The Court Jester ★★★

There's something about Danny Kaye that I find off-putting, and that, probably unfairly, put The Court Jester at a disadvantage. it's an amiable comedy with a few nice laughs, and I appreciated it most when I could detect in Kaye's quips the influence that he undoubtedly had on Woody Allen (the plot of The Court Jester even slightly foreshadows Allen's great 1975 comedy Love and Death). Allen's persona, however, fits one or more of a few very common comic archetypes — misfit, neurotic, buffoon — all of which are defined by their outsider status. There's a yearning behind the comedy, a hopelessly self-sabotaging need to belong, that gives it both edge and pathos. While Kaye's character in The Court Jester could fit any of those slots — he's unappreciated and lovestruck — Kaye is too confident and self-satisfied to play weakness, which makes the humor less funny and his character less charming than he thinks he is. In fact, the basis of the comedy in The Court Jester never exploits a personal failing of Kaye's character; he merely has to weather a flurry of mayhem, and is even oblivious to most of it, coasting through with a punchable smirk on his face. Kaye trips the same knee-jerk negative reaction in me that punished Errol Flynn's The Adventures of Robin Hood two years ago: Kaye is smug, and often comes off like the cool rich kid who beat up a scrawny comedian and stole his act, compensating for his lack of vulnerability with cute little faces and dances that practically mock entertainment itself. Even that can work, if it's dryly delivered (see Bill Murray), but there's a further eagerness and energy to Kaye that results in an uncanny valley of humor. However, Kaye (or, rather, my likely insane reaction to him) doesn't totally derail The Court Jester, which features clever dialog, an army of midgets, and appealing co-stars like Glynis Johns, Angela Lansbury and Basil Rathbone. Also like The Adventures of Robin Hood, The Court Jester is colorful with some pleasingly fun swashbuckling action. I may have liked it more than I care to admit.

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