The Court Jester (1956)

Danny Kaye

“Life is a great big canvas, and you should throw all the paint on it you can.” –Danny Kaye, actor

The Court Jester has a 96% on Rotten Tomatoes. While critics consider it a great film, it took me four attempts to get through it from beginning to end. Many aspects were genuinely funny: the kooky and colorful “medieval” costumes, the zippy choreography, and the tongue-twisting dialogue.

The story centers – as many of the best comedies do – on a case of mistaken identity. Hubert Hawkins (Danny Kaye) impersonates the court jester of usurping King Roderick so he can protect an infant’s right to the throne. It’s safe to say this film was on the cutting-edge of raunchiness for 1956; the infant king’s distinguishing birthmark is a purple pimpernel on his left butt cheek. Unfortunately, Hubert does not get the memo that the court jester he’s posing as has been hired by Sir Ravenhurst to assassinate King Roderick.

As an aside, could King Roderick possibly be the dumbest tyrannical king to ever grace the silver screen? He passes up a romantic moment with the beautiful Maid Jean because he’s afraid she has germs, he knights his court jester, and he tearfully gives up his throne at the drop of a hat when he sees a birthmark on a baby’s bum. By comparison, he makes Prince John from Disney’s Robin Hood seem like a pretty intelligent lion.

In my post about Good Morning, Vietnam, I suggested that comedy is important for helping us get through tragedies in life. I stand by that statement. This week, though, I learned from personal experience (specifically a breakup) that there are times when it is okay and healthy to just be plain sad. To say that you should always laugh and watch uplifting movies belittles the healing process we call grief. When my heart is heaviest with grief, sugarcoating my feelings robs me of personal growth. Perhaps that’s why The Court Jester didn’t work for me this week.

Interestingly, at the time of its release this movie was the most expensive comedy ever made at $4 million. I’m sure Danny Kaye and friends went through their share of grief, because it only brought in $2.2 million at the box office. This just goes to show that dollars will never have the final say on a film’s mark on history. The Court Jester set a new precedent for comedy writing, including the exchanges “Get it? Got it? Good!” as well as “The pellet with the poison’s in the vessel with the pestle; the chalice from the palace has the brew that is true!” I think even Shakespeare would be a little jealous.

Harkening back to Danny Kaye’s quote at the top of this post…what paint will you put on your canvas today? Whether it’s triumphantly happy or downright sad, make sure it’s honest.

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