AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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The Court Jester
Director: Norman Panama (Dir)
Release Date:   Mar 1956
Premiere Information:   New York opening: week of 2 Feb 1956
Production Date:   22 Nov 1954--16 Feb 1955; 25 Feb--12 Mar 1955; 18 Mar 1955
Duration (in mins):   101
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Cast:   Danny Kaye (Hubert Hawkins)  
    Glynis Johns (Maid Jean)  
    Basil Rathbone (Sir Ravenhurst)  
    Angela Lansbury (Princess Gwendolyn)  
    Cecil Parker (King Roderick)  
    Mildred Natwick (Griselda)  
    Robert Middleton (Sir Griswold)  
    Michael Pate (Sir Locksley)  
    Herbert Rudley (Captain of the guard)  
    Noel Drayton (Fergus)  
    John Carradine (Giacomo)  
    Edward Ashley (Black Fox)  
    Alan Napier (Sir Brockhurst)  
    Lewis Martin (Sir Finsdale)  
    Patrick Aherne (Sir Pertwee)  
    Richard Kean (Archbishop)  
    Hermine's Midgets    
    The American Legion Zouvaves of Richard F. Smith, Post #29, Jackson, Michigan    
    Larry Pennell (Novice knight)  
    Tudor Owen (Friar)  
    Charles Irwin (Griswold's aide)  
    Leo Britt (Sir Bertram)  
    Russell Gaige (Chamberlain)  
    Ray Kellog (Court official)  
    Eric Alden (King's man)  
    William Augustus Fuller (Forestry officer)  
    Joel Smith (Forestry officer)  
    Robert E. Smith (Priest/Forester)  
    Nels Nelson (Midget)  
    Edward P. Gibbons (Midget)  
    Thomas J. Cotton (Midget)  
    Billy Curtis (Midget)  
    A. J. Buster Resmondo (Midget)  
    Irving Fulton (Midget)  
    Frank Delfino (Midget)  
    Little Billy Rhodes (Midget)  
    Henry Lewis Stone (Midget)  
    George Louis Spotts (Midget)  
    Irving Douglas (Midget)  
    Harry Monty (Midget)  
    James B. Jordan (Midget)  
    Floyd Hugh Dixon (Midget)  
    Robert Smith (Guard)  
    Leslie Dennison (Guard)  
    Paul "Tiny" Newlan (Guard)  
    Len Hendry (Guard)  
    Robert Hart (Specialty dancer)  
    Burnell Dietsch (Specialty dancer)  
    Chad Dee Block (Specialty dancer)  
    Leo Wheeler (Specialty dancer)  
    Gerald R. Peters (Forester)  
    Steve Wyman (Forester)  
    Ed Stoddard (Forester)  
    Richard Gilden (Forester)  
    Kenneth B. Harp (Forester)  
    Harry Guardino (Forester)  
    Alan Eric (Forester)  
    Wallace J. Russell (Forester)  
    Thomas G. Royal Jr. (Forester)  
    John P. O'Malley (Courier)  
    Michael Mahoney (Soldier)  
    Phyllis Coghlan (Hairdresser)  
    William Cartledge (Frank)  
    Claude Wuhrman (Knight)  
    Harry Lloyd Nelson (Knight)  
    John O'Malley (Announcer)  
    John Irving (Gate house guard)  
    Larry Stalley (Infant)  
    Gary Stalley (Infant)  
    Roy G. Gunther (Page boy)  
    Frank Meservey (Knight recruit)  
    Ronald R. Rice (Knight recruit)  
    Roger Lee McKee (Knight recruit)  
    Lee Miller (Frank)  
    Lee Belser (Court lady)  
    Robin Hughes    
    Trevor Ward    

Summary: Despite his recent ascension to the throne via his massacre of the royal family, the crown of the tyrannical King Roderick of England weighs heavy, as rumors persist throughout his kingdom that a true heir to his title lives, a male infant who bears the royal birthmark, that of a purple pimpernel. Roderick's fears are well-founded, as one of his spies informs the king that such a child does exist and is being cared for in the hidden forest lair of the masked thief known as The Black Fox. Despite the objections of his top advisor, Sir Ravenhurst, Roderick hopes to secure his crown by making a marriage alliance between himself and a powerful Northern knight, Sir Griswold. Princess Gwendolyn, the king's daughter, rejects such an arranged marriage, proclaiming that she will only marry for love, as prophesized by the witch Griselda. Meanwhile, back in his forest hideout, The Black Fox is warned that the king's soldiers are nearby, so he orders Hubert Hawkins, an ex- carnival performer, and the maid Jean, a captain in the Fox's army, to transport the child king to an abbey in Dover. Disguised as a deaf old man and his mute granddaughter, Hawkins and Jean manage to safely elude the king's men. Later, they are forced to seek shelter from a sudden rainstorm in a woodsman's hut, where Hawkins and Jean proclaim their love for each other. Their romantic interlude is interrupted, however, by the arrival of Giacomo, "King of Jesters and Jester of Kings." After subduing the jester, Hawkins assumes Giacomo's identity in order to gain access to Roderick's court, unaware that he is impersonating a deadly assassin hired by Ravenhurst to kill his rivals. Matters are further complicated when Hawkins mistakes the evil Ravenhurst for an agent of the Fox, and Griselda, fearful for her life if her mistress Gwendolyn is forced to marry Griswold, hypnotizes Hawkins into believing he is a dashing swashbuckler and orders him to woo the love-sick princess. Meanwhile, Jean and the infant king, who is hidden in a wine casket, are captured by Roderick's men, who have been ordered to search the countryside for beautiful wenches meant to provide "entertainment" at a royal banquet in Griswold's honor. That night, Griselda poisons Sir Brockhurst, Sir Finsdale and Sir Pertwee after the three pledge their lives to the consummation of Gwendolyn and Griswold's marriage, though Ravenhurst mistakenly credits Hawkins with their deaths. Soon thereafter, Gwendolyn publicly proclaims her love for the jester, so the insulted Griswold challenges Hawkins to a duel. In order to meet the rules of chivalry, the commoner Hawkins is then rushed through the sacramental rights of knighthood. Meanwhile, Jean procures from the lecherous Roderick the key to a secret passageway into the castle, and sends it by messenger pigeon to the Black Fox, requesting that he fight in Hawkins' place. A cave-in makes the hidden tunnel seemingly impassable, however, so Hawkins is forced to face Griswold in mortal combat. Though Griselda's attempt to poison the Northern knight fails, Hawkins manages to best Griswold after his armor is magnetized by lightning. Before the victorious Hawkins can claim Gwendolyn as his prize, however, Ravenhurst accuses him of being the Black Fox. Tried before the royal court, Hawkins and Jean are saved from execution when the real Black Fox infiltrates the castle with the help of Hawkins' midget friends. During the ensuing battle, Hawkins slips in and out of Griselda's spell long enough to defeat Ravenhurt in a sword fight. With Roderick's forces now vanquished, the infant king is placed on the thrown of England, and Sir Hawkins' is rewarded with the hand of Jean. 

Production Company: Dena Enterprises  
Distribution Company: Paramount Pictures Corp.  
Director: Norman Panama (Dir)
  Melvin Frank (Dir)
  Wm. Watson (2d unit dir)
  John Coonan (Asst dir)
  Bernard McEveety Jr. (2d asst dir)
Producer: Norman Panama (Prod)
  Melvin Frank (Prod)
Writer: Norman Panama (Scr)
  Melvin Frank (Scr)
Photography: Ray June (Dir of photog)
  Ray Rennahan (Dir of photog)
  Al Cline (Asst cam)
  Bill Schurr (Cam op)
  Howard Kelly (Gaffer)
Art Direction: Hal Pereira (Art dir)
  Roland Anderson (Art dir)
Film Editor: Tom McAdoo (Ed)
Set Decoration: Sam Comer (Set dec)
  Arthur Krams (Set dec)
  Carl Coleman (Props)
  Joe Keller (Props)
  Lew Vasquez (Prop shop)
Costumes: Edith Head (Cost)
  Yvonne Wood (Cost)
  Hazel Hagerty (Women's ward)
  Buddy Clark (Men's ward)
Music: Victor Schoen (Mus scored and cond)
Sound: Harry Lindgren (Sd rec)
  John Pope (Sd rec)
  Doug Grant (Boom man)
  A. H. Barnett (Rec)
Special Effects: John P. Fulton (Spec photog eff)
  Irmin Roberts (Spec photog eff)
  Farciot Edouart (Process photog)
Dance: James Starbuck (Choreog)
  Robert Alton (Choreog)
  George Chakiris (Dance instructor)
  Wilda Bieber (Dance instructor)
  Sam Ledner (Dance asst)
  Bea Allen (Dance asst)
  Alex Goudovitch (Dance asst)
  Elmer Bernstein (Dance rehearsal pianist)
  Joe Moreno (Dance rehearsal pianist)
  Patricia Casy (Dance rehearsal ballet dancer)
  Gregor Monjian (Dance rehearsal ballet dancer)
Make Up: Wally Westmore (Makeup supv)
  Willard Colee (Makeup)
  Gertrude Reed (Hairdresser)
Production Misc: Hal C. Kern (Asst to the prod)
  D. R. O. Hatswell (Tech adv)
  Ralph Faulkner (Tech adv)
  Bob McElwaine (Pub)
  Frank Caffey (Prod mgr)
  Hugh Brown (Asst prod mgr)
  Charles Woolstenhulme (Unit prod mgr)
  Bert McKay (Casting)
  Dorothy Yutzi (Scr clerk)
  Joe Schuster (Elec)
  Mike Seminerio (Grip)
Stand In: Lila Finn (Double for Glynis Johns)
  Tim Taylor (Double for Danny Kaye)
  Allen Pinson (Double for Danny Kaye)
  Clint Sharp (Double for Danny Kaye)
  Eric Alden (Double for Basil Rathbone)
  Dick Elmore (Stunts)
  George Dockstader (Stunts)
Color Personnel: Richard Mueller (Technicolor col consultant)
Country: United States
Language: English

Songs: "Life Could Not Better Be," "Outfox the Fox," "I'll Take You Dreaming," "My Heart Know a Love Song" and "Ritual of Knighthood," words and music by Sylvia Fine and Sammy Cahn; "The Maladjusted Jester," words and music by Sylvia Fine.
Composer: Sammy Cahn
  Sylvia Fine

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
Dena Enterprises 1/2/1956 dd/mm/yyyy LP5965

PCA NO: 17501
Physical Properties: Sd: Western Electric Recording
  col: Technicolor
  Widescreen/ratio: VistaVision Motion Picture High-Fidelity

 
Genre: Comedy
  Comedy
Sub-Genre: Historical
  with songs
 
Subjects (Major): Court jesters
  England
  Impersonation and imposture
  Kings
  Royalty
 
Subjects (Minor): Abduction
  Assassins
  Banquets
  Birthmarks
  Castles
  Deafness
  Disguise
  Duels
  Dwarfs
  Fathers and daughters
  Forests
  Hypnotism
  Infants
  Jousting
  Keys
  Knights and knighthood
  Lechery
  Marriage--Arranged
  Murder
  Mutes
  Poisoning
  Rainstorms
  Secret passageways
  Sword fights
  Thieves
  Witches and witchcraft

Note: During the opening credits, while singing "Life Could Not Better Be", Danny Kaye constantly pushes Basil Rathbone's re-appearing credit off the screen. The Court Jester was the second film by Dena Enterprises, a film production company owned by actor Danny Kaye and his wife, songwriter Sylvia Fine. In partnership with writer-producer-directors Melvin Frank and Norman Panama, Dena Productions had previously filmed another Danny Kaye comedy, Knock on Wood , a 1954 Paramount release (see entry below). Though HR news items report a production starting date of Jul 1954, The Court Jester did not begin filming until late Nov. At that time, NYT reported that the picture's budget had been set at $3,000,000, with its two main sets--the castle interior and its courtyard--having been built on two separate Paramount sound stages at the cost of over $200,000.
       According to the file on the film in the Paramount Collection at the AMPAS Library, The Court Jester was originally given a production budget of $2,487,000, with a forty-eight day shooting schedule. After the first week of filming, cinematographer Ray Rennahan was dismissed from the production and replaced by the credited director of photography, Ray June. After filming for nearly three months, The Court Jester temporarily shut down production on 16 Feb 1955, then resumed on 25 Feb 1955 and finished its initial shooting on 12 Mar 1955. The production was reopened and closed for a single day--18 Mar 1955--for additional cuts and retakes.
       According to a 29 Oct 1955 Paramount breakdown of the film's expenses, The Court Jester 's total cost to that point was $3,702,103, having used seventy-six actual days for filming, eighteen days of rehearsal, and another eighteen days for second unit work, including location shooting in Palos Verdes, CA. In its Jan 1956 feature article on the film, Life stated that The Court Jester was the most expensive film comedy produced to date.
       According to HR , the extended shooting on The Court Jester almost cost Glynis Johns a featured role in the 1955 Boulting Bros. production Josephine and the Men , as the start date on that film conflicted with The Court Jester 's extended schedule. The scheduling was worked out, however, and the actress did appear in the British film. According to the file on the film in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, there were two Sammy Cahn-Sylvia Fine songs--"Pass the Basket" and "Where Walks My True Love"--that were approved for use in The Court Jester , but were not performed in the released film. Also, the original title for Fine's composition "The Maladjusted Jester" was "The Court Jester's Lament."
       In his review of The Court Jester , HR critic Jack C. Moffitt claimed that the hypnosis joke, in which Kaye changes from swashbuckler to fool and back at the snap of Mildred Natwick's fingers, was stolen from him. Calling the supposed plagiarism "a feeling of flattered nostalgia," Moffitt stated that he had originally written a similar scene for the 1937 Paramount film Mountain Music (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40 ) in which Bob Burns falls in and out of love with Martha Raye each time he is hit on the head. Moffitt did admit in his review, however, that he had stolen the comic piece himself from Charlie Chapin's 1931 classic City Lights , which contains a sequence in which millionaire Harry Myer loves Chaplin when he is drunk, but despises the little tramp when sober (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40 ). Moffitt also went to lengths to point out that the famous "The pellet with the poison is in the chalice from the palace, while in the vessel with the pestle has the brew that is true" sequence in The Court Jester was a "shortened version" of the old Bob Hope tongue-twister routine: "There's a nick on the muzzle of the pistol with the bullet and a scratch on the barrel of the pistol with a blank."
       HR production charts and news items include Marilyn Watson, James Robertson, Joe Ploski, Ethan Laidlaw and George Ford in the cast, but their appearance in the released film has not been confirmed. According to modern sources, Kaye was trained for his fencing scenes by U.S. Olympic coach Ralph Faulkner. Kaye received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Performance by an Actor, Musical or Comedy for his work in the film. Soon after concluding filming on The Court Jester , Paramount released the Danny Kaye short subject Assignment Children , a documentary for the United Nations Children's Fund, for which Kay was Ambassador-at-Large. In Jun 1966, The Court Jester was selected to open the Film Society of Lincoln Center's Danny Kaye Festival, with its opening night fund raiser held on behalf of UNICEF's 50th anniversary. Kaye had acted as the special ambassador for the United Nation's children's organization during its first thirty-four years. 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Box Office   4 Feb 1956.   
Daily Variety   27 Jan 56   p. 3.
Film Daily   27 Jan 56   p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter   29 Mar 1954.   
Hollywood Reporter   31 Mar 1954.   
Hollywood Reporter   1 Nov 1954   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   19 Nov 54   p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter   22 Dec 1954   p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter   25 Jan 55   p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter   7 Feb 55   p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter   11 Feb 55   p. 14.
Hollywood Reporter   3 Mar 55   p. 16.
Hollywood Reporter   4 Apr 55   p. 3, 9.
Hollywood Reporter   21 Apr 55   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   27 Jan 56   p. 3.
Life   30 Jan 1956.   
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest   28 Jan 56   p. 761.
New York Times   22 Nov 1954.   
New York Times   2 Feb 56   p. 19.
Variety   1 Feb 56   p. 6.

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