The Court Jester [1956] (Paramount Presents) – Blu-ray Review

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Film Title: The Court Jester (1956)
Release Date: 2021
Rating: Not Rated
Runtime: 101 minutes
Region Coding: Region Free
Studio: Paramount Presents
Audio Format: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono
Aspect Ratio(s): 1.78:1
Version Reviewed: Blu-ray
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Blu-ray Release Date: 1/26/21
Directors: Melvin Frank and Norman Panama
Cast: Danny KayeGlynis JohnsBasil Rathbone, Angela Lansbury, Cecil Parker, Mildred Natwick, Robert Middleton, Michael Pate, Herbert Rudley, Noel Drayton, John Carradine, Edward Ashley, Alan Napier

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| Video | Audio | Bonus | Closing | Screenshots
Full Blu-ray Tech Specs at bottom

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The Movie

“The Court Jester” was a 1956 film, best classified in the musical, comedy, and romance genres. The film was both written & directed by Norman Panama and Melvin Frank. The late Norman Panama and Melvin Frank were best known for (together) co-writing films such as “My Favorite Blonde” (1942), “Thank Your Lucky Stars” (1943), “And the Angels Sing” (1944), “Road to Utopia” (1945), “It Had to Be You” (1947), “Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House” (1948) and “White Christmas” (1954). The two (Panama & Frank) also together co-wrote and co-directed the films “The Reformer and the Redhead” (1950), “Callaway Went Thataway” (1951), “Strictly Dishonorable” (1951), “Above and Beyond” (1952), “Knock on Wood” (1954), and “That Certain Feeling” (1956).

Norman Panama wrote and directed the films “The Trap” (1959), “The Road to Hong Kong” (1960), and “Not with My Wife, You Don’t” (1966), with the latter of the two being co-written by Melvin Frank. And, Melvin Frank directed and co-wrote the film adaption of “Li’l Abner” (1959) and the films “The Jayhawkers!” (1959), “The Facts of Life” (1960), “Strange Bedfellows” (1965), “Buono Sera, Mrs. Campbell” (1968), “A Touch of Class” (1973), and “The Prisoner of Second Avenue” (1975). Some of those films were co-written by Norman Panama as well, as they often worked together, as well as both did quite a bit on their own later in their careers as writers, directors, and producers on films.

The story of The Court Jester is set in the Medival times, in England where the current “King Roderick I” (Cecil Parker) has just assumed his command. However, there’s a young child that bears the birthmark and is the rightful heir to the throne, as we learn very early on via the opening narration. As you’re introduced to the current King and his men, they’re being attacked by a do-gooder going by the name of “The Black Fox” along with his band of rebels and merry men of sorts.

The Black Fox character is very similar in ways to “Robin Hood” and in his band (group) you have a man whose background of being in a carnival made him the best choice to be the one to keep the men (and women) merry through his songs and comedy. This is where we find our protagonist, “Hubert Hawkins” (Danny Kaye), in camp for The Black Fox before he’s given orders to go off on a top priority mission.

Hubert is sent with a beautiful young woman, a captain, named “Jean” (Glynis Johns). The two are sent with the newborn child, hidden, bearing the birthmark, to infiltrate the kingdom of King Roderick I. They just so happen to come across a court jester that is traveling on his way to the kingdom, but he doesn’t make it there. Instead, Hubert assumes the role of ‘The Court Jester’ (hence the film’s title) and is off on his way to the kingdom, in hopes of being able to gain access to other rebels and get the child made the rightful heir to the throne.

This task seems a bit too easy, and that’s it becomes extremely complex when a sorceress, “Griselda” (Mildred Natwick) hypnotizes him and things become a bit much for Hubert and a laugh riot for the audience. Once he’s in the court he’ll encounter a lovely “Princess Gwendolyn” (Angela Lansbury), an evil traitor to the King “Sir Ravenhurst” (Basil Rathbone), and his female captain Jean will sneak in as a Maid to the king. Jean manages to carry on the plan to sneak the child in while Hubert is flipping at the snap of fingers, thanks to the fact he was hypnotized by the sorceress and all. Will he and Jean be able to manage to help rescue the kingdom with the baby or will this court jester end up making more of a fool of himself than is to be expected? You’ll just have to watch and see, that is, if you’ve never seen this film that is regarded as a classic.

Movie Rating: 5 (out of 5)

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Video Quality

“The Court Jester” on its Blu-ray Disc debut from Paramount Presents is presented in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio. It is worth noting that IMDb states the film was originally intended (and shown) in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio, but it makes much more sense here to fill the 16×9 widescreen here with this presentation.

This 1956 movie was shot on 35mm film using the VistaVision camera and cinematographic process as well as Technicolor color. The film has now received a 6K transfer (scan) from the original VistaVision negative and then was remastered.

Next, let me get even more technical here, for a bit, in regards to the Blu-ray Disc itself. This release is using a BD-50 (50 gigabytes) disc, 31.17 gigabytes total, and 28.4 gigabytes for the film itself. It’s also worth noting that I found this to run around 37Mbps on average in terms of a video bitrate in the AVC MPEG-4 codec.

Wow, when I first saw the opening credits I could tell that this was going to look great, as they do contain a tad bit more film grain than you’ll find in the entire film itself. Those opening credits to this film were pretty ahead of their time, in hindsight, and made use of the lead performer (Danny Kaye) dancing around where the text would be, at times even striking names from the credits off of the screen. Once the credits are over you’ll notice that the background matte paintings look magnificent in the very opening shot of the film, as the King and his men approach on horseback. The black level here is solid and the amount of detail is truly breathtaking. For instance, look here at the screenshot above the VistaVision logo above. How’s that for detail in a close-up?

This has a broad field of view thanks to being shot using the VistaVision cameras and process, making for what is really a sight to behold now in high definition. The use of Technicolor makes for some colors here that “pop” many thanks to the wardrobe choices and set design. The flesh tones come across as accurate. One of the most exciting parts of this Blu-ray presentation is the sheer amount of visible film grain that has been left intact here all throughout. This just looks downright stunning and is the definition of reference material for a film of this age.

Now over the course of 12 previous releases, the Paramount Presents line on Blu-ray is starting to really visually compete with The Criterion Collection here, and “The Court Jester” (spine #13 in the series) is one very fine example of such. This movie looks spectacular many thanks to the 6K transfer and remastering efforts and it earns every bit of a perfect 5 rating for video quality. This classic film looks remarkable, here in HD via this Blu-ray Disc debut. I know that the fans have really wanted this film to be released in high definition for some time, and to that, I have to say that you’ll soon find that some things are truly best worth waiting for.

Video Quality Rating: 5 (out of 5)

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Audio Quality

Audio on the Paramount Presents Blu-ray Disc debut of the 1956 film “The Court Jester” is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono lossless sound. This movie comes from an original Mono source, so it makes total sense to keep this in that audio configuration, despite being a musical. Turning this to a 5.1 surround sound mix would have just not seemed right for this type of 1956 film, so I’m glad Paramount made the right choice and kept things as original as they should be, presented in Mono.

The film is of course primarily a musical and I’m happy to report that the original music, scored and conducted by Victor Schoen, sounds excellent all throughout. The lyrics during the musical numbers, written by Sylvia Fine and Sammy Chan, sung by Danny Kaye, sound spot-on.

Once the dialogue starts up you’ll find it is delivered in a very distinct manner as well and never once will you find any need to make volume adjustments nor notice any distortion or hiss. This mix sounds as clean as you could hope for something from a Mono source and it manages to do the film justice. The sound effects here also manage to come across as rather realistic and add just enough to this a lossless Mono mix that any purist cannot help but love. That all being said, “The Court Jester” on its Paramount Presents debut to the Blu-ray Disc format earns itself a perfect 5 rating for audio quality.

Audio Quality Rating: 5 (out of 5)

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Bonus Materials

Physical bonus material here includes the collectible slipcover that features the film’s original 1956 poster art as a fold-out on the front. It also features new art (as pictured below) for the interior packaging.

  • A Digital Copy of the film (in 1080p HD with Mono sound) is included via a paper insert which you can redeem on one of three services: iTunes (AppleTV), Vudu, and FandangoNow.

Bonus materials, on this release, are all presented in HD video quality with Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo.

The bonus materials that are on the Blu-ray Disc include:

  • NEW “Filmmaker Focus: Leonard Maltin on ‘The Court Jester’ (7 minutes, 3 seconds – HD) features the famed film critic and historian discussing this classic film. Getting to hear Leonard Maltin discuss any film is an absolute treat, and this newly created featurette proves to be very informative and entertaining.
  • Theatrical Trailer (2 minutes, 24 seconds – HD)

Overall the bonus materials here include a digital copy of the film (in HD) on services like iTunes (AppleTV) and a few others, some physical extras in the form of the unique Paramount Presents packaging, an all-new 7-minute featurette with Leonard Maltin, and the film’s original theatrical trailer — all in HD. It may not seem like a whole lot but it’s enough to leave any fan of this film pleased with the fact they get to see this film include any new content. Plus, these Paramount Presents Blu-ray releases (as mentioned) include some really nice packaging that itself should merit some slight addition to the overall score.

Bonus Materials Rating: 2 (out of 5)

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Closing Thoughts

“The Court Jester” from 1956, spine number 13 in the Paramount Presents Blu-ray series, (as a film) was a lot of fun in terms of its plot, funny many thanks to the leading man Danny Kaye, and there was a nice bit of heart to the film in terms of romance and such. The film is now celebrating its 65th anniversary this year and is regarded as a modern classic. In fact, the movie was a rather large production for its time, reportedly with a budget of 4 million dollars yet it would only end up grossing 2.2 million dollars during its theatrical run, in the United States. There are no details (that I could find) regarding the global box office returns.

Although it [“The Court Jester”] may not have turned out to be a financial success during its theatrical run, it did however turn out to be a hit subsequently via its television airings as well as through its numerous home video releases (over the past few decades). During its original release, the film was well-received by the critics. In fact, still to this day, the film is “Certified Fresh” over at Rotten Tomatoes.

In terms of video quality, this Blu-ray Disc debut of the film comes from a 6K scan of the original 35mm VistaVision negative which has been remastered. It looks superb from the very opening credits until the end. One of the most impressive things about this is the sheer amount of detail that can be found here all throughout, in each and every scene, and most especially during close-ups. The color is absolutely stunning here thanks to it using Technicolor. There’s a really tasteful amount of film grain left intact and it’s honestly just remarkable, with a solid black level and flesh tones as accurate as early Technicolor would allow for. This is one of the finest looking presentations that I’ve seen in a while for a film of this age. That being said, this is the definition of reference material in terms of a 1956 VistaVision film.

In terms of audio quality, on its debut to the Blu-ray format, “The Court Jester” comes with its original Mono sound mix in lossless form. It sounds as good as one would expect for a larger budget 1956 musical sub-genre film. The dialogue is distinct, the vocals during musical numbers are spot-on, and the music sounds excellent. Finally, the special effects come across effectively as well and make for what is a perfect audio presentation for this classic film.

The bonus materials include a digital copy of the film, a collectible fold-out poster included with the slipcover, a new featurette with Leonard Maltin, and the original theatrical trailer — both presented in HD. It’s a short and sweet set of extras that does the film as much justice as is possible.

All and all, you cannot help but first be pleased that a classic such as this finally debuts to the Blu-ray format but you have to be even more excited that it was done complete and utter justice here in terms of video and audio quality. The bonus materials may be short but they add enough, as does the digital copy of the film and the physical packaging is a plus as well. This Paramount Presents release of “The Court Jester” in its debut to Blu-ray Disc comes as very highly recommended.

In terms of Blu-ray release, this gets:
5 (out of 5) for video quality
5 (out of 5) for audio quality
2 (out of 5) for bonus materials

Overall Verdict:
Very Highly Recommended 

Available As:

2021 Paramount Presents Blu-ray Release

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Blu-ray Screenshots:


Blu-ray Technical Specifications:

Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
Exact Runtime: 1:41:13
Audio Format(s): English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono (with a DTS 2.0 Mono core), Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono
Languages: English, French, German
Subtitles: English, French, German
Disc Size: BD-50
Disc Use: 31.17GB total / 28.4GB for the film