Monday, March 22, 2004

The Court Jester

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 21 March 2004 in Jay's Living Room (ReplayTV'ed off WGBX) (Aspect ratio cropped to 1.33:1)

The Court Jester is something of a minor amazement to me. It almost goes without saying that such a film would not be made today, although I must admit that Mike Myers might try (and the idea fills me with fear). It is a rather incredible balancing act, though - a light comedy featuring an intricate plot; a film with dialog for the stage and physicality of the circus. At no point does it ever look realistic, but neither does it feel artificial.

What makes it work, aside from the entertaining Danny Kaye in the title role, is the writing/directing team of Melvin Frank and Norman Panama. They display a keen talent for never being slaves to genre. When it needs to be, at various points, the film is a musical, a screwball comedy, a live-action cartoon, or a swashbuckling adventure, and it makes the transition from one style to the other smoothly every time. Though it features two characters in love with one another, it never gets into romantic comedy territory. Like a less-arch Princess Bride, it has only as much mushy stuff as is necessary.

The closest thing to a fault this movie has is that many of the characters seem to be played by actors a bit too old for the roles. Danny Kaye was in his forties when this was made, and Angela Lansbury (while shockingly young to those of us who basically remember her from Murder, She Wrote and The Manchurian Candidate) is a bit past her ingenue stage. Basil Rathbone had to be extensively doubled in his swordfight scenes. But, with age and experience comes skill, and their work here features comic timing that younger actors may not have managed.

There's something in The Court Jester for everyone except those who need off-color material to feel sophisticated. It's perfectly suited for children, but adults will perhaps appreciate its perfectly executed wit and craft even more. It's a movie that doesn't seem to get its just due much of the time; the type that is thought of a classic when it is brought up, but not necessarily when one attempts to list classic films.

No comments: