoint - that she was destined and prophesied to marry the jester "Giacomo"
  • "Giacomo" misidentified Ravenhurst as his confederate contact, and thinking that his mission was to retrieve the key from the King's chambers, he assured Ravenhurst: "I'd like to get in, get on with it, get it over with, and get out. Get it?...Get me to the king's chambers....It may be the Key to the whole plan, get it?"
  • once the King arrived to greet "Giacomo" - they engaged in the film's first tongue-twisting classic word-play dialogue while discussing the Italian court; confused by "Giacomo's" response about a triple murder between the Duchess (with a dirk), the Doge (a chief magistrate) (with a dart), and the Duke (with a dagger), the King clarified that all he was referring to was the fact that the Duchess "had a siege of rheumatism. She's 83, you know"
  • on his way to inspect the "luscious" wenches, the King was persuaded by Sir Ravenhurst to have "Giacomo" select a wench for him; the King agreed and expected the selected wench to be brought to his chambers within an hour
  • "Giacomo" became the unwitting pawn of many others -- some with devious and villainous objectives; as Fergus approached to identify himself and warn him away from Ravenhurst: "It is I, not Ravenhurst who is your friend," "Giacomo" ignored him
  • Griselda interrupted "Giacomo," to fulfill her promise to Princess Gwendolyn to be romanced by him; she placed or cast a hypnotizing spell upon "Giacomo"; [Note: The spell could be activated and then hilariously undone - by just a snap of the fingers.] Griselda convinced him to believe that he was a dashing, super-confident romantic lover; he was commanded to obediently "go to her room and make love!"
  • in the hallway, Jean slipped "Giacomo" the secret passageway key that she had just stolen from the King's chambers, and then informed him about a change of plans: ("Fergus will bring you the infant"); the King happened to appear and thought that "Giacomo" had selected Jean as his main wench for the evening's banquet celebration
  • after swinging to her window on a Tarzan-like vine, "Giacomo" entered the Princess' bed chambers to woo her away from any other lovers; with flowery prose, he told her: "What manner of man is Giacomo? Ha ha! I shall tell you what manner of man is he. He lives for a sigh, he dies for a kiss, he lusts for the laugh, ha! He never walks when he can leap! He never flees when he can fight (thud), Oop! He swoons at the beauty of a rose. And I offer myself to you, all of me. My heart. My lips. My legs. My calves. Do what you will - my love endures. (kiss, kiss) Beat me. Kick me. (kiss, kiss) I am yours."
  • Gwendolyn noticed that he had the key to the secret passageway, and proposed that they escape at midnight together; she took the key and placed it down her bodice: "I'll keep it next to my heart; a sweet symbol of your love." They were interrupted by the King's arrival at her door, and while the King kept insisting that his resistant daughter marry Griswold, they alternatingly kept snapping their fingers at each other - causing instant changes in "Giacomo's" behavior as he hid behind a nearby curtain; as the King shook Gwendolyn, the key dropped to the floor - and he suspected her of tricking him to elope with "Giacomo"; after the King stormed off, Gwendolyn and "Giacomo" reaffirmed their plan to run away that evening
  • still under the spell, "Giacomo" met with Sir Ravenhurst, who ordered him to carry out two plans: (1) the murder of the King's three advisors, and (2) the abduction of the Princess from the castle before midnight (if Plan # 1 failed)'
  • when "Giacomo" returned to Griselda, she released him from her spell - and he remembered nothing of what had transpired; in the hallway, Griselda overheard Sir Ravenhurst plotting to ensure the marriage of Gwendolyn to Griswold that was to be announced that evening
  • "Giacomo" was called into the King's presence at the evening's banquet, and was compelled to sing "The Maladjusted Jester" to distract everyone as the hidden royal child was being handed around in a basket; the amusing song described how "Giacomo" had taught himself to become a jester or "fool"

At the Banquet, "Giacomo" With the Basket Hiding the Royal Child

"Giacomo" Singing "The Maladjusted Jester"
  • to facilitate a plan in the works by Ravenhurst to eliminate the King's three Lords-advisors, Griselda inserted poison pellets in three flagons; Jean was able to rescue the child in the basket and whisk him away to safety (with Fergus) as "Giacomo" proposed a toast to the King. The King's three Lords Brockhurst, Finsdale and Pertwee fell over dead when they drank from the poisoned flagons
  • at the same time, Sir Griswold arrived at the castle to claim Princess Gwendolyn as his wife, but she was resistant to the political alliance that included her forced royal marriage, and instead declared her love for "Giacomo": ("There will be no alliance and no marriage....I cannot marry Griswold, father. I love another...I have found my love, father. My true love...The man I love is a simple man, but noble of heart. My beloved Giacomo!"); as a result, "Giacomo" was arrested ("Take the swine out and hang him!") and jailed
  • others were as stunned by the news as the King himself, including Maid Jean and Sir Griswold. Sir Griswold proposed a jousting-dueling match to the death against "Giacomo" to avenge his own insult and dishonor, to be held the following day
  • Sir Ravenhurst was informed that "Giacomo" was an imposter (and wrongly thought he was the Black Fox, a commoner). He proposed that the King 'knight' the commoner "Giacomo" ("Knight the jester") so he could rightfully participate in the next day's tournament against Sir Griswold. The King agreed to the idea - confident that Griswold would be the winner (and marriage partner for his daughter). Sir Ravenhurst was hoping for the opposite result - "The Black Fox" ("Giacomo") would be the victor - as part of his plan to overthrow the monarchy
  • the jousting-dueling tournament between Sir Griswold and "Giacomo" was prefaced by "Giacomo's" sped-up "series of tests of manhood, skill, and courage requisite to his becoming a knight of the realm" - i.e., scaling a stone wall in armor, kill a hawk with a long bow, defeat a wild boar bare-handed, etc.
  • behind the scenes, Jean stole back the secret tunnel key by flirting with the King, and delivered it back to stableman Fergus who suggested: "It must be sent by pigeon to the Black Fox at once!"; Jean also warned "Giacomo" with a note that his knighting was part of a conspiracy to kill him; once "Giacomo" was knighted by the King, Griswold predictably challenged "Giacomo" to a duel that would likely lead to his death; Jean assured "Giacomo" that the Black Fox would arrive in time to fight the challenge for him
  • the Princess (fearful of having to marry Griswold) threatened Griselda to use her witch-powers to help her: ("Remember this.. if he dies, you die"); Sir Ravenhurst observed as Jean again met with Fergus and gave him a note to accompany the key - to summon the Black Fox for an imminent attack on the castle; after sending the message, Fergus was apprehended; (after the jousting tournament, it was announced that Fergus was tortured to death by Sir Ravenhurst's men)
  • meanwhile, the summoned Black Fox approached to invade the castle through the secret tunnel, but the passageway collapsed; the Black Fox realized he would need to devise a new strategy
  • with a delay in the Black Fox's arrival, "Giacomo" feared facing his deadly jousting opponent Sir Griswold for "a battle to the death for the hand of the fair Gwendolyn"; Griselda surreptitiously placed a poison pellet in a toasting vessel with a pestle, and then informed "Giacomo" -- "Griswold dies as he drinks the toast"
  • the film's most memorable sequence was the tongue-twisting "Vessel with the Pestle (or The Pellet with the Poison)" dialogue (with hilarious results); Griselda warned "Giacomo" about the location of poison in Griswold's toasting vessel; she used a riddle that included instructions on how to avoid the poisoned drink; specifically, "Giacomo" was instructed to remember the poisoned cup and drink location for the pre-joust toast - in a vessel (with a pestle) with drink that was poisoned by a pellet
  • "Giacomo" was ordered to put on his suit of armor to prepare for the jousting challenge. He then tried to repeat back for himself what he had just memorized. After a short interruption when lightning struck "Giacomo's" body armor (and magnetized it), he continued - and became even more confused; when "Giacomo" saw Griselda again, he proudly repeated the proper phrase, but then, she reported that there was a change in the directions when the original vessel broke and the poison was now in the flagon with the dragon; they were unaware that Griswold's assistant overheard the directions
Griselda's Corrected Second Set of Directions: "The Pellet with the Poison's in the Flagon with the Dragon"
  • Griswold was warned of the poison's presence by his assistant; both combatants mumbled a jumble of directions in their minds as they approached toward the King; their pre-joust toast was ultimately called off by the King; during the joust between them, "Giacomo's" magnetized suit of armor and shield attracted Griswold's mace and chain jousting weapon - and Griswold was yanked off his horse and defeated; "Giacomo" refused to take Griswold's life ("I grant your life"), and the King reluctantly declared "Giacomo" the winner (of the contest and of his daughter): "I hereby decree that you shall marry the Princess Gwendolyn"; still believing that "Giacomo" was an imposter - "neither Giacomo nor jester" but the Black Fox, Sir Ravenhurst accused "Giacomo" of being a traitor, and ordered him to be arrested with Jean ("his foul accomplice") to both face a trial
The Trial-Hearing for "Giacomo" and Jean
  • at the forest's entrance to the secret passageway leading to the King's castle, the Black Fox ushered in Hawkins' army of "little people" friends into the opening. It would be the only way to infiltrate the palace through the narrow tunnel; the remainder of the group of full-sized "Merry Men" took the slower coast road to the castle
  • during the trial, Sir Ravenhurst accused "Giacomo" and Jean of harboring a royal child in the castle with the ultimate aim of overthrowing the King; at the same time, the "little people" had already successfully entered the castle, and stealthily helped to free the two defendants; they scaled the rafters and set up offensive positions; the army of midgets led by Hawkins took control of the basket holding the royal child, rescued Jean, attacked and knocked out the King's guards and catapulted them into the castle's moat; "Giacomo" - who had declared that he was the Black Fox, led the charge of his "little people"; Jean knocked out the door guard and raised the drawbridge gate, to let in the Black Fox's men (disguised as monks) who had just arrived
  • during the real Black Fox's successful attack on the castle, a hypnotized "Giacomo" (believing that he was a confident and skilled swordsman) dueled against Sir Ravenhurst in another very amusing sequence; random finger snaps alternatingly-switched "Giacomo" between a master dueler (who taunted Ravenhurst) and a cowardly circus performer. [Note: During the duel, there was a parody of the candle-slicing scene from The Mark of Zorro (1940) - also starring Rathbone.] "Giacomo" defeated his opponent by launching him with the catapult
  • the film concluded with the defeat and ouster of throne-usurper King Roderick, and the revelation of the true young King (with the purple pimpernel birthmark) to Sir Griswold and his army; "Giacomo" and Jean briefly reprised the song: "Life Could Not Better Be": "The real king is on the throne, Jean is my very own, and life couldn't possibly, not even probably, life couldn't possibly better be!"

"Giacomo" Revealed the Royal Child to King Roderick

"Giacomo" with Jean: "Life Could Not Better Be"
  • strangely, Princess Gwendolyn and Sir Griswold were seen in the crowd holding hands

Opening Titles Sequence: Court Jester (Danny Kaye): "Life Could Not Be Better"

The Black Fox Impersonated by Hubert Hawkins: "(You'll Never) Outfox the Fox" - With Six "Little People"

The Real Black Fox (Edward Ashley)

Hawkins and Jean Disguised as a Wine Merchant with Mute Grand-Daughter

Sleeping Together in a Woodman's Hut - And Showing Romantic Feelings For Each Other

Court Jester Giacomo (John Carradine)

Hawkins as "Giacomo" On His Way to the Castle

Jean Amongst the King's Kidnapped Wenches

The Rebel Confederate in the Castle, Stableman Fergus

Court Witch Griselda (Mildred Natwick) Promising Gwendolyn's True Love Would Be "Giacomo" - Not Sir Griswold

"Giacomo" with Sir Ravenhurst: "I'd like to get in, get on with it, get it over with, and get out. Get it?"

Tongue-Twisting Dialogue Between "Giacomo" and King Roderick: "What did the Duke do?"

A Hypnotizing Spell Cast by Griselda Upon "Giacomo"

Under the Spell, Court Jester "Giacomo" Romanced Princess Gwendolyn

The King's Insistence on Gwendolyn's Marriage to Griswold

The King's Beautiful "Wench" Jean

The King's Three Advisors Poisoned to Death

Arrival of Sir Griswold - To Marry Gwendolyn, But She Refused the Royal Marriage

Maid Jean's Warning to "Giacomo" That His Knighthood Was Part of a Plan to Have Sir Griswold Kill Him in a Duel

Gwendolyn to Griselda Regarding "Giacomo": "If he dies, you die"

Griselda's First Set of Directions: "The Pellet with the Poison's in the Vessel with the Pestle"

Griswold Warned by His Assistant About a Poisoned Drink Cup

The Pre-Joust Toast Was Called Off

Sir Griswold Defeated in Joust Challenge by "Giacomo's" Magnetized Suit of Armor and Shield

Sword Duel Between Hypnotized "Giacomo" and Sir Ravenhurst


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