Filmsite Movie Review
The Court Jester (1955)
Pages: (1) (2)
Plot Synopsis (continued)

The Hypnotized "Giacomo's" Romancing of Princess Gwendolyn:

As the confident, trance-like "Giacomo" was proceeding to meet with the Princess to romance her, Jean (who had escaped from the other wenches) located and stole the key in the King's chambers to the secret tunnel passageway. In the hallway, she encountered the hypnotized "Giacomo" and gave him the key, but he misunderstood and told her: "Ah-cha-cha, you'll have to wait your turn like the others!" She informed him about a change of plans: "Fergus will bring you the infant."

The King happened to walk by and thought that "Giacomo" had selected Jean as his main wench: ("Truly as dainty a dish as ever was set before a king"). He instructed that Jean sit next to him at the evening's banquet celebration - gowned and jeweled.

"Giacomo" had been instructed to use a Tarzan-like vine to swing himself over to enter into the Princess' bed chambers in a tower - to woo her away from any other lovers. Under the influence of Griselda's spell, he spoke to the Princess with flowery prose and great flourish:

What manner of man is Giacomo? Ha ha! I shall tell you what manner of man is he. He lives for a sigh, he dies for a kiss, he lusts for the laugh, ha! He never walks when he can leap! He never flees when he can fight (thud), Oop! He swoons at the beauty of a rose. And I offer myself to you, all of me. My heart. My lips. My legs. My calves. Do what you will - my love endures. (kiss, kiss) Beat me. Kick me. (kiss, kiss) I am yours.

She noticed that he had the key to the secret passageway, and proposed that they escape at midnight together. She took the key and placed it down her bodice: "I'll keep it next to my heart; a sweet symbol of your love." They were interrupted by the King's arrival at her door, and while the King kept insisting that his resistant daughter marry Griswold, they alternatingly kept snapping their fingers at each other - causing instant changes in "Giacomo's" behavior as he hid behind a nearby curtain.

As the King shook Gwendolyn, the key dropped to the floor - and he suspected her of tricking him to elope with "Giacomo." He threatened: "You will marry Griswold upon the morrow, and I promise you, daughter or not, Princess or not, one move, one false move, and your neck will snap like a twig!" After the King stormed off, Gwendolyn and "Giacomo" reaffirmed their plan to run away that evening.

Still under the spell, "Giacomo" met with Sir Ravenhurst, who ordered him to carry out two plans: (1) the murder of the King's three advisors, and (2) the abduction of the Princess from the castle before midnight (if Plan # 1 failed). When "Giacomo" returned to Griselda, she released him from her spell - and he remembered nothing of what had transpired.

"Giacomo's" Confusion About His Conflicting Instructions -
To Help Save the Royal Child, To Assassinate the King, To Elope with Gwendolyn, or To Entertain as a Jester?:

In the hallway, Griselda overheard Sir Ravenhurst plotting to ensure the marriage of Gwendolyn to Griswold that was to be announced that evening. Maid Jean relayed a message to Fergus: "You must take the child to the jester. To the jester! Immediately. He has the key." When "Giacomo" was called into the King's presence (who was fawning over his beautiful "wench" Jean) for the evening's banquet, he received four conflicting sets of instructions:

  • to follow Maid Jean's orders, Fergus handed "Giacomo" the royal child hidden in a basket and instructed him to "Use the key" to escape through the tunnel - "Giacomo" didn't know that the King had retrieved the key he had lost to Gwendolyn
  • Ravenhurst reiterated the order of murders for Plan # 1: ("Brockhurst, Finsdale, Pertwee")
  • Gwendolyn whispered their elopement plans at midnight: ("Midnight. Horses at the north gate")
  • the King ordered his guards to get "Giacomo" to enter the banquet hall: "Summon the jester!"

As the court jester, "Giacomo" was compelled by the King to entertain everyone at the banquet. He responded with a nonsense-sentence: "If your Majesty doth ask it, I will tell about the basket with a willow willow waley and a nonny nonny." He sang "Willow, Willow, Waley / Pass The Basket" to briefly distract everyone as the royal child was being handed around in a basket. "Giacomo" sang a longer song: "The Maladjusted Jester" in which
the lyrics described how "Giacomo" had become a jester. After he was born "gloomy" and "forlorn," he was told by a witch that he would make a perfect jester:

What else could he be but a jester? A jester a jester, a funny idea a jester No butcher no baker no candlestick maker And me with the look of a fine undertaker Impressed her - as a jester?

Then, he recalled how he trained himself to become a "merryman" or "fool":

But I'm proud to recall that in no time at all With no other recourses but my own resources With firm application and determination I made a fool of myself!

He traveled to Spain and learned how to dance there: ("I learned every step they had planned The first step of all isn't hard to recall Cause the first step of all is to stand, and stand, and stand, and stand"). He ended the song with these lyrics:

I was battered and bruised but the King was amused
And before a siesta he made me his jester
And I found out soon that to be a buffoon
Was a serious thing as a rule
For a jester's chief employment
Is to kill himself for your enjoyment
And a jester unemployed is nobody's fool

To initiate a plan in the works by Ravenhurst to eliminate the King's three Lords-advisors, Griselda inserted poison pellets in three flagons. Jean was able to rescue the child in the basket and whisk him away to safety (with Fergus) as "Giacomo" proposed a toast to the King. The King's three Lords Brockhurst, Finsdale and Pertwee fell over dead when they drank from the poisoned flagons.

Sir Griswold's Arrival at the Castle - and Princess Gwendolyn's Resistance to Her Father's Demands To Marry Him:

At the same time, Sir Griswold arrived at the castle to claim Princess Gwendolyn as his wife, but she was resistant to the political alliance that included her forced royal marriage, and instead declared her love for "Giacomo":

There will be no alliance and no marriage....I cannot marry Griswold, father. I love another...I have found my love, father. My true love...The man I love is a simple man, but noble of heart. My beloved Giacomo!

Caught between the King's demands and Gwendolyn's rebellion, "Giacomo" was arrested and jailed: ("Take the swine out and hang him!"). Others were as stunned by the news as the King himself, including Maid Jean and Sir Griswold. Sir Griswold proposed a jousting-dueling match to the death against "Giacomo" to avenge his own insult and dishonor, to be held the following day.

A Jousting Tournament Proposed to Determine Gwendolyn's Marital Partner -
Sir Griswold vs. The Newly-Knighted "Giacomo":

Sir Ravenhurst was informed that "Giacomo" was an imposter (and wrongly thought he was the Black Fox, a commoner). He proposed that the King 'knight' the commoner "Giacomo" ("Knight the jester") so he could rightfully participate in the next day's tournament against Sir Griswold. The King agreed to the idea - confident that Griswold would be the winner (and marriage partner for his daughter). Sir Ravenhurst was hoping for the opposite result - that "The Black Fox" ("Giacomo") would be the victor - as part of his plan to overthrow the monarchy.

A jousting-dueling tournament between Sir Griswold and "Giacomo" was prefaced by "Giacomo's" sped-up "series of tests of manhood, skill, and courage requisite to his becoming a knight of the realm" - i.e., scaling a stone wall in armor, kill a hawk with a long bow, defeat a wild boar bare-handed, etc.

Jean's Flirtations with the King to Reacquire the Secret Passageway Key:

Behind the scenes, Jean attempted to steal back the secret tunnel key by flirting with the lusty King. In the very humorous scene, she held off his romantic advances and desires for a kiss by concocting a tale of fatal illness ("Breckinridge's scourge") in her family that had first killed her father - a "scourge brought about his untimely end." She went on to describe his horrible suffering, as the King tried to kiss her:

King: Oh, my dear, you are a delicate, lovely creature. Tell me, does it bother you that I may be a few years your senior?
Jean: Oh, no, sire, not really. In fact, you remind me so much of my dear and recently departed father.
King: Oh, your father, yes. Well, was he a handsome figure of a man? Dashing, effective...
Jean: Oh, yes, sire, 'till the scourge brought about his untimely end.
King: Uh, come here, my dear.
Jean: What a horrible death!
King: A little closer...
Jean: I can see him now, writhing on the floor in agony, like so many of his brothers and cousins and uncles and aunts.
King: Yes. Would you grant the king a little kiss?
Jean: Oh, certainly, sire, and don't worry. They say it isn't catching.
King: Oh, you are a little - catching?
Jean: Just because it runs in the family doesn't mean that everyone has it.

After having convinced him of her family's lethal scourge, she hilariously turned the tables on him and began advancing on him, but now he was hesitant to be close to her and backed away:

Jean: Kiss me, sire!
King: Has it? Has what?
Jean: Don't I please you, sire?
King: Oh, yes, yes, but, eh, these brothers and cousins and uncles...
Jean: And aunts. Let us not talk about their swollen, twisted, pain ridden bodies. Hold me, take me in your arms, tell me I am yours!
King: But this, this uh writhing on the floor...
Jean: In agony.
King: Yes, wh-what's... how does one catch this thing?
Jean: Oh, the touch of a hand, the brush of a lip, but let us not spoil this moment, sire! Hold me, hold me close!

The scene ended with the King's quavering voice asking to be excused: "Excuse me, dear, I'm feeling rather poorly."

Jean delivered the absconded key back to stableman Fergus who suggested: "It must be sent by pigeon to the Black Fox at once!" Jean also warned "Giacomo" with a note that his knighting was part of a conspiracy to kill him.

Once "Giacomo" was knighted by the King, Griswold predictably challenged "Giacomo" to a duel that would likely lead to his death. Jean assured "Giacomo" that the Black Fox would arrive in time to fight the challenge for him. The Princess (fearful of having to marry Griswold) threatened Griselda to use her witch-powers to help save her: ("Remember this.. if he dies, you die"). Sir Ravenhurst observed as Jean again met with Fergus and gave him a note to accompany the key - to summon the Black Fox for an imminent attack on the castle. After sending the message, Fergus was apprehended. (After the jousting tournament, it was announced that Fergus had been tortured to death by Sir Ravenhurst's men.)

The Black Fox's Plan to Invade the Castle:

Meanwhile, the summoned Black Fox approached to invade the castle through the secret tunnel, but the passageway had collapsed. The Black Fox realized he would need to devise a new strategy. With a delay in the Black Fox's arrival, "Giacomo" feared facing his deadly jousting opponent Sir Griswold for "a battle to the death for the hand of the fair Gwendolyn." Griselda surreptitiously placed a poison pellet in a toasting vessel with a pestle, and then informed "Giacomo" -- "Griswold dies as he drinks the toast."

The Second Major Instance of Word-Play - The "Vessel with the Pestle (or The Pellet with the Poison)" Sequence:

The film's most memorable sequence was a tongue-twisting "Vessel with the Pestle (or The Pellet with the Poison)" dialogue (with hilarious results). Griselda used a riddle that included instructions on how to avoid the poisoned drink. Specifically, "Giacomo" was instructed to remember the poisoned cup and drink location for the pre-joust toast with Griswold - it was in a vessel ("the vessel with the pestle") with drink that was poisoned by a pellet:

- I have put a pellet of poison in one of the vessels.
- Which one?
- The one with the figure of a pestle.
- The vessel with the pestle?
- Yes. But you don't want the vessel with the pestle, you want the chalice from the palace!
- I don't want the vessel with the pestle, I want the chalice from the what?
- The chalice from the palace!
- It's a little crystal chalice with a figure of a palace.
- Does the chalice from the palace have the pellet with the poison?
- No, the pellet with the poison's in the vessel with the pestle.
- Oh, oh, the pestle with the vessel.
- The vessel with the pestle.
- What about the palace from the chalice?
- Not the palace from the chalice! The chalice from the palace!
- Where's the pellet with the poison?
- In the vessel with the pestle!
- Don't you see? The pellet with the poison's in the vessel with the pestle.
- The chalice from the palace has the brew that is true!
- It's so easy, I can say it!
- Well then you fight him!
- Listen carefully. The pellet with the poison's in the vessel with the pestle. The chalice from the palace has the brew that is true.
- Where the pellet with the poison's in the vessel with the pestle, the chalice from the palace has the brew that is true.
- Good man.
- Just remember that.

"Giacomo" was ordered to put on his armor to prepare for the jousting challenge. He then tried to repeat back for himself what he had just memorized:

- The pellet with the poison, the pellet with the poison is in the vessel with the pestle. The chalice from the palace has the true that is brew. Uh... brew that is tru- . The pellet with the poison's in the vessel with the pestle. The chalice from the palace has the true that is brew. Uh, brew that is true. Uh. The chestle with the pal- uh, uh, the palace with the...

After a short interruption when lightning struck "Giacomo's" body armor (and magnetized it), he continued - and became even more confused:

- The pestle with t... the pellet with the poison's in the vessel with the pestle, the palace from the chalice has the brew that is blue. Uh, no... The pellet with the poison's in the vessel with the pestle. The cha- uh, the pellet with the plip... the pellet with the poisle's in the vessel with the plazzle. Uh, the plazzle with the vlessle. Uh, the the bless... The vessel with the plozle is the plazzle with the...The pestle with the poilet...The pellet with the poisley's from the chalice with the pazley.

When "Giacomo" saw Griselda again, he proudly repeated the proper phrase:

- I've got it! I've got it. The pellet with the poison's in the vessel with the pestle. The chalice from the palace has the brew that is true, right?

Griselda's Change of Directions For the Pre-Joust Toast: "The Pellet with the Poison's in the Flagon with the Dragon!":

But then, she reported that there was a change in the directions when the original vessel broke and the poison was now in the flagon with the dragon:

- Right. But there's been a change. They broke the chalice from the palace!
- They broke the chalice from the palace?
- And replaced it with a flagon.
- With a flagon...?
- With the figure of a dragon.
- Flagon with a dragon.
- Right.
- But did you put the pellet with the poison in the vessel with the pestle?
- No! The pellet with the poison's in the flagon with the dragon! The vessel with the pestle has the brew that is true!
- The pellet with the poison's in the flagon with the dragon. The vessel with the pestle has the brew that is true.
- Just remember that...

As "Giacomo" learned the new directions, he was unaware that Griswold's assistant was listening in. "Giacomo" continued to mumble and repeat a jumble of warnings about the location of the poison to imprint them in his mind: ("The pellet with the chasley, uh, uh... the pellet with the poison is in the pasley with the chazzle....The poisel with the plesley is the chaz... uh...The pellet with the poisley is the chalice with the... he he...The pellet with the poisle is in the flaggle with the chalice....Eh, ah, the chazzle is in the poisley with the plellice with the plan- eh, plaglice....The pezley with the poisle is..."). Shortly later, as "Giacomo" approached toward his joust-combatant Sir Griswold, his phrases become more and more confused and senseless.

Meanwhile, Griswold had been warned by his assistant about the original (and revised) warning about a poisoned drink. Griswold also tried to repeat the phrases to himself - but he became thoroughly confused about which vessel with poison should be avoided: "The pellet with the poison's in the flagon with the dragon, the pestle with the pizzle... the pizzle with the f- the, the, the viss...Vessel with the pestle. The vessel with the pestle has the brew that is true...The palace with the dragon....The poison's in the dragon with the pestle....The pellet with the dragon's in the pestle with the poi-..."

The pre-joust toast, with the two drink cups - the vessel with the pestle and the flagon with the dragon, was ultimately called off: (King: "Stop this mockery. There will be no toast!").

During the joust between them, "Giacomo's" magnetized suit of armor and shield attracted Griswold's mace and chain jousting weapon - and Griswold was yanked off his horse and defeated. "Giacomo" refused to take Griswold's life ("I grant your life"), and the King reluctantly declared "Giacomo" the winner (of the contest and of his daughter): "I hereby decree that you shall marry the Princess Gwendolyn."

Sir Ravenhurst's Claim That "Giacomo" Was an Imposter:

Still believing that "Giacomo" was "neither Giacomo nor jester," Sir Ravenhurst accused "Giacomo" of being the Black Fox - a treasonous traitor, and ordered him to be arrested with Jean: ("his foul accomplice") to both face a trial.

At the forest's entrance to the collapsed secret passageway leading to the King's castle, the Black Fox ushered in Hawkins' army of "little people" friends into the opening. It would be the only way to infiltrate the palace through the narrow tunnel. The remainder of the group of full-siized "Merry Men" took the slower coast road to the castle.

During a trial hearing, Sir Ravenhurst accused "Giacomo" and Jean of harboring a royal child in the castle with the ultimate aim of overthrowing the King:

Not only is this man the Black Fox, but he and his despicable accomplice, have the shameful effrontery, to shelter in this castle, the miserable child, they would put on your very throne!

The Invasion of the Castle by Hawkins' "Little People" and the Black Fox:

At the same time, the "little people" had already successfully entered the castle, and stealthily helped to free the two defendants. They scaled the rafters and set up offensive positions. The army of midgets led by Hawkins took control of the basket holding the royal child, rescued Jean, attacked and knocked out the King's guards and catapulted them into the castle's moat. "Giacomo" - who declared himself as the Black Fox, led the charge of his "little people." Jean knocked out the door guard and raised the drawbridge gate, to let in the Black Fox's men (disguised as monks) who had just arrived, to initiate a successful attack.

"Giacomo's" Sword-Duel with Sir Ravenhurst:

To save "Giacomo" from Sir Ravenhurst during a one-sided sword duel, Gwendolyn again threatened Griselda - "If he dies, you die." The witch again hypnotized "Giacomo" by casting another spell: "Tails of lizards, ears of swine, chicken gizzard soaked in brine, on your feet, be not afraid, you're the greatest with a blade!" The hypnotized "Giacomo" now believed that he was a confident and skilled swordsman and taunted Ravenhurst. During their amusing combative duel, random finger snaps alternatingly-switched "Giacomo" between a master dueler and a cowardly circus performer.

[Note: The duel included a parody of the candle-slicing scene from The Mark of Zorro (1940) - also starring Rathbone.]

In the end, "Giacomo" defeated his opponent - not with his sword - but by launching him, with Jean's help, from the catapult.

The Ouster of King Roderick, and the Reinstatement of the True Young Child-King:

The film concluded with the defeat and ouster of throne-usurper King Roderick, and the revelation of the true young King (with the purple pimpernel birthmark) to Sir Griswold and his army:

This man is not the true king. He has usurped the throne from the legitimate heir....He who bears the mark of the royal bloodline.

"Giacomo" and Jean briefly reprised the song: "Life Could Not Better Be": "The real king is on the throne, Jean is my very own, and life couldn't possibly, not even probably, life couldn't possibly better be!" Strangely, Princess Gwendolyn and Sir Griswold were seen in the crowd holding hands.

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