Judge Jim Thomas knows all too well that an unemployed jester is nobody's fool.
Our review of The Five Pennies, published June 19th, 2006, is also available.
Do you know where the pellet with the poison is?
The Court Jester
The songs were co-written by Sylvia Fine, Kaye's wife. Fine had a perfect understanding of Kaye's vocal strengths, and carefully tailored songs for him in several other movies as well—Including our second feature here. "Life Could Not Better Be," which opens and closes the movie, sets the tone perfectly—a silly little ditty that references the credits as they play, while Kaye, in jester's motley, sings the song while moving around to avoid the credits. It clearly announces, "Hey, we're just having some fun here, so kick back and enjoy the show." Kaye himself is in rare form—this is the movie he's best remembered for, and with good reason. Not only does he have great chemistry with Glynis Johns, but his physical performance is a marvel, particularly once the fingers start snapping. The one weak link is, believe it or not, Angela Lansbury as the false king's daughter Gwendolyn—it's not so much that there's anything wrong with her performance, it's just that the part is so weakly written that just about anyone could have played it. Mildred Natwick, delightful as the mother in Barefoot in the Park, has a blast as Grizelda, Gwendonlyn's servant with a talent for witchcraft, and stands toe-to-toe with Kaye.
Basil Rathbone essentially pays homage to his own performance 17 years earlier in The Adventures of Robin Hood; again, he's the wily advisor to a usurping monarch, and is suitably oily and scheming. Rathbone was an accomplished fencer; however, he was in his 60s when this movie was made, and was slowing down a bit. After just two weeks of fencing practice, Kaye was so fast with a sword that they had to get a double for Rathbone—you'll notice that every time Kaye is pulling off a dazzling array of attacks, parries, and ripostes, Ravenhurst always has his back to the camera. Rathbone was a good sport about it, and often joked about it in interviews.
The Five Pennies
Trivia: Red Nichols performed all of Danny Kaye's cornet solos.
The Five Pennies is somewhat frustrating. The kernel of a sweet, if somewhat maudlin, story is there, and there are several scenes clearly designed to give Kaye a chance to display some range. In addition, there are some solid musical numbers, including the Oscar-nominated "Lullaby in Ragtime," as well as a few by another trumpet player of some renown, one Louis Armstrong. But interspersed throughout the movie are sequences of Kaye doing a lot of his usual schtick, which disrupts both the characterization and the narrative.
This double feature is an on-demand disc from the Warner Archive. If you grade on a curve, the disc is technically pretty good. The colors are vivid and sharp, with some slight softness on long shots, but there are a lot of blips and flecks throughout. The Court Jester was originally shot in VistaVision 1.66:1 then matted to 1.85:1 during the TechniColor printing process (a common technique). Here, the video has been cropped to 1.77:1, which under most circumstances would hardly be noticeable. However, the opening credits have a literal frame around them, making the change obvious. The Dolby Mono track is somewhat thin. While the dialogue is clear and understandable, the instrumental music is tinny with noticeable distortion. It's not enough to seriously diminish the viewing experience, but it's easily noticeable. The Five Pennies is in better shape, which substantially less film damage. There's even a Dolby 5.1 Surround track, but it's best to think of it as a very good stereo mix.
The only bonus features—a rarity for Warner Archive releases in general—are theatrical trailers for each film.
The Court Jester drags at times, particularly in the middle, but the final set pieces—from the knighting ceremony and the pellet with the poison, to the duel with Ravenhurst—are brilliantly conceived and executed, resulting in a fun sendup of the entire swashbuckling genre. This isn't the sort of movie you'd expect to find in the On Demand format. It's a classic—albeit a minor one—and a perfect candidate for a more extensive restoration. The Five Pennies is tacked on as an enjoyable but unremarkable film.
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Scales of Justice, The Court Jester
Perp Profile, The Court Jester
Studio: Warner Bros.
Distinguishing Marks, The Court Jester
Scales of Justice, The Five Pennies
Perp Profile, The Five Pennies
Studio: Warner Bros.
Distinguishing Marks, The Five Pennies
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