Sunday, September 30, 2012

Sunday’s sticky note

So I’m sitting here at the desk in the bedroom, watching a Lost in Space rerun (“Never fear—Smith is here!”), and in looking at some of the things I usually reserve for the checklist on Wednesdays, I realized some of them won’t keep.  (It’s kind of like throwing stuff out from the refrigerator.)  Top of the list is the latest Thrilling Days of Yesteryear giveaway, in which some lucky winner will win him or herself a free DVD of the Deluxe Collector’s Edition of the 1981 cult horror classic Dark Night of the Scarecrow courtesy of the good people at VCI Entertainment.  This freebie is kind of a semi tie-in with a review of the film I did for my pal Stacia’s Camp & Cult Blogathon, and all you need to do if you’re interested in a chance to win is shoot an e-mail my way (igsjrotr[at]gmail[dot]com) before 11:59 EDT tonight—put “Scarecrow Giveaway” in the subject header, and if you want to include your snail mail address you can…if you’d rather wait until you’re a confirmed winner, that’s okay-fine, too.  Monday morning I’ll draw a winner via and get the prize out to the lucky person as soon as I can.  (Offer limited to U.S. and Canadian residents only.)

This afternoon on Me-TV, they’re planning to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the premiere of The Beverly Hillbillies (okay, it was actually September 26—I’ll cut them a little slack) with a four-hour marathon (3pm-7pm EDT) of episodes from the bucolic sitcom classic that ran on CBS from 1962-71.  Which is all well and good, but next week’s edition of the Showcase (October 7) is the one you’re really going to want to set the DVR/TiVo’s/Whatever for. 

They’re going to feature eight episodes of The Millionaire, a popular anthology series that ran from 1955-60 on CBS and starred OTR veteran Marvin Miller as Michael Anthony, the assistant to a wealthy financier named John Beresford Tipton (played by the-one-and-only Paul Frees).  The premise of the series had Tipton, a guy who apparently had money burning a hole in his pocket, handing out a $1,000,000 check (tax-free) to some lucky shmoe each week via intermediary Anthony…who would then disappear after handing off the check, allowing the guest stars of each episode to use their financial windfall for better or for worse (some episodes were dramatic in content, some comedic).  Created by Don Fedderson, who would later go on to do My Three Sons and Family Affair, the show was syndicated widely after its network run but isn't aired much nowadays (hey, it’s in black-and-white…and unless it’s got a wacky redhead and her Cuban husband most outlets won’t touch it) except for a handful of episodes that were shown on the once-proud TVLand in 1999.  A real TV rarity, the following episodes are scheduled (according to the Me-TV website, all times are EST):

03:00pm (#001) “Amy Moore” (debut episode)
03:30pm (#039) “John Hardin”
04:00pm (#066) “Virginia Lennart”
04:30pm (#085) “Jerry Bell”
05:00pm (#114) “Rod Matthews”
05:30pm (#146) “Lee Randolph”
06:00pm (#160) “Alicia Osante”
06:30pm (#197) “Julie Sherman”

I’ve never seen this series—save for the occasional clip—so I’m pretty jazzed about the opportunity to get to visit with it.  The week after The Millionaire, the channel has an Ironside marathon planned (Oct. 14), so you might want to save some DVR space for that, too.

While I’m the subject of classic TV, a couple of TV-on-DVD announcements that I need to get out of the way; TV Shows on reports that the Iron Horse: Season 1 collection that was to be released on MOD DVD by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment this October 2…has been scrapped.  They didn’t give a reason, and from the TSOD blurb the release apparently won’t be rescheduled soon.

But TSOD does report that the sixth and final season of the Lucille Ball sitcom Here’s Lucy will be released this December 18th on a 4-disc set (priced at $29.95 SRP) with all twenty-four episodes.  They’ve not announced any extras or bonuses for this set, but there is a pre-order listing up at; the completist in me has already stuck this on his wish list.

And the last item on the sticky note: more blogathon fun!  What’s more, a blogathon in keeping with the spirit of October and Halloween—one dedicated to the legendary Val Lewton.  With the “deets,” here’s kristina from speakeasy:

Horror Film Master

Horrors! Get ready for the Val Lewton blogathon! Kristina of the Speakeasy blog and Stephen aka Classic Movie Man will be cohosting this event.

Lewton, the subject of a documentary produced by none other than Academy Award winning director, Martin Scorsese (Val Lewton: The Man in the Shadows, 2007) was a horror film genius. He didn’t invent the horror film, but elevated it to a new level by commissioning literate scripts, (often written anonymously by himself), carefully casting his main characters, and incorporating film noir techniques. Not a household name, Lewton  produced the horror classics Cat People (1942) and I Walked With a Zombie (1943). Often imitated, Lewton influenced legendary directors Scorsese, William Friedkin, and George Romero, to name a few.

The Rules of the Blogathon

Pick a Val Lewton movie or theme that you’d like to explore. Possibly you want to discuss a certain performance, or how Lewton’s films influenced the genre. Then blog your heart out! Since there can be many takes on the same film, duplicate posts will be allowed, but feel free to check this page to see what’s already being covered. In the body of your blog post, please mention the blogathon with links, or just cut and paste this handy bit here:

This post is part of the Val Lewton blogathon hosted by Stephen aka Classic Movie Man &  Kristina of the Speakeasy blog  – see more posts at either Classic Movie Man’s Lewton page or the Speakeasy Lewton page

E-mail Stephen at or Kristina at  to let us know which movie you want to do. When corresponding, please include “blogathon” in the subject line of your e-mail. Along with your link, please include your Twitter handle, if you have one. It will help us promote you, your blog, and the blogathon.

Ready, Set, Boo!

When your post is complete, send the link by end of day October 26, 2012 (Central Time, US). Links to posts will go live on October 31, 2012. Your submissions will be posted to both Classic Movie Man and Kristina’s Speakeasy blogs. The combined posts will include the titles of your blog posts with their respective links to your blog.

Any questions, please contact Stephen or Kristina.

Kristina was nice enough to give me a heads-up on this on Twitter, and I have RSVP’d with my intention to do a post on my favorite Val Lewton film, The Seventh Victim (1943)…so I’m pretty stoked about that.  Just thought I’d throw in a little plug for here in case anyone else is interested.

And with that…I have to take a trip to Mayberry.  Bye cartooners!

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Adventures of Sir Galahad – Chapter 6: Passage of Peril

OUR STORY SO FAR:  Apprentice ka-niggit Galahad (George Reeves), seeking entrance as a member in good standing with the Knights of the Round Table, embarrassingly flunks his initiation into that fraternity by allowing a mysterious personage known as The Black Knight to make off with the invincible sword of King Arthur’s (Nelson Leigh) known as Excalibur.  The sword has fallen into the hands of sleazy Saxon king Ulric (John Merton), whose ambition to dethrone Arthur isn’t helped by the fact that his toadying assistant Bartog (Don C. Harvey) is deemed by many observers to be a drag on the ticket.

Galahad miraculously manages to retrieve Excalibur in mortal combat…but because this serial has ten more chapters to go, it’s not long before he’s sidetracked into helping Sir Lancelot (Hugh Prosser) and a couple of other captured knights escape from Ulric’s lair,  Back in Camelot, Galahad proudly shows Sir Kay (Jim Diehl) and Sir Modred (Leonard Penn) that he’s recovered the sword…and then Merlin (William Fawcett)—who’s secretly in cahoots with Ulric—takes a dump on Galahad’s good news by pronouncing the sword a fake.  Modred has decided to rid everyone of Galahad’s “treachery” once and for all by raising his sword in order to cut off Gallie’s head…

…but before any bloodshed occurs, a sentry calls out that the King approaches…and Modred’s potentially fatal blow is warded off by Sir Bors (Charles King), Galahad’s comic relief sidekick.  With the arrival of Arthur, you know what this means…somebody’s going to get a lecture (“What have I told you people about the cutting off of heads in the castle?”):

ARTHUR: Did my ears deceive me, or did I hear Galahad condemned to death?

“Um…we were just roughhousing, your Majesty…honest, it was all in fun!”

KAY: You heard correctly, m’Lord…
ARTHUR: By what authority was sentence passed?
KAY: This blackguard who calls himself Galahad has committed the supreme crime against the Crown!
ARTHUR: What is this crime?
KAY: Treason…your Majesty…

“Also…his steed was parked in a red zone.”

GALAHAD: Sire, it is untrue!  I am unjustly accused!

Maybe it’s just me, but I noticed that when Modred was getting ready to take a little off Galahad’s top, Lancelot kind of receded into the background.  Now that Galahad’s decided to mount a defense, he conveniently steps back into the picture.  He should change his name to Sir Weathervane.

ARTHUR: You shall have ample opportunity to speak in your defense, young Galahad… (To Kay) Continue…
KAY: He has consorted with the enemy with traitorous intent…and he has conspired to possess the invincible Excalibur for himself…hoping thus to gain supreme power… (Pointing to the sword, which is in Merlin’s possession) Here is the sword he delivered to Camelot this day…if you will examine it; you will see that it is a clever imitation

Well…it’s really not all that clever.

ARTHUR (looking intently at the sword): It’s truly a most convincing counterfeit…
KAY: It’s plain to see that Galahad kept the true sword…hoping to deceive you with this fraudulent weapon…
ARTHUR: What counsel do you have in this matter, wise Merlin?

“Hang the sumbitch.”

MERLIN: The facts are self-evident…whoever seizes Excalibur usurps your power…
ARTHUR: These are grave charges, Galahad…what do you offer in defense?

“I’ve been eating a lot of Twinkies lately, your Majesty…”

GALAHAD: Noble King…the accusation is false…as false as that sword you now hold in your hand…
ARTHUR: Then you willfully delivered this sword to Camelot…when you knew it to be a counterfeit…
GALAHAD: No, my King…I didn’t know it then…and I know now that Ulric never possessed the true Excalibur…
ARTHUR: You speak with certainty…what proof do you have?
GALAHAD: The proof, my liege, lies in the fact that we both still live…had Ulric possessed the true Excalibur, he would have cut you down in battle and slain me when I attempted to seize it…
ARTHUR: Your defense is well-taken…in all fairness, I can do nothing but accept what you say as truth…

Brother…Galahad has got the gift of b.s., has he not?  I have a feeling if Arthur opened the doors to his chambers and found Gal in bed with Guinevere it’d be: “Noble King…the accusation is false…I was merely looking for a contact lens.”

MODRED: We are moved by your eloquence, Galahad…but let us not forget—the kingdom is still in jeopardy so long as King Arthur…is without his sword…
GALAHAD: Your Majesty…I beg your leave to seek out one to take me to Excalibur…
ARTHUR: You have knowledge of such a person?
GALAHAD: Yes, Sire…I have…it was Bartog, Ulric’s chamberlain, who carried Excalibur from Camelot…it’s conceivable…that he gave Ulric a false sword and kept the true Excalibur for himself…
ARTHUR: But are you certain of this?
GALAHAD: Sir Bors will bear me out…
BORS: I witness…Bartog has the sword…

While it’s conceivable that Galahad could have learned that Bartog delivered Excalibur to his king by eavesdropping on Ulric’s tent…I don’t know how Bors was able to see all this, since he was monkeying around in drag and then later came close to having a red hot branding iron shoved up his backside.  Writers be lazy!

GALAHAD: Sire, I beg you…give me leave to hunt him down…
LANCELOT: There’s nothing lost…why not grant his wish?

“Thanks for the support, Lancie…I still haven’t forgotten, though, about you having other things to do when this dillweed was trying to cut off my head…”  Arthur once again demonstrates how Galahad continues to snow him at every turn by saying, “Go then…and good luck attend your mission.”  (You just know that once he’s ridden out of Camelot’s gate Galahad will yell back “Suckers!”)

No, I need to be serious.  Galahad and Bors ride off in the direction of Ulric’s cave.  They eventually arrive at a clearing, where they stop their horses momentarily.

BORS: I don’t like the looks of this place…
GALAHAD: Neither do I…go through we must!

Okay, it’s not quite as memorable as last week’s “I not only dare…I must!”—and why is he talking like Yoda all of a sudden?  So our heroes continue on, and pass by a checkpoint where two archers stand sentry…but because Ulric has hired the worst bowmen in the kingdom, Galahad and Bors need not worry about being fired upon.  Instead, the two men wait until they see three more archers riding up and one of them gives the other men the high sign, prompting a man in that group to observe “Enemies approach…dismount!”

So the three archers jump off their horses and take their positions, with the other two bowmen doing the same.  Galahad and Bors ride into view, and even though the five guards totally suck when it comes to archery, it gives Galahad pause as to whether he wants to chance dying in only the sixth chapter.

BORS: Why do we wait here?  Let’s finish them, and have it done with…
GALAHAD: No…one of them might get away and alarm Ulric’s camp…
BORS: We can’t stay where we are…
GALAHAD: You can…I’m going to scatter the Saxons’ horses…try not to make such a broad target

“Hey…was that a fat joke?”  So Galahad leaps off his horse and makes his way towards the horses belonging to the three bowmen while Bors serves as a decoy, assured in the knowledge that they probably won’t kill him.  (“I just can’t manage to hit the fat guy.”)  Galahad scatters the horses to the four winds, and Bors rides at breakneck speed with Galahad’s horse…

…I like the bit above: “Taxi!”—allowing the two of them to continue their assault on Ulric’s camp.  Notice…

…that the five bowmen stand around like doofuses, apparently unaware that the instruments in their hand are capable of launching sharp pointy sticks at great distances—and that even though the odds of them hitting either Galahad or Bors are remote, they could have at least made the effort.

An optical wipe brings Galahad and Bors closer to Ulric’s lair, whereupon Bors observes “Ulric’s cave is well-guarded.”

“Stay with the horses until I return,” Galahad tells him, as he stealthily makes his way toward the cave entrance.  Okay, I’m kidding about that part—he makes enough noise in the forest to attract the attention of two sentries, and then having successfully sneaked past them he approaches the last guard…

…who’s apparently sitting down for a smoke.  For some odd reason, Galahad attacks him from behind, dagger at the ready—but he doesn’t actually stab him.  (More on this in a bit.)

Galahad is now in the cave, and that goblet of wine that Ulric is downing in the background wasn’t a good idea, because actor Merton is now going to have a little trouble with his beard at the corners as he’s dressing down Bartog.

ULRIC: Cowardly fools…victory within my grasp…and my brave warriors flee like frightened rats!

If memory serves me correct, he compared men running for the hills to scared rodents last week, too.  I myself have never seen a frightened rat—all the ones I’ve ever observed had attitude to spare.

BARTOG: You cannot blame them…
ULRIC: You defend them?  You, the scurviest coward of them all?

“Hey, it’s not my fault there’s no fresh fruit or Vitamin C in this lair…”

BARTOG: They thought the battle lost…when the invincible sword Excalibur was taken from you…
ULRIC: Invincible indeed…are you certain the sword you delivered to me was Excalibur?
BARTOG: It’s the same sword given me at Camelot…
ULRIC: Was it the same?  Or perchance a deceiving likeness?
BARTOG: I fail to understand, my King…
ULRIC: In possession of the mighty weapon…a sly fox like you might want to keep it for himself—eh, Bartog?
BARTOG: You accuse me of…
ULRIC (threatening Bartog with a dagger to the neck): What have you done with Excalibur?!!

I’ll bet he won’t fail to understand that pointy knife at his gullet.

BARTOG: I swear I delivered it to you directly!  If you have been betrayed, it was by your ally at Arthur’s court—he who gave me the sword!
ULRIC (withdrawing the dagger): There might be something in what you say…
BARTOG: The same black-hearted knight that betrays Arthur…has betrayed you also…the transaction took place in haste…it was dark…the blade was covered by a sheath…I swear I delivered it to you exactly as I received it!

This is why you should always save the receipt, Bartog.  And delivery confirmation certainly wouldn’t hurt, either.

ULRIC: Treacherous dog…he planned to see me killed
BARTOG: There is yet a way to gain Excalibur…let me ride to Camelot…and search out the Black Knight…
ULRIC: And when you confront him?  Then what?
BARTOG: Either he delivers the real Excalibur…or I denounce him as a traitor in Arthur’s court…
ULRIC: Your plan has merit, my fellow Bartog…

Well…only if the Black Knight gives up the sword.  If he refuses to do so, and Bartog denounces him as a traitor…where does that leave you?  The Black Knight ends up beheaded, so neither you nor Bartog gets the sword.  Personally, I think that plan needs a little work.

ULRIC: You may do so…then we’ll see who is the master of double dealing, eh?

My money’s on Bartog.  I wouldn’t trust that guy any farther than I could throw him.  “Yes, my king,” Bartog replies obsequiously, and a dissolve later he’s disguised himself in something from the Sherwood Forest collection, bids his King a fare-thee-well, and exits out the cave (Galahad has the presence of mind to duck down another passageway to avoid detection).  For some odd reason, Gal then doubles back to his listening post and looks in on Ulric (who’s just seated there—maybe he’s working on his memoirs), then heads out of the cave himself.  He passes by the sentry he should have stabbed with the dagger, and then from on a hill he watches as Bartog saddles up and rides off toward Camelot.

Running back in the direction where Bors is waiting with the horses, Galahad stupidly bumps a log that rolls down a hill, and that attracts the attention of a couple of guards, which means Gal has to hide in the bushes.  Then, the sentry outside the cave comes to and starts yelling for help—which is why I’m puzzled as to why Galahad didn’t run him through with the dagger in the first place.  So as the two guards go over to help the sentry, Galahad is able to cut the cinches connected to the saddles on the guards’ horses.  Catching up with Bors, the two of them watch as the guards fall on their asses when trying to mount, and share a hearty laugh at their predicament.

What ever floats your boats, fellas.  Let’s ride!

Our heroes gallop at full speed in an effort to catch up with Bartog.  But Galahad stops suddenly as they are only a stone’s throw away from Camelot…

GALAHAD: Hold on…
BORS: Hold on?  We can’t overtake Bartog nesting on the hilltop…
GALAHAD: We shall not seize him…yet
BORS: Have you lost your senses?  It soon be night…
GALAHAD (grinning): If we stop him now we learn nothing…but if we follow…he may lead us to the traitor at Camelot…
BORS: Oh…you are certainly a prince among foxes…

“And you are a pearl before swine!”  A dissolve soon results in nightfall, and parking his horse, Bartog makes his way to the secret castle entrance.  He goes inside, and seconds later Galahad activates the entrance in order to follow.  But whereas Bartog had little difficulty striding down the passageway, Galahad encounters a little trouble:

This looks like a job for Superman!  Will Galahad end up speared like a cocktail olive?  Will…oh, hell—I can’t do this.  Take it away, Knox Manning!

MANNING: Who is this mysterious Black Knight?

I don’t know, but he sounds an awful lot like a famous television millionaire…John Beresford something…

MANNING: For whom are these men searching?

Friday, September 28, 2012

The Paramount Centennial Blogathon/Camp & Cult Blogathon: The Court Jester (1956)

No doubt you’re already pointing fingers and saying: “Hey!  He’s written one essay for two blogathons…cheater!”  Well, guilty as charged—this piece is Thrilling Days of Yesteryear’s contribution to The Paramount Centennial Blogathon, being hosted by Angela at The Hollywood Revue from September 27-28…and it’s also the fourth and last entry submitted to my BBFF Stacia’s Camp and Cult Blogathon at She Blogged by Night, held from September 17-28.  It’s a Paramount picture…and its “cult” status will be explained in the course of the essay.

From January 1992 to June 2000, I lived in Morgantown, WV—a period of time I jokingly refer to often on the blog as “my years in exile.”  During that time, I made quite a few solid friendships—none more solid-er than with a group of students attending WVU (West Virginia University) whom I met, one by one, while playing NTN Trivia at the local BW3 (Buffalo Wild Wings and Weck—though the restaurant chain goes by Buffalo Wild Wings now).  Our “trivia tournaments” gradually gave way to our spending time together in other leisure pursuits: raucous parties, good and bad movies, etc.  Without getting too sloppy and sentimental about it, they were some of the best times of my life.

The members of the group, with one or two exceptions, were a lot younger than I—to give you an idea of the age discrepancy, several of them begged me to go with them to see Star Wars when it was re-released to theaters in 1997.  My argument to Bill, one of those friends, was “I already saw this movie the first time in 1977—in fact, I saw it three times.”

“I didn’t,” he replied, looking at me strangely.  “That was the year I was born.”  (So I ended up going along, not only seeing Star Wars a fourth time in the theater but also The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi—the last one a movie I swore I’d never, ever watch again, but you do those sort of things for friendship.)

Since my tastes have always run toward older movies, I was considered kind of freakish by my friends…but this kind of came in handy during trivia games, since I knew a lot of the older films and directors and they did not.  One night, for reasons I don’t quite remember, one of my comrades made a statement after we successfully answered a question and then, turning to me, asked:  “Get it?”

“Got it,” I replied.  “Good,” he responded, and then we both shared a laugh at us both knowing the film reference.  “That movie’s a little bit beyond your jurisdiction,” I teased him, but he insisted “I love The Court Jester!”  Bowled over by this cinematic common ground, I brought my VHS copy of the film with me to a video night we had planned that next weekend, where it was a big hit.  (Even the lone dissenter who hadn’t wanted to watch it admitted afterward that it was a very entertaining film.)

In medieval England, a usurper to the throne named Roderick I (Cecil Parker)—known by his subjects as “Roderick the Tyrant”—worries constantly about the threat of being overthrown…and he has every reason to be concerned.  Roderick slaughtered the royal family to become king, but is unaware that a survivor, an infant, is being cared for by a group of forest rebels whose leader (Edward Ashley) is known as The Black Fox.  The infant king, identified as the legitimate ruler due to a royal birthmark on his royal backside (a flower known as “the purple pimpernel”), is cared for by Hubert Hawkins (Danny Kaye), a ex-carnival performer who joined the rebel forces to fight Roderick’s tyranny but has wound up instead entertaining the other members of the rebellion and changing His Majesty’s didies.

One of King Roderick’s men has reported to his sovereign the location of the rebels in the forest, so steps are quickly enacted to spirit the infant to safety—Hawkins disguises himself as an elderly wine merchant, and is accompanied by Captain Jean (Glynis Johns), who poses as his deaf-mute daughter.  The two of them are stopped by Roderick’s guards as they make their way toward an abbey, and successfully fool them with their masquerade.  Seeking shelter from inclement weather in a woodman’s cottage, Jean suggests to Hawkins that their struggle against tyranny might come to a sooner end if only they could infiltrate the castle by means of a secret passageway that starts in the forest…but to do so, they will need to swipe the key (the passageway is locked at both ends) by getting access to Roderick’s chambers.  Their daring plan gets underway when they make the acquaintance of Giacomo (John Carradine)—“King of Jesters, and Jester of Kings”—who stops by the cottage to get out of the rain, and is quickly waylaid by Jean and Hawkins.  Hawkins’ assignment is to impersonate Giacomo, gaining Roderick’s trust and chambers access…whereupon he will steal the key and set in motion the rebels’ action to dethrone the pretender.

Things do not go quite as planned.  Jean and the infant (who is hidden in a basket stored in a false wine cask) are captured by Roderick’s guards, ordered by their king to round up the fairest wenches in the kingdom.  Lord Ravenhurst (Basil Rathbone), one of Roderick’s advisors, has suggested to Roderick that an alliance with Sir Griswold of MacElwain (Robert Middleton) be forged in order to stave off any attack by the Black Fox and the band of rebels.  (The alliance, in this particular instance, will be the wedded union of Griswold and Roderick’s daughter, Princess Gwendolyn [Angela Lansbury]—who’s none too receptive about the merger, by the way.)  Ravenhurst doesn’t really desire an alliance with Griswold—he agrees to it only to humor the king and the lords who did suggest the arrangement, Brockhurst (Alan Napier), Finsdale (Lewis Martin) and Pertwee (Patrick Aherne).  These three men will be disposed of by an assassin that Ravenhurst has hired through a third party…said assassin answering to “Giacomo.”

Hawkins-as-Giacomo arrives at the castle, bewildered by several events.  He’s been told to contact a confederate inside the walls—a hostler named Fergus (Noel Drayton)—but mistakenly assumes that Ravenhurst is his contact, on the basis of Ravenhurst’s nod to him (which has to do with the assassination he’s been hired to carry out).  He also finds himself hypnotized by the evil Griselda (Mildred Natwick), a witch in Gwendolyn’s employ who tells her mistress that Giacomo is her “true love” to save her from certain death (Gwen has no desire to marry Griswold, and plans on taking Griselda out with her in a suicide attempt)—Griselda convinces Hawkins that he’s “bewitched” by the princess and will pledge his heart to win her love.  In his trance, he manages to lose the secret passage key that Jean swiped from Roderick’s chambers (Roderick now wears it for safekeeping on his regal robes), arrange to spirit Gwendolyn away before the arrival of Griswold and promise Ravenhurst that he will dispose of Brockhurst, Finsdale and Pertwee. 

Clearly, this is going to take some work…but as Hawkins informs us in the song sung during the opening credits: “What starts like a scary tale ends like a fairy tale…and life couldn’t possibly better be!”

To simply label Danny Kaye as a comedian would do him a disservice.  He could be funny, and he appeared in many funny films…but he was so multi-talented (singer, actor, dancer, etc.) that he’s a walking definition of the term “entertainer.”  A Borscht Belt performer who, though he started making comedy shorts for Educational Pictures in the mid 1930s, wouldn’t achieve true motion picture stardom until after triumphing on Broadway in such hits as Lady in the Dark and Let’s Face It, Kaye signed a contract with independent producer Samuel Goldwyn in the 1940s and appeared in a hit string of musical comedies like Up in Arms (a remake of Eddie Cantor’s Whoopee!), The Kid from Brooklyn (a remake of Harold Lloyd’s The Milky Way) and A Song is Born (a remake of the Gary Cooper-Barbara Stanwyck comedy Ball of Fire).  (Okay, not all his vehicles were remakes—he also starred in Wonder Man and an adaptation of James Thurber’s The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, both of which co-starred Virginia Mayo).

Continued success in film comedies like The Inspector General, On the Riviera (another remake, this one of Folies Bergère and That Night in Rio) and Knock on Wood was a dress rehearsal for what I think (as do many others) is Kaye’s finest picture, The Court Jester (1956).  Written, directed and produced by the team of Melvin Frank and Norman Panama (who also did the same duty on Kaye’s Knock on Wood), the spoof on sword-and-sorcery films cost a lavish $4 million to make, making it the most expensive film comedy produced at the time.

And…it tanked at the box office.  Hard to believe, I know—but the picture only brought in 2.2 million in receipts.  Yet it would later become a television favorite, which is where I saw it…and I’m guessing my Morgantown friends did as well.  Come to think of it, one of those friends and I made a weekend trip to Maryland at the end of 1999 (for a New Year’s celebration) and made arrangements to stay with sister Debbie and her husband Craige.  We ended up watching the movie when we came across it on one of the cable stations.

I think The Court Jester is one of filmdom’s most perfect comedies.  There’s not one bit of footage in the film that goes to waste, every situation and every event is securely in place like brick-and-mortar, eventually leading up to an important part of the plot.  As a rule, I’m not all that wild about musical comedies—I always think of the classic Groucho line in Horse Feathers when his brother Chico starts his piano solo: “I’ve got to stay here, but there’s no reason why you can’t go into the lobby for a smoke till this all blows over”—but all the songs and specialty numbers work; they compliment the comedy rather than overpower it.  The songs—written by Mrs. Kaye, Sylvia Fine, and Sammy Cahn—include such gems as “The Maladjusted Jester” (“An unemployed jester is nobody’s fool”) and the bouncy title tune, “Life Could Not Better Be.”

And of course, there’s that marvelous comic patter (“Get it?  Got it.  Good.”), culminating with the classic “Pellet with the Poison” sequence.   It’s not like it’s a new routine—variations of it appeared earlier in films like Eddie Cantor’s Roman Scandals and both Bob Hope vehicles Never Say Die and The Paleface—but it became so identified with Danny Kaye that his daughter Dena once commented complete strangers would come up to her famous dad and quote it verbatim.  My favorite part of the routine has Kaye’s Hawkins having difficulty remembering that “the pellet with the poison’s in the vessel with the pestle…the chalice from the palace has the brew which is true.”  “It’s so easy I can say it,” Jean tells him.  “Well, then you fight him,” snaps Hawkins without missing a beat.

The Court Jester is the movie that made me a Glynis Johns devotee, and even though I was already a huge fan of Basil Rathbone’s from the Sherlock Holmes films I became even more enamored of his talents due to his first-rate villainy (it works because he plays it perfectly straight) in the film.  Bas, who was certainly no slouch when it came to fencing, unfortunately had to let the fight choreographer do most of the heavy lifting in his hilarious swashbuckling battle with Kaye because Danny’s movements were so difficult to keep up with (Rathbone was 63 at the time).  The supporting cast in this film—Parker, Lansbury, Natwick, Middleton, Herbert Rudley—is positive perfection; the only blemish is that John Carradine, a longtime TDOY fave, only gets a few minutes of screen time as the jester whom Kaye’s character will be called on to participate.

A week or two back on Facebook, one of my fellow classic film aficionados was making an argument that the Charlie Chaplin classic Modern Times was the perfect film comedy; I am, of course, a huge fan of the film (even though I confess I love City Lights more) but I don’t think I’d quibble with its perfection—and what’s more, there are other comedies that are equally deserving of that status: Keaton’s The General, the Marx Brothers’ Duck Soup, etc.  But I’d definitely have to clear some brush to make sure The Court Jester was listed near the top.  It’s one of the first films I purchased on DVD when I finally got a player in 1999, and every time I slip it into the player I know I’m guaranteed to be entertained and amused during its 101-minute running time.  Life couldn’t possibly better be.