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|Danny Kaye||Hubert Hawkins|
|Glynis Johns||Maid Jean|
|Basil Rathbone||Sir Ravenhurst|
|Angela Lansbury||Princess Gwendolyn|
|Cecil Parker||King Roderick I|
|Robert Middleton||Sir Griswold|
|Michael Pate||Sir Locksley|
|Herbert Rudley||Captain of the Guard|
|Edward Ashley||Black Fox|
|Alan Napier||Sir Brockhurst|
Set in medieval England, the plot nominally concerns the struggle to restore to the throne the rightful heir, a baby with a distinguishing birthmark, the purple pimpernel on His Highness' posterior, after the King and his family were massacred. Danny Kaye plays Hubert Hawkins, an ex-carnival entertainer who becomes minstrel to the Black Fox, a Robin Hood-type character (Edward Ashley).The usurping King Roderick (Cecil Parker) wishes his daughter, Princess Gwendolyn (Angela Lansbury), to marry his neighbor, Sir Griswold of MacElwain (Robert Middleton), to enlist Griswold's aid against the band of rebels headed by the Black Fox. Princess Gwendolyn, however, refuses to marry Griswold, declaring that she will wed only for love. Her personal maid Griselda (Mildred Natwick), who is a witch, has predicted that her true love will arrive at the castle to court her. The Griswold marriage plan also displeases Lord Ravenhurst (Basil Rathbone), the closest of Roderick's advisers, who fears that Griswold's presence may cost him his privileged position with the king.Hawkins, whose usual task is to reveal the royal infant's birthmark (the sign of his ancestry) to prospective rebel recruits, is ordered with a female comrade, Maid Jean (Glynis Johns), one of the Fox's lieutenants, to carry the child across the country to safety. The pair are disguised as an old man and his granddaughter, with the baby hidden in a wine cask. Roderick's men intercept their wagon and threaten to uncover the plot, but Hawkins manages to frustrate them by pretending to be hard of hearing, and Maid Jean to be mute and deaf. On the journey, a romance blossoms between Hawkins and Maid Jean. They encounter the King's new jester, "Giacomo, 'King of Jesters and Jester of Kings'" (John Carradine) on his way to the castle and knock him out. Hawkins impersonates him, hoping to gain entry to the King's castle. The plan is to steal the key to a secret passage into the castle, through which the Black Fox could then attack. Already present in the castle is Fergus (Noel Drayton), a rebel working as an ostler, whom Hawkins is to identify by means of a secret tune. Hawkins whistles it throughout the castle, and Fergus whistles back, but Hawkins mistakes him for Lord Ravenhurst.Hawkins is, however, unaware that the jester he is impersonating is also a famous assassin whom Lord Ravenhurst plans to employ against his rivals. Maid Jean, proceeding alone with the infant king, is captured by the King's men, who have been sent to round up pretty young girls to decorate the tournament. At the castle, she entrusts the infant into the care of Fergus before she is taken away. Matters become more complicated when Griselda hypnotizes Hawkins to avoid death by her princess' hands for her as yet unfulfilled promises; in his befuddled state, Hawkins inadvertently introduces Jean to the king, who takes a fancy to her, and gets the key lost, Gwendolyn infatuated with him, and Ravenhurst entrusting him with taking out his rivals, only to have his memory erased by Griselda afterwards. She also kills Ravenhurst's competitors Brockhurst, Finsdale and Pertwee according to her own agenda, but it is also within Lord Ravenhurst's agenda and Ravenhurst mistakes the poisoning as being Hawkins' doing, and congratulates him.During the evening banquet, Sir Griswold arrives to solidify his alliance with the king. However, Gwendolyn openly declares her love for the jester, and the enraged King orders Hawkins' death. Griswold, insulted, announces that, if "Giacomo" were a knight rather than a common clown, he would challenge him to mortal combat. Meanwhile, Ravenhurst and his fellows have learned that Hawkins is an impostor, but wrongfully assume that he is the Black Fox himself; they also find out that Maid Jean is one of the rebels and that the royal heir is in the castle. Still intent on preventing the alliance, Ravenhurst counsels the King that he can get rid of the jester by making him a knight, who would then have to fight Sir Griswold. Although the requirements for Knighthood are usually very rigorous, the King arranges for Hawkins to pass them rapidly.Jean uses her confidence with the king to steal back the key and send it to her band, although she also tries to save Hawkins by asking the Black Fox to substitute for him in the joust. But just before the rebels can use the passage, it collapses, leaving only a small crawlspace. The Black Fox decides to summon Hawkins' friends, a troupe of acrobatic dwarves he had met earlier, from the carnival and sends them through the passage for a diversionary attack while the rest of the rebels assault the castle from the outside.Back in the castle, Hawkins becomes a knight, and Griswold immediately challenges him to a joust to the death. Griselda, under Gwendolyn's orders to protect Hawkins, tries poisoning one of the drinks to be used for the toast immediately before the joust, but through one of his men Griswold also learns of the poison, and after a quarrel between the two combatants about the unpoisoned drink the toast is cancelled. Against all odds, Hawkins wins the joust because his armor was incidentally magnetized by a lightning bolt, but he refuses to deliver the coup de grâce, sparing Griswold's life. As Griswold leaves with his soldiers, Ravenhurst denounces Hawkins and Maid Jean to the King. Before the King can pass judgement upon them, Hawkins's friends, who have secretly entered the court through the secret passage, rescue him and capture the castle from the King's soldiers. During this battle, Ravenhurst attacks Hawkins with a sword. Griselda hastily enchants Hawkins again, giving him expert prowess in fencing - some of the time. Ravenhurst is finally hurled out of the castle into the sea via catapult.Griswold returns to defend the King, but Hawkins reveals the infant king's birthmark to him and to his men. The former enemies all pledge allegiance to the true king, Griswold and Gwendolyn become enamored with each other, and Hawkins leads everyone in one last chorus of "Life could not better be".
DVD : 1999-03-30