Film / The Court Jester
"Get it?" "Got it." "Good."

Giacomo: "King of Jesters..." (gets hit on the head, falls unconscious)
Maid Jean: (points to Hawkins, indicating that he'll take Giacomo's place) "And jester to the king!"

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:

  • Action Girl: Maid Jean, especially for the standards of the time.
  • Alliterative Name: Hubert Hawkins.
  • Arranged Marriage: Griselda trying to get Gwendolyn out of being forced to marry Sir Griswold sets up a lot of the plot. Although it's hinted Gwendolyn may end up with the "Grim, Grisly, Gruesome" Griswold anyway.
  • Badass Fingersnap: Played for laughs, as a finger snap is Hawkins' Trigger Phrase in and out of hypnosis.
  • Bathe Her and Bring Her to Me: More or less happens to Maid Jean, but she uses it as a way to get the castle key needed for their plan.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Hubert Hawkins desperately craves action and adventure. He gets it and immediately finds he's totally unsuited for it, as everybody but he had already figured out.
  • Birthmark of Destiny: The Rightful Heir (still an infant) has a birthmark on his butt. There are a couple of scenes of Hawkins holding the infant in his arms, lowering the swaddling clothes just far enough to reveal the birthmark.
  • Bumbling Dad: Kind of, in that Hawkins is actually a more than competent foster father to the young king (in fact, he's the most competent parental type in the whole movie), but he's bumbling at pretty much everything else.
  • Captain Ersatz: The Black Fox is a swashbuckling thief and outlaw leading a group in resistance against an illegitimate king from a headquarters hidden in a forest. If he were the main character of this movie, he'd probably have outright been Robin Hood explicitly.
  • Chekhov's Army: Hawkins's dwarf friends, seen during the "Outfox The Fox" number at the start of the film.
    Dwarf: Well, if you ever need us, call us.
    Black Fox: Thank you. I shall.
  • A Child Shall Lead Them: The surviving true royal is an infant. No regent is named at the end of the film though.
  • 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 in rapid succession 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."
  • Evil Chancellor: Ravenhurst isn't quite outright planning to overthrow the kingdom, but he certain makes plans that help his position. Even Roderick knows Ravenhurst isn't fully to be trusted.
  • Exact Words: Hawkins says to Roderick:
    " A toast! A toast! A toast to his most royal highness! To Roderick the first, for all that he has done for this great England of ours, may Providence provide a true and just reward! To the king!"
  • Excuse Me While I Multi Task: Spoofed in the climactic battle when Hawkins (under hypnosis) nonchalantly fights off Ravenhurst's attack while pouring a cup of wine to toast Ravenhurst's health! Ravenhurst is infuriated.
  • False Reassurance: Hawkins' toast to Roderick:
    " A toast! A toast! A toast to his most royal highness! To Roderick the first, for all that he has done for this great England of ours, may Providence provide a true and just reward! To the king!"
  • Farce: The entire plot is a spoof of tales such as Robin Hood and Ivanhoe..
  • 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.
  • Gambit Pileup: Between the Black Fox and Ravenhurst and Griselda and Gwendolyn and others all pursuing their own ends, it's a wonder anybody can accomplish anything.
  • Glove Slap: Milked for laughs in back-to-back scenes between Sir Griswold and Hawkins.
  • Gorgeous Period Dress: The clothing in this movie is bright and colorful, even for those wearing subdued colors.
  • Guile Hero: Maid Jean uses a lot of trickery to get herself out of bad situations.
  • 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 Costuming: Many of the dresses were based on fifties styles more than middle ages. Angela Lansbury looks almost like she should be posing next to an Oldsmobile Dynamic 88 at the 1955 GM Motorama.
  • 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:
    We did research —
    Authenticity was a must.
    Zooks! Did we search —
    And what did we find? (sneeze) A lot o' dust!
  • 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 an early scene and in the ending, Hawkins holds the infant in his arms and 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. When Gwendolyn says she wants Giacomo (really Hawkins) instead of Griswold, the knight is offended, and would challenge Giacomo to a duel if he weren't a lowly jester. Hawkins is rushed through knighting to avoid spoiling the marriage, being given fixed and easy challenges to complete, and even the final ceremony is done double time.
  • La Résistance: The Black Fox's people seek to overthrow the usurper and put the rightful heir back on the throne.
  • Lightning Can Do Anything: At one point Hawkins' armor is hit by lightning. After Hawkins puts it on, on anything made of metal sticks to him.
  • Literal Ass Kicking: Unfortunately for Hawkins, sitting at the foot of the royal throne to perform leaves his posterior in excellent position to be booted by the king and the princess.
  • Men of Sherwood: The Black Fox's forces and Hawkins's dwarf friends each become this in the climax. Kind of expected because the Black Fox is an expy of Robin Hood anyway.
  • The Middle Ages: Solidly in Hollywood History form, during the reign of King Roderick I of England.
  • No, You: This exchange between Roderick and Gwendolyn at the beginning:
    Roderick: I am the king. If it pleases me, you will marry Griswold.
    Gwendolyn: If it pleases you so much, you marry Griswold.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: The villains are surprised at how much of a doofus Giacomo is and wonder whether or not he is doing this to hide his true intentions. Helped by the secret self-serving actions of Griselda.
  • Oh Crap!: Mainly happens to Hawkins.
    • "Jester to the King. Jester to the King. To the King?!"
    • "Light up the oil, this man must boil, this man named Giaco-MO?! Oh! No!"
    • During Hawkins's ceremony to become a knight and he's revealed to Roderick, we get this: "Yea, verily, yea! Yea?"
    • Hawkins during the joust after his helmet is knocked off.
    • Jean also gets one. Before "The Maladjusted Jester", Hawkins subtly starts singing the tune of the lullaby he had earlier used to lure the infant king to sleep. While holding the basket containing the baby, right in front of Roderick, who wants to know what's inside it! The Oh Crap! comes when Jean realises this. Heck, she even mouths "Baby" as it happens.
  • Parodied Trope: Many tropes of these films are mocked, from swashbuckling, courtly love, knighting, dueling, outlaws, rebellion, etc.
  • Pimped-Out Cape: Roderick wears an ermine-trimmed cape most of the time. His daughter wears an ermine-trimmed cape in one scene.
  • Pimped-Out Dress: Gwendolyn's dresses are light on decoration, but still fancy enough to fit a princess. This includes her blue velvet dress trimmed with jewels on the neckline.
  • Poisoned Chalice Switcheroo: One of the most famous plays on it, even if it's trying to remember which cup instead of trying to switch them.
    "The pellet with the poison is in the vessel with the pestle; the chalice from the palace has the brew that is true!"
    • And then the chalice from the palace is broken, so it got even more confusing as Griselda didn't put the poison back in the vessel with the pestle. So now it is ...
      "The pellet with the poison's in the flagon with the dragon; the vessel with the pestle has the brew that is true."
  • Princesses Prefer Pink: Gwendolyn wears a pink dress in her first scenes.
  • Pun: Kaye's song "The Maladjusted Jester" exists to lead up to "A jester unemployed/Is nobody's fool!"
  • Punch! Punch! Punch! Uh Oh...: Not quite, but similar as Hawkins slaps Griswold in the face with a gauntlet repeatedly and Griswold doesn't even seem to notice that it's happening, but when Griswold slaps Hawkins in the face it nearly knocks him over.
  • Recitation Handclasp: One of several postures taken (he can't seem to stand still) while Danny Kaye is singing.
  • Repeat After Me: When Griselda uses her magic to hypnotize Hawkins, he takes her first instruction rather literally.
    Griselda: Repeat after me: I am craven and thou art my master!
    Hawkins: I am craven and thou art my master!
    Griselda: Stand there, fool.
    Hawkins: Stand there, fool.
    Griselda: Silence!
    Hawkins: Silence!
  • Rightful King Returns: The baby heir is restored to the throne at the end.
  • Royal Blood: There is a surviving heir to the royal family.
  • Ruling Family Massacre: How Roderick came to the throne.
  • Running Gag:
    • "Get it?" "Got it." "Good."
    • Finger snapping breaking Hawkins in and out of his spell.
  • Shaped Like Itself: From the opening credits song "Life Could Not Better Be":
    Knights full of chivalry,
    Villains full of vi-illa-ainy!
  • She Cleans Up Nicely: Maid Jean wears masculine clothes so often that Hawkins is always stunned when she wears dresses.
  • Shout-Out: The Black Fox, with a Bilingual Bonus and the candle scene parodying a scene from The Mark of Zorro, in which Basil Rathbone played the heavy too.
  • Siege Engines: A small one was used to launch the villains over the battlements.
  • Simple Yet Opulent: Many of the court outfits in this movie range from explicitly fancy to implicitly fancy.
  • Stealth Insult: Hawkins, toasting the usurper king:
    "A toast to his most royal highness! To Roderick the first, for all that he has done for this great England of ours, may providence provide a true and just reward!"
  • Supporting Leader: The Black Fox leads the rebellion, even though Hawkins is the focus of the film.
  • 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 a combination of this and the Comedy genres.
  • Take That: In-universe, Hawkins uses his role as Giacomo to make nasty jokes at Sir Griswold's expense in an effort to drive a wedge between him and the king.
    “Rejoice, rejoice although his brain is brief,
    for when the larder's empty she'll have a ton of beef!”
  • Tap on the Head: Hawkins is reluctant to knock out the real Giacomo with a login the woodman's hut, so Jean does this honors, and we see it happen as shadows on the wall.
    • Jean does this again during the climax to knock out the gatekeeper and allow the second wave of reinforcements, led by the Black Fox, to enter the castle.
  • There Is Only One Bed: Jean and Hawkins spend the night in the woodman's hut, though nothing intimate happens.
  • Title Drop: Jean does this after first meeting the real Giacomo in the woodman's hut.
  • Tomboy: Maid Jean. Her father taught her how to fight. She suspects he wanted a boy.
  • Tongue Twister: "The pellet with the poison's in the vessel with the pestle...." Hawkins of course becomes completely Tongue-Tied.
  • Totem Pole Trench: A cloak is used for this. During the "Never Outfox the Fox" number, some of the dwarfs do this as part of the song and dance routine.
  • Translation: Yes: Jean pretends to be deaf and mute, Hawkins pretends to be her grandfather. When asked by a soldier if she has seen a group in the forest, she speaks at length in sign language. Hawkins translates this as "No."
    Soldier: What took her so long?!
    Kaye: Stutters.
  • Trigger Phrase: A finger snap toggles the spell on Hawkins.
  • True Blue Femininity: One of Gwendolyn's dresses is blue with sapphires trimming the neckline, and has a matching blue cape trimmed with ermine.
  • Tyrant Takes the Helm: Roderick did this some months before the events of the film due to the Ruling Family Massacre that wiped out all but one of the royal family.
  • We Need a Distraction: After "The Maladjusted Jester", Hawkins proposes a toast to the king as a way to distract everyone else so Jean can abscond with the baby.
  • Wicked Witch: Well... "amoral witch" describes Griselda. Her spells are in the form of very powerful hypnosis.
  • You Don't Want to Catch This: Jean uses this tactic to fend off the king's advances.