Life Could Not Better Be || The Court Jester

My sense of humor is an acquired taste; the kind that makes people double over with laughter or with groans of deeply-felt-suffering (sometimes both). My favorite jokes involve puns, wordplay, and linguistic misunderstandings. I’m also a great fan of slapstick and “mugging” (pulling faces); as a trained singer, silly voices are my forte (ba-dum-tssh). I owe this comedic inheritance largely to one man: Danny Kaye.

My first lesson in comedy (other than the singing orange on Sesame Street) was Kaye’s performance as the clown to Bing Crosby’s Mr. Cool in White Christmas. About five years later, shortly after my family had moved to Maryland, my dad brought home a copy of The Court Jester (1955). He promised that it was the perfect film to watch during the Thanksgiving Break, as there was plenty of “turkey” to go around; thus proving that my parents were not entirely blameless in the creation of my silly sensibilities. As summarized on its IMDd page: “A hapless carnival performer masquerades as the court jester as part of a plot against an evil ruler who has overthrown the rightful king.”

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In Sleep He Sang to Me… || The Phantom of the Opera (1943)

It was summer in Cheyenne, and I was bored. There was nothing on TV; I was too old for Sesame Street, and too young for Maury. My focus wandered from the black-screen to the glass-fronted case containing my parents’ vinyl records. I had enjoyed looking at their cover art in the past, so I army-crawled across the living room and started flipping through the cardboard sleeves; Michael Jackson in a glowing white suit, the rock-and-roll-fueled-fantasies of Meat Loaf, and then a title rendered in letters of shattered glass: The Phantom of the Opera. I had heard (although I couldn’t tell you where or from whom) that this was supposed to be “a good musical.” I put the first record on the turntable and listened. I put on the second record and listened. Then I listened to both of them again.

My mother smiled, and said Dad would enjoy hearing, when he got home from work, how I had done something “so cultural.” What she had yet to realize, however, was that I was past the Point of No Return. Like Christine Daaé, I was on the other side of the looking glass, spellbound by this strange masked-man. During our next visit to the public library, I rifled through the card-catalogue in search of everything they had, including a VHS of Universal Studios’ 1943 film. As summarized on the movie’s IMDb page: “a disfigured violinist haunts the Paris Opera House.”

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Panache || Cyrano de Bergerac (1950)

“The course of true love never did run smooth,” or so Shakespeare tells us. In fact, I am one for whom the course of any type of love tends to be shot through with a few rapids. In general, love is a tricky thing, because life is more complicated when other people get involved. There are also many unknowns in love; things that seemed certain and solid can suddenly shift into forms more akin to those squiggly lines from Fantasia.

Fairy tales and rom-coms taught me love was something that I would recognize on-sight (more or less). I’d be unable to keep myself from bursting into song (which is suspiciously how I am most of the time), flowers would smell a little sweeter, and so-on. However, on both occasions when I thought I had stumbled upon my “one,” it turns out that, although it quacked like a duck, and waddled like a duck, it was in reality a confused porcupine. It is fitting then, that one of my would-be-someones first shared with me my favorite cinematic version of Cyrano de Bergerac. As summarized on its IMDb page: “The charismatic swordsman-poet helps another woo the woman he loves in this straightforward version of the play.”

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Here’s Lookin’ at You || Casablanca

“Everybody Comes to Rick’s” … At least that is what I assume was written on the invitation.

My first experience with Casablanca was a fancy-dress housewarming party, thrown by my parents after they had finished constructing our new home in Cheyenne, Wyoming. The event took place in our spacious, fully-furnished basement, and neither my sister nor I were invited. It was after our bedtime, but I remember our doorbell ringing, adults strolling in wearing trench coats or elegant gowns. They looked different from the grownups I was used to, many of them having traded their Stetsons for Fedoras. This was because, I later learned, the party was Casablanca-themed (my parent were such nerds). Today, the only momentos of that dreamlike occasion are the movie poster that hangs on Robin’s wall (my Dad, Richard, invited all the guests to sign the back of the frame), and the peacock-blue, bejeweled dress that hung for years thereafter in my mom’s closet.

This was “the start of [my] beautiful friendship” with the quintessential Hollywood flick. As summarized on its IMDb page: “A cynical nightclub owner protects an old flame and her husband from Nazis in Morocco.”

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