I have just introduced two people who’d never seen it before to The Court Jester. My work on this planet is done.
Watching it again after decades, it holds up every bit. But the thing that most surprises me in a way (although it really probably shouldn’t I suppose) is how much closer to feminist this 1955 light comedy is than so much coming out of Hollywood now. It’s not that it’s dangerously subversive or anything — there was no danger of it upsetting the status quo — it’s a light comedy best known for its tongue twister set piece, not a world changer. But Danny Kaye’s character is a carer, whose best characteristics are the opposite of hero machismo. And Glynnis John’s character, “Captain” Jean, is not just a warrior, but one who is able to finesse situations and use her wits to get out of sticky situations when needed. Very early on in the movie, we get a tone of respect and mutual admiration between these two as a foundation for the romantic subplot. (There really isn’t much “romance” at all in the subplot, but part of that is because there’s no false friction causing the angst between these two characters.) All the silliness comes from external stuff, and the entire daft movie has a core of mutual respect.
While a lot of things are played for laughs, the underlying fact of the movie is that that the women in the movie are the ones who plan, do, and succeed in getting things done, and the one man who succeeds in getting things done — even if mostly by accident and serendipity — is the one who respects women and fits more stereotypically “feminine” roles himself. And then there’s the smoking hot Angela Lansbury’s character Princess Gwendolyn, who knows what she wants and goes for it and doesn’t let anyone tell her no. And her companion Griselda, who while playing the old crone / witch stereotypes, manages to be one of the most active agents in the film, precipitating most of the movement in the plot. It’s all so matter of fact that it doesn’t seem at all to be meant to be part of the “comedy”. No wilting flowers here. The competence and power of the women in this Robin Hood-inspired ‘ye olde times’ musical comedy is just simple fact. The comedy lies in everything else . . . the daft situation, the army of little people, the slapstick the fast-paced dialogue, the patter songs, the ridiculous concatenation of situations and ridiculous birthmarks.
No wonder I loved this movie so much as a kid.