Making the Grades
During a black time in the medieval ages, King Roderick I (Cecil Parker) sits uneasily upon his usurped throne. Although he and his supporters believed they had completely eliminated the previous monarch and his relatives, rumors persist of a surviving infant heir who bears the purple pimpernel (the family's distinguished flower-shaped birthmark) on his royal posterior.
Sequestered deep in the forest, the baby is protected by The Black Fox (Edward Ashley) and his band of daring rebels as they try to restore the rightful ruler. But the child's everyday needs are attended to by Hubert Hawkins (Danny Kaye), a former carnival worker whose dreams of joining the valiant fight have been squashed by the reality of his nanny duties.
Then a chance meeting with a traveling jester heading for King Roderick's court gives Hawkins an opportunity to exchange diaper duty for undercover work. With the encouragement of his Captain, the beautiful Maid Jean (Glynis Johns), the timid man hands his childcare responsibilities to his superior, dons the harlequin's clothes and enters the castle as The Incomparable Giacomo.
What the novice spy doesn't know is that the real Giacomo was also on an undercover mission -- as a hired killer for a few power-hungry conspirators planning a coup of their own. Nor is that the only problem at the palace. Pouting Princess Gwendolyn (Angela Landsbury) is refusing to help her father strengthen political allegiances by marrying their neighbor, a man she calls the grim and gruesome grisly Griswold (Robert Middleton). And the Royal command to round up the kingdom's most attractive wenches to present at the evening's banquet has ensnared Maid Jean who still carries the basket concealing her babysitting charge.
In a clear case of "what you don't know can definitely hurt you," the bashful Hubert Hawkins bumbles into a tangled web of intrigue, murderous plots, and romantic intentions. The problem is further complicated when a confidante of the Princess' places the disguised clown under a spell, making him believe he is a suitor to the regal damsel and forgetting every thing else. Now, the King thinks he's an entertainer, the council thinks he's an assassin, the Princess thinks he's her true love, and Maid Jean thinks he still remembers the objectives of their covert operation.
Much of the movie's comedy is generated as the imposter accidentally does the right things in all the wrong situations he encounters. The Court Jester also allows Danny Kaye to show off an incredible range of characterizations. Thanks to the hypnotic trance, the fearful Hawkins can become the overly confident Giacomo in just a snap of the fingers... in a setting where people snap their fingers repeatedly, and at the most inopportune times.
The only tarnish on this polished script is the inclusion of mild sexual innuendo, some low-cut dresses, and a few passionate kisses. While violent acts are mentioned, the humorous intent of the well-choreographed fighting action is never lost. Throw in a couple of song and dance numbers, a cast of acrobatic midgets, along with one of Danny Kaye's greatest performances, and you have a funny film that Giacomo himself would recommend you "Get it. Got it? Good!"
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about The Court Jester.
If you could snap your fingers and become anyone with any skill you desired, whom would you choose?
Although the Maid Jean is a capable fighter, she admires some very quiet qualities in a man. How do you feel about these kinds of character traits? How is Hubert Hawkins different from many other movies’ leading men?