Follow TV Tropes


Film / The Court Jester

Go To

"King of Jesters, and Jester to the King."

This 1956 musical-comedy Farce — written and directed by Norman Panama and Melvin Frank and starring Danny Kaye, with a supporting cast that includes Glynis Johns, Basil Rathbone, Angela Lansbury, Cecil Parker, Mildred Natwick, and John Carradine — mercilessly spoofs the conventions of medieval Swashbuckler films of the 1930s through the '50s.

The royal family of old England has been wiped out. Roderick the Tyrant has 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 place 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 somehow wind up within the walls of the usurper's castle. Now they must rely on their wits to keep the child from being discovered and killed.

If this were a drama, the odds would be against them. But this is Played for Laughs. The film flopped when it came out, but was later a hit on TV and has come to be embraced as a Cult Classic. This is thanks in no small part to the talents 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 hilarity from that.

Tropes from this film include:

    open/close all folders 

  • Abusive Parents: Roderick gets a moment of this when he tells Gwendolyn that she will marry Griswold no matter what, and that if she makes any false move, he will have her killed, regardless of the fact she is his daughter.
  • Action Film, Quiet Drama Scene: The scene of Hawkins and Jean admitting their feelings for each other in the woodman's hut.
  • Action Girl: Maid Jean, especially for the standards of the time.
  • Actor Allusion: When Hawkins says, "Ravenshurst, you rat-catcher," he is not only alluding to Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, but to the fact that Basil Rathbone had played Tybaltnote  in the 1936 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film version.
  • Added Alliterative Appeal: Gwendolyn has a moment of this when she refers to Griswold as "the grim and grisly gruesome Griswold", saying he's not called that for nothing.
    • The whole bit about the Duke, the Duchess and the Doge is full of this.
    • The birthmark that reveals the true King is the "purple pimpernel."
  • Alliterative Name: Hubert Hawkins.
  • All for Nothing: The film's most famous bit—"The pellet with the poison's in the vessel with the pestle"—goes on for a solid five minutes...only for King Roderick to declare that there will be no toast, so no one ends up drinking from either chalice.
  • All There in the Manual: Ravenhurst's main ally is not named inside the film, but other materials reveal his name to be Sir Locksley.
  • Anachronism Stew: Ravenhurst and Locksley observe Hawkins arriving at the castle through telescopes, which were invented in the 17th century, several hundred years after the film is set.
  • Amusing Injuries: Hawkins to himself a few times. When he leaves his chambers to go and seduce Gwendolyn after being hypnotized, he bangs his hand against the wall as he turns to the door. Later, as he bows to Roderick when the latter first meets Jean, he bangs himself against the wall before walking away. Near the end of "The Maladjusted Jester", he stamps his foot hard enough to hurt his leg, although he seems fine when he resumes singing. He also burns his backside against a hot brazier during the knighting ceremony, and finally, when he accepts Griswold's challenge of mortal combat, he attempts to smack Griswold and hurts his hand.
  • Answer Cut: Jean wonders how they could get somebody inside the castle close to the king with access to his chamber. Cue Giacomo entering the shack.
  • 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.
  • Arrowgram: The Black Fox's introduction is him firing an arrow into the back of one of Roderick's soldiers with a note tied to it: "The child lives. Death to the tyrant! The Black Fox".
  • Artistic License – Physics: Right before Hawkins's duel, a bolt of lightning pierces the sky and hits his armor, which magnetizes it. Not only does lightning not possess that property, but there are about twenty other much higher points that it should have hit (lightning almost always strikes the highest possible point available).
  • As Long as It Sounds Foreign: Hawkins pretends to be a jester from Italy. When a guard asks him why he doesn't have an accent, he replies that he is fluent in many languages and demonstrates it by talking a lot of nonsensical gibberish that sounds very much like French, Italian, and German. (This skill was then known as "double-talk", and Kaye was a famous master of it.) The guard doesn't understand any of this, and Hawkins then states that it means they should get to the castle.
  • Badass Fingersnap: Played for laughs, as a finger snap is Hawkins' Trigger Phrase in and out of hypnosis whenever he is under Griselda's spell.
  • Bait-and-Switch: It looks initially like Hawkins himself is the Black Fox in the "Outfox The Fox" number", but once the number ends, the real Black Fox appears, Hawkins having been dressing in his clothes. This also likely foreshadows how Hawkins will be mistaken for the Black Fox later by Ravenhurst and his cronies.
  • 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.
    • King Roderick wants to have Jean at his side. She promptly pretends to have a plague, and chases him around for the rest of the scene.
  • Betty and Veronica: Jean and Princess Gwendolyn have this dynamic, although it's deliberately played with: Jean's sweet nature and passion for justice make her the Betty, but she's also incredibly athletic and tomboyish, which are Veronica traits; similarly, Gwendolyn is more traditionally feminine and beautiful like a Betty, but has the nasty attitude and manipulative attitude of a Veronica. Even their hair colors are reversed (Jean is brunette, while Gwendolyn is blonde).
    • It's also subverted in that Hawkins himself is never interested in Gwendolyn—he only woos her while under Griselda's hypnosis, and it's clear that his heart belongs to Jean alone.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Hawkins's dwarf friends do this by sneaking into the castle and starting the attack against Roderick's men, saving Hawkins and Jean, who had just been sentenced to death.
  • Big Damn Kiss: Hawkins and Jean in the woodman's hut when Hawkins tells her he will not fail in the plan, as the future of England depends on it.
    • Hawkins and Gwendolyn in Gwendolyn's chambers, while Hawkins is still under Griselda's spell to woo her.
  • Big Fancy House: The castle could count as a medieval version, even though it was usurped before the events of the film.
  • Big "NEVER!": The Black Fox's response to Griswold's order to surrender at the end of the climax.
  • Big "WHAT?!": Roderick when Gwendolyn exclaims she is in love with Giacomo (Hawkins). Hawkins has an Explain, Explain... Oh, Crap! moments later as he realises he's in big trouble despite having no memory of what happened.
    • Ravenhurst, upon being told by Sir Betram that the man they believe is Giacomo is not actually him.
  • 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.
  • Bond Villain Stupidity: Ravenhurst falls victim to this twice in the climax. He says he wants to hear Roderick pronounce sentence on Hawkins and Jean before the child is revealed. This gives enough time for Hawkins's dwarf friends to free them both and begin the attack. Then, later, he has Hawkins and Jean cornered at sword-point and unarmed, but takes the time to gloat about their impending demise, which leads to his own downfall when two more dwarves sneak up on him, allowing Jean to send him into the sea.
  • Borrowed Catchphrase: Hawkins using Giacomo's "King of Jesters, and Jester to the King."
  • Butt-Monkey: Fergus. He sneaks into the castle before the film starts, but only gets duties as an hostler, so they have to send someone else into the castle after him. He's ignored by everybody, including Hawkins and Jean a few times, while listening to him could have ended the film in about five minutes, and saved many lives, including his own. He does manage to get through to Jean by telling her his plan to send the key to the secret passage to the Black Fox is better than hers, but he's caught in the act by Ravenhurst and his henchmen and tortured to death (thankfully offscreen).
  • The Cameo: John Carradine as the real Giacomo
  • 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.
    • He even has a Friar Tuck-like priest, a Maid Marian in Jean, and Hawkins could be argued to be a stand-in for Allan-a-Dale
  • Chekhov's Army: Hawkins's dwarf friends, seen during the "Outfox The Fox" number at the start of the film. When Jean finally gets the key to the Black Fox, the tunnel collapses, rendering it unusable except for a small crawlspace, giving the Black Fox the idea to use Hawkins's dwarf friends from the carnival to use the passage to enter the castle, while he leads the others to attack from the outside.
    Dwarf: Well, if you ever need us, call us.
    Black Fox: Thank you. I shall.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The Totem Pole Trench. It's first done with Hawkins's dwarf friends a few times in the forest at the start of the film. It's done again at the start of the climax to free Hawkins and Jean and let them know that Hawkins's dwarf friends are about to attack.
  • Chekhov's Skill:
    • Hawkins's entertaining skills from the carnival come in very handy when he has to pose as Giacomo, making his appearance as a jester pretty convincing.
    • Hawkins' carnival friends are shown to be good at the trapeze. In the climax, they swing down from the rafters to quickly grab the infant heir and swing him back up and out of harm's way.
  • A Child Shall Lead Them: The surviving true royal is an infant. No regent is named at the end of the film though.
  • Clean Cut: 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.
  • Colour-Coded for Your Convenience: Ravenhurst, Brockhurst, Finsdale and Pertwee's outfits in the scenes they appear. Ravenhurst tends to dress in black and purple, Brockhurst in blue or yellow, Finsdale in green, and Pertwee in blue or red.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Hawkins isn't above biting and pinching in order to gain advantage in a swordfight.
  • Court Jester: Hawkins is forced to impersonate one to infiltrate the castle, hence the film's title. The real court jester, Giacomo, is promptly knocked out and taken hostage by Jean, so he doesn't get very much screen time.
  • 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.
  • Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: Hawkins is bumbling and inept at rather a lot of things, but he is a competent father figure to the young king, his carnival skills make him rather adept at impersonating Giacomo, and it's an enforced trope when he gets to the castle and Griselda hypnotises him. She does it first to make him court Gwendolyn, and again at the end to make him defeat Ravenhurst.
  • 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.
  • Dark Is Evil: Ravenhurst dresses in dark outfits in every scene he appears in.
  • Dark Is Not Evil: The Black Fox, the leader of the group in the forest looking after the infant king and true heir to the throne.
    • Also Griselda, who dresses in blacks and greys, and who is generally helpful to Hawkins (albeit to keep Gwendolyn from killing her)
  • Decadent Court: Ravenhurst and his associates scheme murder to retain their influence with Roderick.
  • Distinguishing Mark: The Purple Pimpernel on the royal posterior.
  • Dumb Muscle: Griswold is described as this by Gwendolyn. She calls him " a brute and a lout". Ravenhurst calls him uncouth in the same scene, to which Roderick agrees, but says he is also strong. Strong enough, as we see later, to punch a hole through a shield.
  • Epic Flail: When Hawkins faces off against Roderick, the latter knight selects a mace and chain as his weapon.
  • "Eureka!" Moment: After the secret passage collapses, the Black Fox is informed there is barely enough of an opening for a child. This gives him the idea to use Hawkins's dwarf friends from the carnival to use the passage and attack the castle while he and the others mount a second attack from the outside.
    • The Captain of the Guard is confident that he has seen Hawkins before, as he first realises when he sees Hawkins as Giacomo. When Ravenhurst suspects that Hawkins is The Black Fox, he points out no one would want the alliance with Griswold destroyed more than that "rabble in the forest". This comment leads the Captain of the Guard to have one of these, as he realises he saw Hawkins dressed as an old man with the wine cart, and that Jean was with him.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Roderick has Gwendolyn, his daughter, although he threatens to have her killed if she steps out of line and refuses to marry Griswold.
  • Everyone Loves Blondes: Averted. Except when he's under Griselda's spell, Hawkins isn't even slightly tempted by the golden-haired Princess Gwendolyn, but is strongly attracted to the brown-tressed Maid Jean. And Roderick's kind of hot for Jean, too. Only Sir Griswold prefers Gwendolyn, but she doesn't prefer him.
  • Evil Chancellor: Ravenhurst isn't quite outright planning to overthrow the kingdom, but he certainly makes plans that help his position. Even Roderick knows Ravenhurst isn't fully to be trusted.
  • 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.
  • Explain, Explain... Oh, Crap!: A rare musical example, as Hawkins realizes mid-stanza that the king is going to kill him. "His name, his name, and now his blood must flow. / Break out the oil, this man must boil, this man named Giaca- . . . mo? Oh! No!"
  • Failed a Spot Check: Because everybody was busy applauding Hawkins after singing "The Maladjusted Jester", no one noticed Griselda slipping pellets of poison into the goblets intended for Brockhurst, Finsdale and Pertwee, not even the attendant holding them.
  • Fake Identity Baggage: Hubert Hawkins impersonates the jester Giacomo in order to gain access to the king's chambers, unaware that Giacomo was actually an assassin hired by Ravenhurst, who assumes that Hawkins is in on his schemes.
  • 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.
  • Fate Worse than Death: It's possible that Gwendolyn thinks being married to Griswold would be this, as she says she would rather die than be married to him.
  • Feghoot: The Mal-adjusted Jester leads through a number of other puns up to the line 'a jester unemployed/Is nobody's fool.'
  • 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!
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Brockhurst mentions early on that Ravenhurst likely fears losing his position as the king's advisor because of the alliance he (Brockhurst), Finsdale and Pertwee want Roderick to make with Griswold. Ravenhurst yells at him that he will die for that, to which Brockhurst replies, "One of us will!", before engaging in a brief sword fight (which Ravenhurst appears to win, before the king breaks it up). Ravenhurst later conspires to have Brockhurst, Finsdale and Pertwee killed off to prevent the alliance from going ahead.
    • The "Outfox The Fox" number at the start makes it out that Hawkins is the Black Fox, only for the real Black Fox to appear once the song is over. He ends up getting mistaken for the Black Fox by Ravenhurst and his associates and they conspire to use him to try and get rid of Griswold.
    • Hawkins says he is surprised that Jean could be in love with him as he isn't a fighter. He becomes an unlikely one by the climax, however, as he ends up being knighted, beats Griswold in mortal combat by sheer dumb luck, and partakes in the climax by fighting against Ravenhurst.
  • Forgotten Fallen Friend:
    • Poor Fergus is never mentioned again after it's revealed that he was tortured to death.
    • On the villain's side, the king seems to forget about the assassination of his three closest advisors pretty quickly.
  • 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.
  • Get Out!: Before the knighting ceremony, Jean's message to Hawkins tells him to do this, as they only want to knight him so they can kill him off. The message reads: "They Knight you only to kill you. Run for your life!" Understandably, Hawkins has an Oh, Crap! upon reading it.
  • 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.
  • Handicapped Badass: Hawkin's acrobat friends all have some form of dwarfism, hence why the Black Fox doesn't see the point in recruiting extra entertainers. Nonetheless, they acquit themselves well in the final battle, using their smaller size and acrobatic skills to hold off the guard until the rest of the Fox's troops can arrive.
  • Happy Harlequin Hat: As per his role, though he spends just as much time without it.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: He's the new Jester I've sent for, by reputation, the gayest and wittiest entertainer in Europe.
  • Have You Told Anyone Else?: A variant. Hawkins and Jean plan to kidnap Giacomo the jester and have Hawkins impersonate him. They express fake concern about whether he'll be able to get admitted to the castle and ask if he's sure no one there has seen his face. A few seconds after saying "Not yet", he gets a Tap on the Head. Unfortunately for the heroes, the man who negotiated with him in Europe later turns up at the castle and exposes the ruse.
  • He's Dead, Jim: Somebody quickly confirms the death of Brockhurst, Finsdale and Pertwee who were poisoned by Griselda.
  • Hidden Backup Prince: The rightful heir, who as a baby doubles as a Living MacGuffin.
  • Hidden Depths: Despite being built up as "grim, grisly, and gruesome", Griswold expresses his devotion to Gwendolyn very eloquently, refuses to fight Giacomo unless he's knighted, and accepts the rightful heir as the new king at the end.
  • Holding Hands: Hawkins and Jean, and also Gwendolyn and Griswold, in the film's closing shot.
  • Hollywood Costuming: Many of the dresses were based on fifties styles more than middle ages. The film even provides the trope image. Angela Lansbury looks almost like she should be posing next to an Oldsmobile Dynamic 88 at the 1955 GM Motorama, going by the obviously '50s bodice, hairstyle and makeup. Even more damning is one scene in which even tan lines can be seen on her (from which the aforementioned trope image comes from).
  • 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 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.
  • Hypocritical Heartwarming: Gwendolyn repeatedly threatens her handmaiden Griselda. However, when her father threatens Griselda, Gwendolyn says that she'll throw herself out the window if he tries it.
  • I Just Want to Be Badass: Hawkins' first scene establishes that he desperately wants to be a soldier in the Black Fox's group of freedom fighters, but he gets relegated to baby-sitting the infant heir to the throne.
  • I Just Want to Be Loved: Gwendolyn. She doesn't want to be forced into an Arranged Marriage to Griswold because she wants to marry for love.
  • Improbable Infant Survival: The last remaining rightful heir to the throne survived the massacre that wiped out the rest of the royal family and is being cared for by the Black Fox's group in the forest. Roderick attempts to avert it by ordering said heir to be capture and killed, and the rightful heir even spends a fair bit of time in the castle without detection and ends up back on the throne at the end.
  • Instant Death Bullet: In the opening scene a mook dies instantly from an arrow wound inflicted by the Black Fox.
  • 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.
  • Irony: Gwendolyn is adamantly against marrying Griswold and says she would rather die than be married to him, as she wants to marry for love. In the final shot of the film, however, the two can be seen Holding Hands.
  • It's All About Me: Roderick is this to some degree, as he intends to force Gwendolyn into an Arranged Marriage to Griswold that Gwendolyn herself wants no part of, for reasons that benefit Roderick.
  • Jerkass:
    • Roderick, who had the entire royal family killed so he could usurp the throne for himself, wants to kill the last remaining heir to the throne, and intends to force Gwendolyn into an Arranged Marriage she wants no part of for reasons that benefit himself, and even threatens her with death if she steps out of line.
    • Ravenhurst, who plans to kill Brockhurst, Finsdale and Pertwee so he can avoid losing his position as the king's right-hand man.
  • Job Title: Subverted. Hawkins is actually a rebel spy posing as the court jester, using his entertainment background for the role.
  • Just in Time: After Brockhurst, Finsdale and Pertwee are poisoned, Roderick is told that Griswold is approaching the castle. Roderick responds by saying he has arrived not a moment too soon.
  • Karma Houdini: Roderick, an abusive father and Dirty Old Man who ordered a Ruling Family Massacre, doesn't seem to suffer any worse punishment than the loss of his crown.
  • Kiss Up the Arm: Hawkins does this up and down Gwendolyn's arms while under hypnosis.
  • Kneel Before Frodo: In the final scene everybody is kneeling before the true baby king.
  • 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.
  • Large Ham: Roderick as well as the original Giacomo.
  • Laser-Guided Amnesia: Griselda ends her hypnotic spell by telling Hawkins that he'll have no recollection of what happened while he was under her control. Since he got involved with two separate plots during that time (the wooing of Gwendolyn and Ravenhurst's murder scheme), the convenient amnesia leads to enormous problems.
  • Last-Name Basis: Hawkins is always referred to by his surname, though Jean and the Black Fox refer to him by his first name, Hubert, one time each.
  • Let Me Get This Straight...: Roderick provides this kind of exposition when summarising the plan how to get his daughter married to Sir Griswold.
    Roderick: Knight the Jester, Sir Griswold will challenge him, he dare not refuse, they meet at the tournament tomorrow, Sir Griswold's lance runs the Jester through, and the marriage and the alliance proceed.
  • Lightning Can Do Anything: At one point Hawkins' armor is hit by lightning. After Hawkins puts it on, anything made of metal sticks to him which lets him defeat Sir Griswold.
  • 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. (Though in the princess' case, it's more of a Footsie Under the Table.)
  • Locked Out of the Loop: Jean. She gives the key to the secret passage to Hawkins after stealing it from Roderick's chambers, then looks questioningly at Hawkins when she sees it on Roderick's robes that evening, unaware that Hawkins had given it to Gwendolyn while hypnotised, then Roderick discovered the key and retook it. Then there's her shock at discovering Gwendolyn is in love with Hawkins, also unaware that Hawkins was hypnotised into seducing her.
    • Hawkins himself, as after seducing Gwendolyn and agreeing to Ravenhurst's plans under hypnosis, Griselda releases him from the spell, only for him to fall asleep and remember nothing, leaving him clueless as to the suggestions of Ravenhurst and Gwendolyn later.

  • MacGuffin: Providing the key to the Secret Path into the castle is what drives the plot.
  • Made of Iron: Sir Griswold is nearly impervious to all forms of physical damage, and at one point punches through a solid metal shield.
  • Maid and Maiden: The princess has Griselda, an older maid/companion who is a hypnotist.
  • Man Bites Man: At one point during their climactic sword fight, Hawkins bites Ravenhurst’s hand hard enough to cause Ravenhurst to yell in pain, shortly before they end up on the battlements.
  • Mauve Shirt: Brockhurst, Finsdale, and Pertwee, who propose the alliance with Griswold in the first place to take out the group in the forest. Ravenhurst also later reveals the three have wives, and arranges to have flowers sent to their widows after they are poisoned by Griselda.
  • 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.
  • Missing Mom: Gwendolyn's mother is not seen or mentioned.
  • Mistaken for Badass: Hawkins impersonates a jester, unaware that he is also an assassin. A series of well timed coincidences convince everyone he is the ruthless killer they believe he is. Even when he's later exposed, Ravenhurst simply comes to the conclusion that he's the Black Fox instead, another badass.
  • The Mole: Fergus is the confederate already in the castle working as an hostler before Hawkins and Jean join him. Unfortunately for him, he ends up getting killed just before the climax. It's revealed he was tortured offscreen and spilled the beans before his death.
  • Mugged for Disguise: Giacomo's fate.
  • Neck Snap: Roderick threatens to have Gwendolyn killed with one of these if she steps out of line: "Daughter or not, princess or not, one move, one false move, and your neck will snap like a twig!" Accentuated by a snap of the fingers to unknowingly bring Hawkins back under Griselda's spell and reveal himself as Roderick leaves.
  • No Name Given: The Captain of the Guard, first seen in the opening scene ("'The child lives. Death to the tyrant! The Black Fox'!") and is the most suspicious of Hawkins, as he correctly suspects he has seen Hawkins before.
  • No-Sell: When accepting the challenge to mortal combat, Hawkins gives Griswold a slap in the face. Griswold does not so much as flinch, and Hawkins flinches in pain instead.
  • No, You: This early moment between Roderick and Gwendolyn:
Roderick: If it pleases me, you will marry Griswold!
Gwendolyn: If it pleases you so much, father, you marry Griswold!
  • Number Two: Ravenhurst is this to Roderick. Brockhurst knows that Ravenhurst opposes the alliance with Griswold because it could potentially lose him this position.
  • 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.
    • This is how Hawkins attempts to get himself, Jeanne, and critically the baby past a group of Roderick's guards, by pretending to be an old half-deaf wine merchant who can't properly understand their questions to waste their time until they let him past
  • Offing the Offspring: After finding Gwendolyn with the key to the secret passage, Roderick warns her that if she steps out of line and does anything to prevent her arranged marriage to Griswold, he will sentence her to death.
  • Oh, Crap!: Mainly happens to Hawkins.
    • Hawkins at the end of the scene in the woodman's hut. His dialogue goes: "Jester to the King. Jester to the King. To the King?!"
    • Gwendolyn has one while Hawkins is in her chambers and Roderick is outside the door, as she knows if Roderick finds Hawkins in there, Roderick would kill him.
    • Hawkins when he's holding the basket containing the infant king and he realizes this, just as Roderick summons him into the castle's great hall.
    • Before singing "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. Luckily, Hawkins and Jean manage to get the basket out of the great hall before the baby is discovered.
    • Hawkins again when Griswold arrives at the castle and Gwendolyn proclaims her love for him (Hawkins). As Hawkins doesn't remember what happened and is just singing along to whatever's said, he has one in mid-sentence.
    • Jean gets one when Roderick tells her he and his men are knighting Hawkins that day, realising they intend to kill him.
    • Roderick when Jeans tells him about the fictional scourge that he thinks killed her father.
    • Hawkins when he reads Jean's message before the knighting ceremony, because it says: "They Knight you only to kill you. Run for your life!"
    • During Hawkins's ceremony to become a knight and he's revealed to Roderick, we get this: "Yea, verily, yea! Yea?"
    • Hawkins before the joust when he sees Griswold punch through a shield.
    • Hawkins during the joust after his helmet is knocked off.
    • Roderick when Hawkins's dwarf friend reveal themselves at the start of the climax.
  • Only One Name: Subverted with Hawkins, Jean reveals his first name is Hubert. Played straight with every other named character.
  • Pair the Spares: Gwendolyn and Sir Griswold are seen hand-in-hand in the very last shot, suggesting that she's finally begun to appreciate his better qualities, especially with Hawkins off the market.
  • Parodied Trope: Many tropes of these films are mocked, from swashbuckling, courtly love, knighting, dueling, outlaws, rebellion, etc.
  • Perfectly Arranged Marriage: For all Gwendolyn's resistance to the marriage, Griswold turns out to have Hidden Depths that make him very similar to the princess' imaginary true love, expressing his devotion for Gwendolyn in a rather poetic and romantic manner and showing honor in the final battle by declaring for the true king. Due to this (and the fact that she's not being forced to marry him anymore), Gwendolyn and he are seen holding hands near the end.
  • Performer Guise: An assassin operating in the guide of a jester is then impersonated by a good guy.
  • Pet the Dog: At the request of Hawkins (under hypnosis at the time), Ravenhurst agrees to order flowers for the widows of Brockhurst, Finsdale and Pertwee after they are killed.
  • 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 a few scenes, such as when Hawkins enters her chambers to woo her under Griselda's spell.
  • 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!
  • Repeated Rehearsal Failure: Exaggerated and Played for Laughs (along with everything else). When the group plans to pull the old Poisoned Chalice Switcheroo, first Griselda the witch warns Hubert Hawkins, "The pellet with the poison's in the vessel with the pestle; the chalice from the palace has the brew that is true!" Hawkins tries to repeat the Tongue Twister and messes it up, "The pellet with the poison is in the vessel with the plasle...the plasle with the plessle, er..." When he finally gets it right, they break the chalice from the palace, and bring out the flagon with the dragon to replace it, naturally leading to a Here We Go Again! This time, Grizwold's flunkie overhears Grizelda's warning and relays it to Grizwold, which leads to both Hawkins and Grizwold mumbling and mangling the mnemonic as they try to remember which will be poisoned and which won't be.
  • Rhymes on a Dime: Hawkins has a tendency to speak in rhyme even when he's not singing. Justified in that he's a minstrel; that profession was expected to be ready with verses and poetry at all times, so he's probably in the habit of rhyming to practice.
  • Rightful King Returns: The baby heir is restored to the throne at the end.
  • 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.

  • Say My Name: Roderick shouts "Brockhurst! Finsdale! Pertwee!" as each one respectively drops dead in turn at the banquet after being poisoned by Griselda.
  • Screw the War, We're Partying: Hawkins dresses up as the Black Fox and performs a musical number during the middle of the rebellion against Roderick to entertain the Black Fox's soldiers. They enjoy the show, although the Black Fox himself doesn't.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: Gwendolyn expresses a desire to do this, wanting to flee the castle so she can escape from under Roderick's thumb. When Hawkins seduces her while hypnotised, she decides to run away with him that night. When she publicly expresses her love for him that evening in front of everybody (including Roderick) the plan is scuppered when Hawkins is imprisoned.
  • Secret Path: There is a secret path into the castle but it needs a key to be opened.
  • Shadow Discretion Shot: Hawkins is reluctant to knock out the real Giacomo with a log in the woodman's hut, so Jean does this honors, and we see it happen as shadows on the wall.
  • Shake Someone, Objects Fall: Roderick shakes Gwendolyn when Hawkins is hiding in her chambers, and suddenly the key to the secret passage, which Gwendolyn had taken from Hawkins earlier in the scene, drops to the floor.
  • 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.
  • Single Woman Seeks Good Man: Maid Jean seems indifferent toward Hawkins at first, and the fact that Hawkins comes off as a bumbling fool, especially compared to the Robin Hood Expy The Black Fox, seems to justify her attitude. When they spend some time alone together, prior to his taking the role of Giacomo the Jester, she confesses her true feelings to Hawkins, saying that she was attracted to his kindness and sensitivity; she is seen glancing longingly at Hawkins as he sings a lullaby to the infant king. She only seems cold and distant because she is focused on the task of overthrowing the usurper Roderick.
  • Slapstick: Hawkins is a klutz, meaning we get to see Danny Kaye's slapstick talents in full form.
  • The Smurfette Principle: Jean is the only woman among the Black Fox's army. Downplayed in that she's a captain in the group and commands the respect of all of the men.
  • Spanner in the Works: Two befall Hawkins and Jean at the same time, while Hawkins is on his way to the castle impersonating Giacomo, and while Jean is on her way to the abbey in Dover to protect the infant king. A wheel of Hawkins's wagon breaks and Roderick's men make it to him just as he finishes repairing it. Luckily for him, they were there to escort him to the castle. As for Jean, Roderick's men are also rounding up the fairest wenches in the land and she ends up at the castle when they catch up to her, with the infant king still hidden in the wine cart.
  • Springtime for Hitler: Roderick's plan to kill Hawkins by knighting him and having Griswold challenge him to mortal combat. The plan goes wrong when Hawkins wins the joust after Griswold's mace gets stuck in Hawkins's shield and is pulled off his horse.
  • Stalling the Sip: Before Hubert's duel, he and his opponent are supposed to drink a toast to each other. Both Hubert and his opponent know that one of the two cups of wine is poisoned but they are unsure which it is. So they delay choosing glasses and when they finally have to they toast each other by bashing the cups against each other so hard that all the wine spills out.
  • Supporting Leader: The Black Fox leads the rebellion, even though Hawkins is the focus of the film.
  • Surrounded by Idiots: Roderick references the trope at the beginning: "Why must I be surrounded by fools?"
  • 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!”
  • Tampering with Food and Drink: Griselda does this several times.
  • Tap on the Head:
    • Hawkins is reluctant to knock out the real Giacomo with a login the woodman's hut, so Jean does the honors.
    • 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: Leads to romance in a shack between Hawkins and Jean.
  • This Cannot Be!: This phrase is said by Gwendolyn after she is kissed by a hypnotised Hawkins, saying that true love can’t be found in a single kiss.
  • This Looks Like a Job for Aquaman: Hawkins is an entertainer, not a fighter, and is a bit resentful at being left on the sidelines. Then Jean gets a golden opportunity to sneak a rebel into the court disguised as a jester, which Hawkins is perfect for.
  • Tomboy: Maid Jean. Her father taught her how to fight. She suspects he wanted a boy. This leads to...
  • Tomboy and Girly Girl: Jean, with her fighting skills and position in the Black Fox's army, contrasts with the feminine Princess Gwendolyn.
  • Tongue Twister:
    • The instructions for the jester to avoid being poisoned are: the vessel with the pestle has the pellet with the poison, and the chalice from the palace has the brew that is true. Later (because the chalice from the palace is broken), the pellet with the poison is in the flagon with the dragon, and the vessel with the pestle has the brew that is true.
    • "The Duchess dove at the Duke just when the Duke dove at the Doge. Now the Duke ducked, the Doge dodged, and the Duchess didn't. So the Duke got the Duchess, the Duchess got the Doge, and the Doge got the Duke!
  • Tongue-Tied: Hawkins fails spectacularly at mastering the Tongue Twister about the pellet with the poison. Griswold fails almost as badly.
  • 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.
    • It even forms a Chekhov's Gun, as it's used again in the climax with two of them to undo Hawkins and Jean's restraints before the fight starts.
  • 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.
  • Triumphant Reprise: "Life Could Not Better Be", which comes back as the infant king is put on the throne in the final scene, Hawkins proclaims his love for Jean, and the crowd joins in the song in the film's final moments.
  • 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.
  • Victoria's Secret Compartment: Both Gwendolyn and Jean store the key in their secret compartments at different times during the movie.
  • Villainous Crush: Roderick seems to have one for Jean, which seems to start the first time he sees her. He orders her to be jeweled and gowned and to have her sit next to him at the banquet that evening. After having to endure a bit of this, Jean manages to fend him off by pulling a You Don't Want to Catch This, but not before exploiting the trope to steal the key to the secret passage.
  • Vine Swing: Jean's first scene has her swing into the Black Fox's camp on a vine.
  • Wanted a Son Instead: Jean admits that her father, who raised her to be a Tomboy, probably wished she'd been a boy.
  • 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. It works and the baby remains undetected as Fergus is able to keep him safe.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: We never find out what happened to the real Giacomo after Maid Jean knocked him out.
  • Who's on First?: A couple.
    • When Hubert Hawkins tells King Roderick the narrative of the Duke, the Doge, and the Duchess.
    King Roderick: The Duke. What did the Duke do?
    Hubert: Eh... the Duke?
    King Roderick:Yes. And what about the Doge?
    Hubert: Oh, the Doge!
    King Roderick: Eh, well, what did the Doge do?
    Hubert: The Doge do?
    King Roderick: Yes, the Doge do.
    Hubert: Well, uh, the Doge did what the Doge does. Eh, uh, when the Doge does his duty to the Duke, that is.
    King Roderick: What? What's that?
    Hubert: Oh, it's very simple, sire: When the Doge did his duty and the Duke didn't, that's when the Duchess did the dirt to the Duke with the Doge.
    King Roderick: Who did what to what?
    Hubert: Oh, they all did, sire. There they were in the dark; the Duke with his dagger, the Doge with his dart, Duchess with her dirk.
    King Roderick: Duchess with her dirk?
    Hubert: Yes! The Duchess dove at the Duke just when the Duke dove at the Doge. Now the Duke ducked, the Doge dodged, and the Duchess didn't. So the Duke got the Duchess, the Duchess got the Doge, and the Doge got the Duke!
    King Roderick: Curious. I... I... hm? What? What's that? All I heard was that the Duchess had a siege of rheumatism. She's 83, you know.
    • And Hilarity Ensues when Hawkins is trying to sort out the vessel with the pestle, the chalice from the palace, and the flagon with the dragon.
    Griselda: Listen. I have put a pellet of poison in one of the vessels.
    Hawkins: Which one?
    Griselda: The one with the figure of a pestle.
    Hawkins: The vessel with the pestle?
    Griselda: Yes. But you don't want the vessel with the pestle, you want the chalice from the palace!
    Hawkins: I don't want the vessel with the pestle, I want the chalice from... the what?
    Jean: The chalice from the palace!
    Hawkins: Hmm?
    Griselda: It's a little crystal chalice with a figure of a palace.
    Hawkins: The chalice from the palace has the pellet with the poison?
    Griselda: No, the pellet with the poison's in the vessel with the pestle.
    Hawkins: Oh, oh, the pestle with the vessel.
    Jean: The vessel with the pestle.
    Hawkins: What about the palace from the chalice?
    Griselda: Not the palace from the chalice! The chalice from the palace!
    Hawkins: Where's the pellet with the poison?
    Griselda: In the vessel with the pestle. The chalice from the palace has the brew that is true.
    Jean: Don't you see? The pellet with the poison's in the vessel with the pestle.
    Griselda: The chalice from the palace has the brew that is true!
    Jean: It's so easy, I can say it.
    Hawkins: Well then you fight him!
    Griselda: Listen carefully: The pellet with the poison's in the vessel with the pestle, the chalice from the palace has the brew that is true.
    Hawkins: The pellet with the poison's in the vessel with the pestle, the chalice from the palace has the brew that is true.
    • And later on:
    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 palace!
    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.
    Griselda: Right.
    Hawkins: But did you put the pellet with the poison in the vessel with the pestle?
    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.
  • Why Don't You Marry It?: 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.
  • Wicked Witch: Well... "amoral witch" describes Griselda. Her spells are in the form of very powerful hypnosis.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Roderick, who plans to have the infant who is the rightful heir to the throne captured and killed.
  • You Don't Want to Catch This: Jean uses this tactic to fend off the king's advances.
  • "You!" Exclamation: Gwendolyn when Hawkins first enters her chambers and tosses her a rose.