Monday Movie: The Court Jester
Every Monday, we’ll recommend a movie. It could be a classic, an overlooked recent treasure, an unfairly maligned personal favorite or whatever the hell we feel like.
I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to see Danny Kaye the same way again. In Dan Gilroy’s brilliant and ferocious Nightcrawler, Jake Gyllenhaal’s psychopathic lead character, Lou Bloom, sits on his couch, hunched over an ironing board, steaming and ironing a shirt. He’s watching TV and something causes him to cackle loudly. What is it? Why, it’s Melvin Frank and Norman Panama’s wholesome, goofy 1955 comedy, The Court Jester. The scene he’s watching is the memorable centerpiece of the film, in which Kaye’s character, a traveling singer and performer masquerading as a jester in a plot to overthrow the king, is forced into a jousting and sword-fighting tournament. The long sequence is an inspired masterpiece of fanciful comic elevation. It combines physical comedy, tongue-twisting wordplay and special effects. It’s both the highlight of the entire movie and indicative of its overall composition, being made up of individual set-pieces that can easily be enjoyed on their own but that link together to tell a loose story, even though the narrative is not really the point. It’s a bit disappointing how rarely guys like Kaye or Donald O’Connor get talked about these days. Perhaps it’s because their mugging onscreen personas seem square compared to modern comedic actors. But even a nutjob like Lou Bloom can see how purely funny Kaye was. Maybe The Court Jester’s inclusion in Nightcrawler will lend it a dark allure that will cause people to seek it out. In any case, I look forward to re-watching it, even if it won’t ever feel the same to me again.