Saturday, September 30, 2017
( 5:56 PM ) posted by Setsuled
In Army of Death, the third Doctor Who audio play to feature Mary Shelley as a companion, the pitfalls of putting words into a famous author's mouth really start to show. I was able to enjoy the two previous adventures featuring Mary but Army of Death loses me early on with Mary writing in a diary, hinting that her affections are drifting from Percy to the Doctor (Paul McGann). Which seems really like where things were going all along, and I wouldn't mind it except Mary sounds like a dopey teen heroine now.
"My beliefs have been in flux these past few weeks but one thing I know--everybody has a soulmate," writes the supposed Mary Shelley, in monologue performed by Julie Cox. "Someone whom they were always intended to meet. My own soulmate was always going to be of a certain breed. He would be wild! And yet, intellectual. He would blend urban eloquence with boundless enthusiasm. In short, he would be an unearthly soul. I have already met this man . . ."
This is supposed to be Mary Shelley aged 18, from the year 1816, during the vacation that inspired her to write Frankenstein. Dictionary.com and Wikipedia note the first known English written use of "soul mate" is from a letter by Samuel Taylor Coleridge in 1822 but this doesn't bother me much. As someone who writes historical fiction myself, I know a bit of translation to modern language is inevitable. I guess I'm bothered more by "wild" "yet intellectual" and "boundless enthusiasm." Sure, Mary's 18 and should be a bit zealous about men she's attracted to but I would expect more from her capacity for self-expression. The word "enthusiasm" occurs 11 times in Frankenstein and never is it "boundless". Instead, we get this:
No one can conceive the variety of feelings which bore me onwards, like a hurricane, in the first enthusiasm of success. Life and death appeared to me ideal bounds, which I should first break through, and pour a torrent of light into our dark world.
And, yes, I'm not saying writer Jason Arnopp has to be as good as Mary Shelley. This is just the drawback of daring to put words into a famous author's mouth--for anyone who likes that author, a sour note is going to sound a hundred times as sour.
Arnopp has since gone on to write a novel that Alan Moore has given a very strong, enthusiastic, blurb so maybe I shouldn't harp on this too much. Army of Death is mostly not a bad audio play, involving futuristic politics colliding with an army of zombies. There's a Hitchcockian subplot about a presidential assassin played by Eva Pope that has some nice moments. Though, even forgetting a moment the model on which this fictional Mary Shelley is based, this Mary isn't even consistent with the previous episodes' depictions of her where she found herself always sympathetic to monsters she runs into. Suddenly she has trouble with zombies in this one, or possibly politicians. Well, I guess that's kind of funny. Paul McGann is very good as always.#
Friday, September 29, 2017
( 4:25 PM ) posted by Setsuled
You travel through space, sooner or later you're going to run into one of those whole civilisations who don't know they're living on a space ship or a robot or a giant slug, until you need to tell them they're going to collide with a sun or something. It's happened already to the Orville in the fourth episode of Seth MacFarlane's series, once again an episode written by MacFarlane, and once again a pretty entertaining one.
It was only a few months ago we saw another new iteration of this plot, in the season finale of Doctor Who where it was one of a bunch of concepts thrown in as window dressing for the main conflict between the Doctor, the Master, and the Cybermen. Of course it wasn't the first time Doctor Who has used this kind of plot--it's not unlike The Ark from the First Doctor era, or Underworld from the Fourth Doctor era. And of course it's happened on Star Trek more than once, the most obvious model being the concisely titled "For the World is Hollow and I have Touched the Sky".
Spoilers after the screenshot
The Orville episode, "If the Stars Should Appear", presents a less complicated version of the concept than the one shown in the recent Twelfth Doctor finale, allowing the crew to gradually learn about this society and its totalitarian theocracy headed by the menacing Robert Knepper as the villain Hamelac.
The scene where he tortures Kelly (Adrian Palicki) for info is one of the scenes that highlight exactly how the show is distinguished from Star Trek--we may have seen scenes like this dozens of times, but Kirk, Picard, or Spock would never say the people the torturer seeks were last seen having sex with his mother and high fiving. A lot of the humour on this show feels like MacFarlane was watching Star Trek years ago, wishing dialogue would be pushed just a little further. Now that he's doing it it is refreshing.
At the same time, the simplicity of his presentation of this well used concept is intriguing. As good as that Doctor Who finale was, it's nice to see someone saying these old stories are worth stopping and dwelling on rather than using them as wallpaper. Because ideologies preventing us from confronting our self destructive treatment of the environment certainly haven't gone away. One might think it's too transparently talking about climate change, but it's about the same level of subtlety Gene Roddenberry was aiming at in the 60s.
Of course, if it'd been more like Star Trek in the 60s, Ed (Seth MacFarlance) would have at least one make out session with a native. As it is, there's some indication that Alara (Halston Sage) is starting to get a crush on her captain. This might go over better if it's handled by writers other than MacFarlane, but I'd certainly like the show to explore other relationship issues aside from one partner complaining the other spends too much time focusing on their career.
The scene between Bortus (Peter Macon) and Klyden (Chad Coleman) at the beginning of the episode was cute but it would have been better coming before last week's--it's hard to settle into a little domestic scene when the memory of Klyden forcing their infant to get a sex change is too recent.
Otherwise, though, I enjoyed the action sequence and LaMarr's (J.Lee) "Boom, bitch!"--another moment of Star Trek dialogue being pushed into something just a bit more down to Earth--and I liked Isaac (Mark Jackson) puzzling over the inferior humans. Liam Neeson's cameo at the end of the episode helped lend the story just the right amount of gravity, too.#
Thursday, September 28, 2017
( 12:40 PM ) posted by Setsuled
Is it comforting or horrifying thinking there are invisible forces, inevitably punishing or rewarding people as morality demands? 1973's The Vault of Horror is, like the EC series of horror comics in the 1950s, a depiction of a world where people are usually punished in equal measure to their wicked designs, often ironically. Actually taking almost all of its stories from Tales from the Crypt, this anthology film for Amicus directed by Roy Ward Baker features a wonderful cast performing tonally very faithful adaptations.
The Vault of Horror comics, like The Haunt of Fear, were mostly interchangeable with Tales from the Crypt, all published by EC Comics, featuring many of the same writers and artists, like Al Feldstein and Johnny Craig, telling similar stories. Tales from the Crypt stories were typically introduced by the Crypt Keeper but the Vault Keeper, from Vault of Horror, and the Old Witch, from Haunt of Fear, would appear to introduce stories in Tales from the Crypt, too.
Sadly, the Vault Keeper is absent from this film, despite the fact that it is something of a followup to Amicus' Tales from the Crypt which featured Ralph Richardson as the Crypt Keeper. The framing story for this Vault of Horror film features the main characters of each story, a group of five men, finding themselves stranded on one floor of a building by an apparently malfunctioning elevator. To pass the time, each tells a story of a dream he had where he died after committing some form of wrong doing. Each remarks on how real the dream seemed. I'll leave it to you to guess what happens at the end.
The only story not from Tales from the Crypt comes from EC's Shock SuspenStories, "The Neat Job", written by Tales from the Crypt's prolific writer Al Feldstein. This one stars Terry-Thomas and Glynis Johns and, as you might expect, plays more to comedy than the other stories. He's (of course) an obnoxious wealthy man and Johns is his good hearted but clumsy wife. It's a pleasure watching these two together though they have the ugliest house I've ever seen.
The climax of the story mostly leans on Johns who does a good job building tension with an otherwise slapstick routine as she breaks one thing after another, trying to clean up the house before the fastidious Terry-Thomas arrives home.
The other stand out story, based on a Tales from the Crypt story by Jack Davis, is "Drawn and Quartered" starring Tom Baker with Denholm Elliott in a small but crucial role. This film came out a year before Baker was cast as the Fourth Doctor but he's already showing an admirable taste in eccentric attire.
Baker plays a painter living in Haiti in poverty when he learns a friend (Elliott) has made a fortune selling his paintings back in London along with two accomplices, a dealer and a critic, who conspired to drive up the market value of Baker's art while keeping him out of the loop. It being Haiti, the painter turns to a distinctly comic book version of voodoo for revenge. If Dorian Gray were more interested in revenge killings, you might have gotten something like this story. Baker, with his hypnotic bug eyes and deep voice, easily enthrals the viewer, and his showdown with Denholm Elliott is captivating.
The other stories are all decent enough and the film's competently filmed by Roy Ward Baker.
Twitter Sonnet #1038
Delivered lines of growing wheat matured.
Wednesday, September 27, 2017
( 12:59 PM ) posted by Setsuled
This morning I read about two women discussing mysterious sea creatures, which means I read the new Sirenia Digest. Included is a really lovely new Caitlin R. Kiernan story called "THEORETICALLY FORBIDDEN MORPHOLOGIES".
It's more than just a cool, intriguing title. We meet two women, one an unnamed narrator, apparently a writer, and another calling herself Perse, one among many names she evidently goes by. The story moves over different points in a chain of events, not in chronological order and yet in another way they seem to be. Much of the dialogue concerns the nature of storytelling and what readers or audiences expect from stories, but it's also about shapes unseen, undescribed, but certainly terrible, not meant for view. In other words, theoretically forbidden morphologies. I couldn't ask for a better story from that great title.
Beginning with Perse, naked, leading the narrator to a mysterious location, the story is also wonderfully sensual, something that is teased out further in subtle ways through dialogue. In discussing storytelling, potential vulnerabilities and sensitivities come to the surface as possibilities of meaning, and of dreamlike stimulus, eliciting emotion that makes connexions between the imagination and the physical realms. That's another way of saying it's sexy.#
Tuesday, September 26, 2017
( 12:24 PM ) posted by Setsuled
Children are naturally attached to their parents, requiring them as guides in a world they don't yet have the capacity to navigate alone. Mikio Naruse's 1960 film Autumn Has Already Started (秋立ちぬ) shows a relatively normal little boy dealing first with the death of his father and then abandonment by his mother after moving to Tokyo from the country. Without indulging in sentimentality or melodrama, Naruse depicts the natural process of growing up being sabotaged by fairly common catastrophes. It's a beautiful and sad film.
Hideo (Kenzaburo Osawa), a prepubescent boy, travels with his mother, Shigeko (Nobuko Otowa) to Tokyo where they've come to live with some relatives. It's a few years after prostitution was made illegal in Japan and Shigeko finds work in one of the hotels that filled the new vacuum--as one of the hostesses, it's Shigeko's job to act as a surrogate wife for a client; feeding him, dealing with his laundry, sleeping with him, and going out with him. A businessman played by Daisuke Kato takes a liking to her and soon wants to marry her.
Meanwhile, Hideo strikes up a friendship with a little girl named Junko (Futaba Ichiki), the daughter of the hotel's madam. Junko believes her father has two wives--her mother and another woman whom he spends more time with. Later in the film Junko meets her two spoiled half-siblings who are very rude to her.
Hideo says she's lucky to have a father at all, though he denies having cried at the death of his own father when Junko repeatedly asks him. The film is good at showing how children are bad at picking up on each other's emotional cues as Junko takes everything Hideo says at face value, not guessing his pride won't let him admit he cried. The two children are obviously forming something like a romantic bond, though Junko asks her mother to let Hideo be her brother. But, while a teenage Hideo might blow off a meeting his mother to hang out with his girlfriend, we see Hideo in the film unselfconsciously bidding Junko good day at a mall when he hears that his mother is also there.
Which is a subtle way of showing how hard it is on him when his mother disappears without warning--we learn later that she's gone to live with the businessman in another city. Hideo starts spending more time with Junko and the two seem to flirt with the idea of running away, having her mother's driver take them to the bay where we see the two meandering and playing. But soon Junko wants to go home, an option that Hideo really doesn't have.
There's a subtle theme of the city being inherently disruptive of family compared to the country. In one memorable scene, Hideo looks over some rooftops with his last companion from home, a big helmet beetle looking very much out of place.#
Monday, September 25, 2017
( 2:16 PM ) posted by Setsuled
A visually stunning new Star Trek timeline was introduced last night with the premiere of Star Trek: Discovery. Wonderful performances, especially from Sonequa Martin-Green and Michelle Yeoh, in addition to the visuals mostly make up for deeply flawed scripts. The unselfconscious contradictions and nonsensical character development have all the earmarks of stories processed by committees yet Martin-Green and Yeoh show how capable performers can still create characters in such a vacuum and the production design and action sequences are gorgeous.
Spoilers after the screenshot
Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green), along with Laura Moon on the American Gods TV series, is giving me an idea of a kind of protagonist Bryan Fuller likes to write--young women, guilty of past, character defining sins, nonetheless asserting themselves. And we do root for them, though in Michael's case it's a little tough because her story doesn't make a lot of sense. I suspect before Fuller left Discovery the teleplays and outlines on Michael were much clearer about who her character was meant to be and how she was formed. As it is, we're left with a young human woman who was raised on Vulcan--with one training scene strikingly similar to one of Spock's scenes in the first J.J. Abrams movie.
Unlike Spock, who's compelled to hide his humanity to fit in, Michael shows, when she first meets Captain Philippa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) in a flashback, that she's perfectly comfortable to show emotions, her time on Vulcan mainly seeming to give her some arrogance that apparently burns off by the time we meet her at the beginning of the first episode. Characters still accuse her of being too much like a Vulcan in heated moments but without any apparent reason. But the Vulcans don't act much like Vulcans on Discovery.
Unsure how to deal with the supposed first contact between humans and Klingons in a hundred years (it's been pointed out that Michael's parents having been killed by Klingons contradicts this), Michael contacts her adoptive father, Sarek (James Frain), who informs her the Vulcans have secretly adopted a strategy of firing first every time they run into a Klingon ship. Why is this a secret? How is this a secret? How does Michael, an expert on Klingons who was raised on Vulcan, not know about it? At the very least she must have tried researching every contact made between Vulcans and Klingons and wondered how each incident ended.
Why would such a strategy not lead to all out war between Klingons and Vulcans? Can we really call it peace when they fire on each other every time they meet? I'm assuming the Klingons don't always run away, if ever. Seemingly the whole premise of T'Kuvma's (Chris Obi) argument for uniting the Klingon houses against the Federation is that their message, "We come in peace", is a lie, presumably meaning if they believed it they wouldn't go to war with them.
The producers of the series have said Discovery belongs in the original timeline, but I'm afraid I simply can't accept that. I don't mind another timeline, mostly I just want a good show, but it's silly to pretend this fits in with previous continuity somehow. Obviously the Klingons are wildly different but there's also the fact that all of Starfleet is already using the Enterprise delta symbol, something that didn't happen until after Kirk and his crew made the Enterprise a shining example. The technology is wildly different despite being set only ten years before the original series and everyone communicates using Star Wars style holograms.
And let's talk about the Klingons. The redesign does look pretty fearsome--the makeup's somewhere between Joseph Merrick and Nosferatu and the costumes somewhere between Vlad the Impaler's armour in the prologue to Coppola's Dracula and early 17th century jerkin and ruff. I like the set design even more with its intricate filigrees. But I don't recognise these people as Klingons. It's not just the lack of hair--it's the lack of this:
These new Klingons never smile, never seem excited by the idea of spilled blood and glorious battle. What happened to the merry space Vikings we all love? The Discovery timeline Klingons are perpetually funereal.
I did like the chemistry between Michael and Philippa once we got past the peculiarly stilted and catty dialogue at the beginning. The rapport between Michael and Saru is less satisfying. What a waste of Doug Jones--a race of cowards? That's a bad idea that's just going to get worse. It was interesting seeing Michael get offended when the admiral takes culture traits as racial traits though she didn't bat an eye when Philippa attributed Saru's fretfulness to him being a Kelpien. But it might be nice if the show confronts the kind of casual racism we used to see in Starfleet dealings with species like Ferengi. I wonder why Saru joined Starfleet if he's afraid of everything. Maybe that'll have an interesting explanation instead of just being a glaring inconsistency.
The action sequences were all lovely. It would've been nice if there'd been some explanation as to why Philippa and Michael were able to take on armoured Klingons three times their size in hand to hand combat but I loved the cloaked ship ramming the admiral's vessel and the new birds of prey or warbirds or whatever are pretty groovy.
Twitter Sonnet #1037
In saintly hooks, the pasta priest's reprieved.
Sunday, September 24, 2017
( 6:37 PM ) posted by Setsuled
"Your family is complicated," says a journalist named Okawa to a young woman named Yae. It's an understatement in 1958's Sardine Clouds (鰯雲). Her family is complicated because of a series of remarriages and for the increased pressure it puts on rural farmers whose children are attracted by city universities and city jobs. One of Mikio Naruse's few colour films, it uses a beautiful, subdued, and simple palette. It tells a story, as usual for Naruse, fraught with anxieties about money and uses Tae's complicated family as an eloquent case study of a people shifting from the ancient customs of an agricultural society to the seductive, uncertain future of city employment.
Yae (Chikage Awashima) lives with her young son and her mother-in-law on a farm. She's forced to do most of the work but finds time to write a newspaper serial about the changing dynamics of rural family life. As she explains to Okawa (Isao Kimura), although her mother-in-law receives money from a daughter who lives away from home, she refuses to spend any of this money, treating Yae as a workhorse. Before Yae had a child, it seemed as though she wouldn't be accepted by the family at all.
Meanwhile, Yae's brother, Wasuke (Ganjiro Nakamura), lives with his third wife, three sons, and several daughters. Wasuke has several fields, one of which is used by his second wife and her husband. They have a rebellious young daughter, Hamako (Kumi Mizuno), who wishes to go study at the university, like Wasuke's second son, Shinji (Hiroshi Tachikawa). We meet Shinji begging his father for money to go study at the university--later, after he's gotten a job, it's Wasuke who asks him for money to pay for the marriage festivities of his eldest son, Hatsuji (Keiju Kobayashi) to a young woman found by Okawa. Shinji, seemingly seeing himself as a patriarch already, coolly refuses to indulge in his father's old fashioned idea of putting on a grand ceremony. As Yae explains later, the tradition with such ceremonies was based on the idea that the wife was coming to the new family as a new daughter, now marriage was a custom between just two people.
The film is an ensemble piece but unlike most of Naruse's films, which centre on a female protagonist, Wasuke takes centre stage. We see his frustration and despair as everything he believes, and every measure of his self-respect, is gradually eroded by his children. And it's all done without malice as each child is simply trying to assert his or her independence with what seems clearly to be the best means of survival.
The last portion of the film does go back to Yae a lot more as she's forced to deal with her affair with Okawa. Both Awashima and Nakamura give very good performances.#
Saturday, September 23, 2017
( 3:24 PM ) posted by Setsuled
I wish the Doctor would visit the 17th century more often so I was happy to hear the Eighth Doctor in 1650s England in the 2011 audio play The Witch from the Well. Accompanied once again by Mary Shelley, I was pleased to hear writer Rick Briggs evidently knew his subjects well enough to make an interesting 19th century perspective in the 17th. It's a nice story with lots of enjoyable turns.
The Doctor (Paul McGann) and Mary (Julie Cox) are visiting the present day when they rescue a pair of twins from some kind of witch monster. The Doctor determines that they must visit the same area in the 17th century to find out the genesis of the monster--when they arrive in the past, they find "Witch-Prickers" headed by a John Kincaid (Simon Rouse) tasked with finding and punishing witches in the area. John Kincaid seems a lot like Witchfinder General Matthew Hopkins, which makes me wonder why he's not Matthew Hopkins since the writers seem fine with using Mary Shelley. Maybe Hopkins turns up in some Doctor Who novel or comic the audio play producers didn't want to risk contradicting.
Among the people Mary mentions when talking about how excited she is to be in the 17th century is John Milton, which should be no surprise to anyone who's read Frankenstein. It might have been really cool if the Doctor took her to meet Milton but I can imagine that being a lot of pressure for a writer. But it was fun hearing Mary discovering and being shocked by some things about Lord Byron when she travels to the present in this story. The Doctor is stranded in the 17th century while Mary spends time with the modern day descendant of a 17th century squire, both played by Andrew Havill, who does kind of a Terry-Thomas impression for the modern version. It makes it all the funnier when he's trying to impress Mary with his knowledge and love for Byron. Mary is decidedly unimpressed.
The witch plot back in the 17th century has the usual balancing act between wanting to show witch persecutors as crazy while also showing that witches actually exist. In this case, of course, they're aliens, which adds another layer of destabilisation. The world may be as dangerous as Kincaid believes but it's much weirder than he can imagine.#
Friday, September 22, 2017
( 4:27 PM ) posted by Setsuled
There shouldn't be any mistaking The Orville for a parody now, though I'm sure people still will. Last night's new episode, "About a Girl", is the third written by Seth MacFarlane, making that three more episodes written for The Orville than MacFarlane's written for Family Guy in the past ten years. It presents the kind of issue episode that has been absent from television since Star Trek and while I have one or two quibbles about it I'm mainly excited to see it. The Orville even goes some places Star Trek never dared to go.
The modern trend in television to present season long arcs has led to some wonderful story telling but it makes it difficult to tell the kind of story seen in "About a Girl". Bortus (Peter Macon) and Klyden (Chad Coleman), a couple who belong to an all male species called the Moclan, give birth to an incredibly rare female infant. The mostly human crew of the Orville are shocked when they learn the two wish for the child to undergo a sex change operation.
I was expecting the episode to get more flack for using "gender" and "sex" as synonyms though I haven't seen it yet in nitpicky reviews of the episode. I have seen some anger that these people in the future apparently aren't up on the same sociological literature as some viewers. One could argue that the crew of the Orville ought to be using state of the art terminology but maybe this is an area where a comparison to Star Trek isn't appropriate. The Orville isn't the flagship and it's crewed by at least two people we know to have had troubled careers. So instead of the best minds of the Federation tackling these issues, we have some mostly adequate minds of the Union muddling through.
In this way, the show actually turns some familiar, illogical plot devices of Star Trek into somet more feasible and even thought provoking prompts. It didn't really make a lot of sense that the Enterprise bridge crew were constantly being drafted as lawyers in courtroom episodes, for example. Here, I can believe that Kelly (Adrianne Palicki), with only one year of law training, is the most qualified person available to defend Bortus when he decides he doesn't want to allow his baby to receive a sex change. And we also get some instructive demonstrations of why certain arguments about sexual equality, while satisfying, might not be very effective in getting the point across.
It's satisfying watching Alara (Halston Sage) beat Bortus in a boxing ring and it's funny hearing Gordon (Scott Grimes) on the stand demonstrating that men can be intellectually inferior to women. But virtually all of Kelly and Ed's (Seth MacFarlane) evidence is anecdotal and nearly all of it relies on aliens. No-one who pays attention to this episode will come away thinking men are superior to women, the flaws in Ed and Kelly's arguments are useful to get people to think about what doesn't work when you're engaging with people of an opposite opinion. I really like the fact that what brings Bortus around is watching Rankin/Bass' Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, which demonstrates the unexpected power art can have.
The episode is somewhat similar to the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "The Outcast" about a member of a sexless species, the J'naii, who becomes female. The Moclan differ from the J'naii in that everyone is male rather than neither male or female, which should raise a question. How does one define sex or gender in the absence of any other? And of course we find out that the Moclan aren't single sex at all, that the prevalence of male Moclan is at least partially the product of misogyny endemic to the culture. Biological females have been effectively bred out of the populace, something that doesn't seem far-fetched for a technologically advanced misogynist people.
Like "The Outcast", one of the nice things about "About a Girl" is that by recontextualising so much it introduces new ways of thinking about issues and highlighting abstract connexions that might not have even been consciously considered by the writer. It introduces the concept of a basically liberal people allied with a culture that fundamentally rejects more socially liberal values, though at the same time, Bortus and Klyden are a same sex couple in the main cast, something Star Trek hasn't managed to do on television yet, though a same sex couple is apparently forthcoming on Discovery.*
In fact, my only real complaint about the episode is that I wished more time had been spent developing Bortus and Klyden's relationship before getting to this story. The conflicts here would probably have been a lot more interesting portrayed late in a second season. But that's a minor quibble compared to my delight that there's a thought provoking show, willing to engage with issues, that has an enormous number of viewers.
*The relationship between Dax and a former lover's symbiote in a new female body on Deep Space Nine was close but not really the same thing.
Twitter Sonnet #1036
The curling shoe was like a thunder clap.
Thursday, September 21, 2017
( 6:24 PM ) posted by Setsuled
Your average fantasy story relies on some, at the least, improbable things being allowed to occur unimpeded, like the impetuous attractive protagonist and the virtuous attractive love interest having their relationship coincide with the precarious affairs of the state. So effective parodies often make hay by making things more complicated, which is the case with 1956's The Court Jester. Many unforeseen complications take this would-be Robin Hood tale right off the rails despite the best and worst intentions of its characters and the result is one of the greatest comedies of all time.
Danny Kaye stars as Hubert Hawkins, not a court jester but a former carnival performer who's joined up with the merry men of the Black Fox (Edward Ashley). The Fox is basically Robin Hood, robbing the rich and giving to the poor in defiance of a tyrant, Roderick (Cecil Parker), who's seized the throne. The rightful heir is an infant and in the care of the Fox. Part of Hubert's duty is to flash the purple pimpernel on the baby's butt to confirm the lad's royal status to the crew.
Hubert and Jean (Glynis Johns), one of the Fox's captains, are charged with taking the baby, hidden in a wine cask, to an abbey where it'll be safe. But on the way, Hubert and Jean fall in love and run into the jester Giacomo (John Carradine in a cameo) who's on his way to the castle. Jean immediately realises it's an opportunity to smuggle Hubert into the castled in the guise of Giacomo where he can steal a key from the king's quarters, enabling the Fox and his men to sneak in and take the castle through a secret passage.
It all seems simple enough, though audiences might have already been disconcerted by the fact that the Black Fox isn't the main character. But now the plates really start spinning because at the castle there are two plots already cooking against the king--one from his daughter, Gwendolyn (Angela Lansbury) and her witch servant, and another from the king's advisor, Ravenhurst (Basil Rathbone), who's plotting to kill some new rivals for the king's patronage. The comedy comes from how these plots unpredictably intersect due to each player's imperfect understanding of the situation.
Kaye is quite good, not just at the funny stuff but his sword fight at the end with Rathbone has some of the energy and skill seen in the duel between Rathbone and Errol Flynn in Robin Hood. Lansbury is very good but even more crucial is Glynis Johns in a role many directors might have been content to cast with a lightweight. But playing the straight requires a special skill--a big part of how well the famous "vessel with the pestle" bit works is Johns' ability to say the tongue twister like it's so easy she truly can't understand why Hubert can't get it. She also has a pretty funny scene where she convinces the king she has a terrible contagious disease in order to ward off his advances.