February 2, 2021
Stars Danny Kaye, Glynis Johns, Angela Lansbury, Basil Rathbone, Mildred Natwick, Cecil Parker and John Carradine.
The 1956 classic The Court Jester, starring Danny Kaye, is celebrating its 65th anniversary with a new Blu-ray release as part of the “Paramount Presents” line. A riotous combination of physical comedy, wordplay and one-liners, the medieval farce still has the power to elicit laughs (notably without leaning on the crude humor of many modern comedies).
Kaye was a singular talent, with the singing chops of a Broadway star, a mastery of slapstick comedy similar to Jim Carrey or Jerry Lewis and impeccable timing. In top form in The Court Jester, Kaye plays kind-hearted entertainer Hawkins who disguises himself as the legendary king of jesters, Giacomo, to infiltrate the court of an evil villain (the legendary Basil Rathbone). In one of the most memorable physical comedy scenes, when a sorceress hypnotizes him, royal chaos ensues as the jester alternates identities at the snap of a finger — one moment he’s a swordsman with the skill of Errol Flynn and the next a cowering bumbler. The film also features one of the funniest wordplay sequences in classic movies including the oft-quoted line, “The pellet with the poison is in the vessel with the pestle; the chalice from the palace has the brew that is true.” Kaye combines that tongue-twister with another ongoing physical gag that will still make fans laugh heartily 65 years later.
Following a turn in the classic holiday film White Christmas, Kaye earned a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor — Comedy or Musical for his leading role in The Court Jester, which was added to the National Film Registry in 2004 and included on the AFI’s list of the 100 Funniest American Movies of All Time.
The Court Jester was shot in Paramount’s trademark “VistaVision” widescreen format, capturing a grander scope of information on the film negative. For this new restoration, the original negative was scanned at 6K and one of the “separation masters” was also scanned and recombined with the negative scans to address color fading in the negative. The result is a vibrant picture that beautifully renders costumes by the famed Edith Head, art direction by Hal Pariera and cinematography by Ray June.
The limited-edition Paramount Presents Blu-ray packaging includes a foldout image of the film’s theatrical poster and an interior spread with key movie moments. The Blu-ray also includes access to a digital copy of the film, the theatrical trailer, and a new “Filmmaker Focus” with film historian Leonard Maltin. Maltin clearly has a special fondness for the film, which he likens to “an old friend” in his commentary outlining the history and talent behind the comedy.
“You do have a relationship with movies that you love, and this is one that I love,” he says.