Danny Kaye’s Delightful Medieval Farce

There may be no better vehicle for Danny Kaye’s remarkable comic talents than The Court Jester. The visually stunning musical farce is one of the most entertaining comedies from 1950s with its witty songs and silly gags. Directed by Melvin Frank and Norman Panama, experienced comedy writers who cut their teeth working for Bob Hope, singing and sword fighting have never gone so well together. Danny Kaye guides a cast with Angela Lansbury, Basil Rathbone, and Glynis Johns through madcap frivolity.

Star Danny Kaye is Hawkins, a circus performer in medieval England. In a sly parody on the Robin Hood legend, Hawkins works for a hooded outlaw known as the Black Fox. A pretender sits on the throne of England. The Black Fox wants to restore the royal line with the real king, a young baby with a birthmark marking his royal lineage. Hawkins is a happy-go-lucky entertainer thrust into the role of spy when he is forced to assume the identity of Giacomo, the royal jester.

The Court Jester remains a comedic delight with timeless laughs and effortless chemistry

The wackiness only gets more complicated for Hawkins when the King’s spoiled daughter, played by a young Angela Lansbury, falls madly in love with him. The swashbuckling aspect becomes more and more prominent as Hawkins is ensnared in the Royal Court’s high-stakes machinations behind the scenes.

The Court Jester was a lavish production made with talented Hollywood filmmakers that had honed their craft during the 1940s. An expensive movie for its day, the comedy feels like a gigantic stage musical with dazzling wardrobes and outrageous attention to detail. Originally a Broadway star, Danny Kaye was a multi-talented actor with impeccable timing and an excellent singing voice. He’s right at home playing the deprecating and friendly Hawkins. Capable of smoothly switching between romantic lead and comedic farce with the drop of a hat, it’s a wide-ranging role tailor-made for Kaye.

Many Hollywood comedies from the same period have aged rather poorly. The Court Jester remains a comedic delight with timeless laughs and effortless chemistry between the cast. It is one of the funniest movies ever made by Hollywood. The trademark wordplay and slapstick goodness have stood the test of time thanks to Danny Kaye’s charismatic performance and an air-tight screenplay imbued with silly banter. Featuring a little bit of everything from romance to sword fighting, The Court Jester is a rare delight.

Video

Called by some the gold standard of 35mm filmmaking, The Court Jester was an epic VistaVision production shot by the talented Ray June. Marking its first appearance in Hi-Def, Paramount has spared no expense for the 1956 movie’s restoration.  Classic cinema lovers will fall in love with The Court Jester’s gorgeous celluloid eye candy once they see the results.

Receiving a 6K film transfer from the original VistaVision negative, extraordinary measures were enacted that fully restore its beautifully rich colors. Crisp with outstanding definition, it’s like stepping into the past. The picture quality is dazzling on Blu-ray and makes one dearly wish Paramount starts releasing their classics on UHD. It is magnificent transfers like The Court Jester that remind me why I review home media.

Made for the then-princely sum of $4 million, every dollar is up on the 1.78:1 screen. Bright, vivid colors light up the incandescent presentation. Deep and inky black levels maintain consistent perfection with tight shadow delineation. The colorful wardrobes explode in brilliant clarity with proper saturation and contrast. Completely film-like with wonderful texture and detail, the exquisite cinematography projects depth and dimension.

Technicolor in California handles all of Paramount’s authoring with superb specifications. The main feature averages 36 Mbps, an AVC encode with top-notch transparency. The film transfer benefits immensely from the 6K image harvest, even in this 1080P presentation. Fine grain structure is tightly replicated with complete authenticity.

Audio

The original mono audio is delivered with a ripe 2.0 DTS-HD MA soundtrack. The Court Jester’s musical scenes have a lively, full quality. Danny Kaye’s strong singing voice is heard with rich timbre and effortless highs. There are minor limitations that date the score’s fidelity but generally this is a solid recording from the 1950s. The complex banter and witty comedic dialogue are cleanly intelligible with no harsh edges.

Optional English, English SDH, German and French subtitles play in a white font. The original French and German dubs are offered in 2.0 Dolby Digital mono.

Extras

The Court Jester is #13 in the studio’s new and well-received Paramount Presents line. The slick, glossy slipcover includes a fold-out cover featuring the original movie poster. Arriving in a clear BD case, the digital copy redeems in HDX quality on either VUDU, iTunes, or FandangoNow.

Bonus features are light but one should remember The Court Jester had nothing extra on Paramount’s original DVD. One thing lacking in this line are informed commentaries.

Filmmaker Focus: Leonard Maltin On The Court Jester (07:03 in HD) – Maltin has apparently filmed one of these concise featurettes for just about every movie in the Paramount Presents’ line. The newly-made featurette sees Maltin giving a capsule summary of the production with a focus on cast and historical background.

The Court Jester Theatrical Trailer (02:24 in SD)

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

The Court Jester
  • Video
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  • Extras
5

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Danny Kaye leads this superb musical comedy from Hollywood’s Golden Age.

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