Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5.
USA, 1955. Dena Enterprises. Screenplay by Norman Panama, Melvin Frank. Cinematography by Ray June. Produced by Melvin Frank, Norman Panama. Music by Walter Scharf, Vic Schoen. Production Design by Roland Anderson, Hal Pereira. Costume Design by Edith Head, Yvonne Wood. Film Editing by Tom McAdoo. Golden Globe Awards 1956.
Danny Kaye reunites with his Knock On Wood directors Melvin Frank and Norman Panama for another witty comedy that shows off his skills both as a comedian and as a wonder of acrobatic finesse. This time the setting is Ye Olde England as Kaye plays a member of a group of rebels under the Robin Hood-esque “Black Fox”, who plans to lead them in a revolt against the imposter king upon the throne; the baby with the purple pimpernel tattoo in their possession is the rightful heir and their goal is to restore him to power. Longing to be a part of things despite being not the most virile member of the group, Kaye agrees to travel to the tyrant king’s palace and find a way into his secret tunnel, which runs from the forest to the castle, as opening it would allow the Black Fox and his army to rush in and stage a coup. He’s also hoping to impress the gorgeous leading lady of the rebellion (Glynis Johns), and when he and Johns happen upon a snobby, ornately dressed jester (played by John Carradine), they tie him up and take his clothes, allowing for Kaye to come to the palace as the magnificent “Giacomo” and hide in plain sight for the king’s amusement. The complications that Panama and Frank find to throw Kaye into from this point onward are a whirlwind of good-natured laughs, from the passionate advances of the princess (a gorgeous Angela Lansbury), the spells cast on him by the princess’s lady in waiting (Mildred Natwick) and his accidentally being entered into a jousting contest with a rival for Lansbury’s hand (which also gives us a delightful run of dialogue involving “the vessel with the pestle”). Colourful and sweet, this spoof of Errol Flynn swashbucklers is smart to rely on Kaye’s talent and it’s one of his richest roles, he gets to be both the real thing (including some impressive sword-fighting) and an ironic comment on it (sometimes doing both in a matter of seconds at the behest of snapping fingers), while the brightly lit, artificial-looking sets contribute to a sense of fairy tale fancy-free that amuses throughout.