"Get it?" "Got it." "Good."
The royal family of old England
has been wiped out. Roderick recently usurped the throne as king and now only an infant boy survives from the true line
. The Black Fox, and his band of outlaws, have sworn to protect the true king.
But fate conspires to put the child in greater danger than ever before. When two of the outlaws, Hubert Hawkins and Maid Jean, try to take the child to safety, they wind up within the walls of the usurper's castle. Now they must rely on their wits to keep the child from being found.
If this were a drama, the odds would be against them. But this is Played for Laughs
This 1955 Paramount
film, written and directed by Norman Panama and Melvin Frank, and starring Danny Kaye
, Glynis Johns, Basil Rathbone, Angela Lansbury
, Cecil Parker, Mildred Natwick, and John Carradine
, has been a Comedy Cult Classic
on TV for years, mercilessly mocking the conventions of medieval Swashbuckler
films of the 1930s through the 1950s. A lot of it is thanks to the talent of Danny Kaye
, who is about as unlikely an adventure hero as you could get, and the film makes sure to milk every drop of that.
It flopped when it came out, but was later a hit on TV. Now it's on the American Film Institute's list of "100 Years... 100 Laughs," and preserved in the United States National Film Registry
by the Library of Congress for being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".
Tropes from this film include:
- Combat Pragmatist: Hawkins isn't above biting and pinching in order to gain advantage in a swordfight.
- Courtly Love: Parodied, not only with Hawkins only doing it because he has been Brainwashed, but by Danny Kaye making silly poses to spoof the almost implausible complexity of many romantic heroes.
- Credits Gag: Among other things, Basil Rathbone's name comes up in scary font any time Danny Kaye's song mentions evil or villainy. No points for guessing which side his character's on, although, since he's Basil Rathbone, that was never really in question.
- Damsel out of Distress: Maid Jean is caught and taken to the castle, and it almost makes her more dangerous to the antagonists than if she had gotten away.
- Deadly Decadent Court: Ravenhurst and his associates scheme murder to retain their influence with Roderick.
- Distinguishing Mark: The Purple Pimpernel on the royal posterior.
- Does Not Like Shoes: Jean might be an example of this but it's hard to tell if she is or the bare feet are just part of her costume in the disguise and better than wearing heels in the final scene. She does wear boots as part of her regular "outlaw uniform."
- Flynning: Parodied in the climax. It should be noted that Danny Kaye was such a quick study at fencing (and incredibly skilled at mimicking others in general) that, in any shot where you don't see Basil Rathbone's face, Kaye is actually fighting a fencing master who was hired to be Rathbone's double. Rathbone had been an expert fencer since childhood, but he was twenty years Kaye's senior and couldn't keep up in a couple of the scenes. The fencing master himself, Ralph Faulkner, is said to have told Kaye to take it easy on him!
- Fun with Subtitles: The opening song.
- Happy Harlequin Hat: As per his role, though he spends just as much time without it.
- Hidden Backup Prince: The rightful heir, who as a baby doubles as a Living MacGuffin
- Hollywood History: But of the Artistic License kind. Of course there has never been any Roderick on the throne of England, legitimately or illegitimately, and that any resemblance in this film to the real Middle Ages is a coincidence not intended. Lampshaded in the opening song:
- Hypno Fool: It seems to give Hawkins skills he never had, such as seduction and sword fighting.
- Implausible Fencing Powers: Hawkins slashes a set of candles, apparently to no effect, and Ravenhurst laughs at him. Then he blows on the candles, and they fall apart. This is another Actor Allusion, as well, as Tyrone Power had pulled a similar, if less exaggerated, bit of swordplay on Basil Rathbone's Captain Esteban in 1940's The Mark of Zorro.
- Intimate Marks: The Rightful Heir (still an infant) has a Birthmark of Destiny on his butt. In the ending, the titular Jester, with the infant in his arms, lowers the swaddling clothes just far enough to reveal the birthmark, to a long line of nobles.
- The Jester: Hawkins is forced to impersonate one to infiltrate the castle, hence the film's title.
- Knighting: Spoofed in so many ways.
- Yea, verily, yea.
- Candidate passes.
- Supporting Protagonist: Hawkins wants to be a hero, but he's mainly just thrown around in the events of the film.
- Swashbuckler: The film is an ingenious combination of this and the Comedy genres.
- There Is Only One Bed: When Jean and Hawkins spend the night in the woodman's hut.
- Tomboy: Maid Jean. Her father taught her how to fight. She suspects he wanted a boy.