On a rainy evening at the beach, I pulled out a DVD of one of my favorite
Danny Kaye movies, The Court Jester. Our group consisted of adults in their
40s, several teenagers, and a six-year-old, but none of them had ever seen the
Most of them knew Danny Kaye as "that guy from White Christmas," which is a
heart-warming Christmas classic that pairs him with Bing Crosby and certainly
showcases Kaye's talents at singing and dancing and making you laugh. This
movie does that, as well, but also reveals one of Kaye's most impressive talents
(and he had many): his ability to turn tongue twisters into high-speed,
comedic, colloquial roller coasters.
Set in medieval times, presumably in England, an evil despot has usurped the
royal family's throne and made himself king. His henchmen have dispatched
the entire royal bloodline, but a baby who is heir to the throne was saved by a
group loyal to the crown and they are protecting the baby who would be king.
His majesty, the baby, is identifiable by a birthmark on his bum that bears
resemblance to a scarlet pimpernel.
The Black Fox, a Robin Hood-like character, is leader of the underground
movement that is trying to restore the rightful heir to the throne. The Black
Fox's ranks have recently been joined by a former carnival performer, the mild-mannered Hubert Hawkins (Danny Kaye). Hawkins and the lovely Maid Jean
(Glynis Johns), a captain in the loyalist movement, are given the assignment by
the Black Fox to transport the child to an abbey in Dover for safekeeping.
One thing leads to another, and Hubert and Jean accidentally run into
Giacomo, "the king of jesters and jester of kings," who is on his way to the
palace. Maid Jean concocts a plan to knock out Giacomo and send Hubert in
his place to the palace so that the opposition forces can gain access to the
castle via a secret tunnel, the key to which Hubert, disguised as Giacomo, will
secure from the king's chambers.
This is a pretty good plan, except they don't know that King Roderick's right-hand man, Sir Ravenhurst (Basil Rathbone), has actually hired Giacomo as an
assassin to kill off some knights in the king's court.
Further complicating matters is the king's daughter, Princess Gwendolyn
(Angela Lansbury), whom the king wants to marry off in a political alliance with
Sir Griswold of Mackalwane. She wants to marry for love, and for a number of
reasons becomes convinced that she is love with Giacomo and he with her. One
of the reasons is the meddling of her servant who is also some sort of a witch,
Griselda (Mildred Natwick), who is pretty effective at both casting spells and
mixing up potions. She casts a spell on Giacomo that is activated by the
snapping of the finger, and he alternately believes he is a powerful swordsman,
a great lover, and the hapless Hubert.
As is to be expected, a great deal of finger-snapping ensues in the middle of
several rather important encounters, and Hubert suffers from a seriously silly
case of schizophrenia as a result. The movie is non-stop, old-fashioned fun,
and some of the funniest moments involve Kaye trading tongue twisters with
other cast members, including this famous exchange:
Hawkins: I've got it! I've got it! The pellet with the poison's in the vessel with
the pestle; the chalice from the palace has the brew that is true! Right?
Griselda: Right. But there's been a change: they broke the chalice from the
Hawkins: They broke the chalice from the palace?
Griselda: And replaced it with a flagon.
Hawkins: A flagon...?
Griselda: With the figure of a dragon.
Hawkins: Flagon with a dragon.
Hawkins: But did you put the pellet with the poison in the vessel with the
Griselda: No! The pellet with the poison's in the flagon with the dragon! The
vessel with the pestle has the brew that is true!
Hawkins: The pellet with the poison's in the flagon with the dragon; the vessel
with the pestle has the brew that is true.
Griselda: Just remember that.
We also get to enjoy Kaye's musical comedy genius as he performs for the king
as part of his silly subterfuge. "I was battered and bruised but the king was
amused and before the siesta he made me his jester and I found out soon that
to be a buffoon was a serious thing as a rule! For a jester's chief employment is
to kill himself for your enjoyment, and a jester unemployed is nobody's fool!"
And so it goes for over an hour and a half. A story full of action, adventure,
romance, and comedy that is still just as much fun as it was when it was
released in 1956. Danny Kaye was a national treasure, and The Court Jester
was certainly one of his crown jewels. Everyone in our group, young and old,
laughed and laughed at the timeless antics, and the next afternoon when the
rain returned, the youngest member of our viewing audience put the movie
back in for a second show. Clearly, she is also nobody's fool.
Andy Lindsay can frequently be overheard engaged in conversations that consist entirely of repeating lines of dialogue from movies, a genetic disorder he has passed on to his four children and one which his wife tolerates but rarely understands. When Andy's not watching a movie he's probably talking about a movie or thinking about a movie.
Or, because his family likes to eat on a somewhat regular basis, he just might be working on producing a TV commercial or a documentary or a corporate video or a short film. His production company is Barking Shark Creative, and you can check out his work here www.barkingshark.com.
Andy grew up in Frederick, Maryland, but migrated south to North Carolina where he met his wife, Deborah, who wasn't his wife then but later agreed to take the job. Their children were all born and raised in Greensboro, but are in various stages of growing up and running away.
Andy (or Anziano Lindsay, as he was known then) served a full-time mission for the Church in Italy, and today he teaches Sunday School, works with the Scouts, and is the Stake Video Historian.