The Court Jester

Danny Kaye plays a mild-mannered medieval jester Hawkins in The Court Jester, caught up in palace intrigues when he poses as one of many body doubles for forest outlaw The Black Fox. His former troupe of traveling entertainers–all little people–also volunteers to aid the rebellion, but are turned away by the real Black Fox, who thinks they’re too short to make a meaningful contribution to the cause. Unfortunately, Hawkins does not vouch for the capabilities of his friends, but instead bids them farewell.

Hawkins heads for the palace with Captain Jean, he disguised as a hard-of-hearing emphysematous old wine merchant, and she as his deaf and speech-impaired granddaughter. Their feigned disabilities annoy and frustrate the king’s guard into letting them access the palace without proper screening.

Hijinks ensue, and reinforcements must be called in. But the only way to access the palace is a secret entrance large enough only for a small woman or child; the Black Fox must eat some crow and call up the little people (described as “an army of midgets”.

The real story of the “army of midgets” is worthy of a Hollywood movie in itself. Credited only as “Hermine’s Midgets” in the film, the group was essentially collected by a Czech woman named Hermine and trained by her stepson in the circus arts. The small group left Austria in 1938, shortly before bad things began happening to little and disabled people there. Two Jewish little people were discovered in Budapest and added to their troupe before the impending Nazi invasion. The group was displayed at the New York World’s Fair, going on to tour the USA and perform in U.S.O. shows and war bond drives during World War II.

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