At the age of 90, Angela Lansbury is one of the most respected performers in Hollywood. Her career of 70 years has included a variety of roles.
In this Throwback Thursday/Actor Spotlight post, I am going to talk about two very different performances by Ms. Lansbury.
The first is Murder She Wrote (1984-1996).
One of the most popular television shows of its era, Murder She Wrote is based around Jessica Fletcher (Angela Lansbury), a retired teacher who has a second career as a crime novelist and amateur detective. By sheer happenstance (or the magic of television writing) crime and murder seem to follow Jessica wherever she goes. Using her wit and her intelligence, Jessica is able to solve crimes that no one else can.
Three decades earlier, Ms. Lansbury was part of an ensemble cast lead by Danny Kaye in the movie The Court Jester (1955).
In Medieval England, King Roderick (Cecil Parker) sits on the throne. The only issue that Roderick should not be on the throne. The rightful king is an infant boy with a purple pimpernel birthmark. Roderick needs to get rid of the boy before he can be found. But to get to Roderick, the key to the King’s secret tunnel must be found.
In the forest of England, The Black Fox is an outlaw who is working to ensure that Roderick is overthrown and the boy who should be king will be king. Among the Fox’s men is Hawkins (Danny Kaye), a man who prefers not to fight. Maid Jean (Glynis Johns) is tasked with taking care of the boy and Hawkins. While traveling, Jean and Hawkins meet the King’s new jester. Knocking the jester out, they come up with a plan for Hawkins to become the jester. Naming himself Giacomo, Jean and Hawkins plan to infiltrate the king’s inner circle and find the key.
It sounds too easy, right? Nope. Roderick falls for Jean and his daughter, the Princess Gwendolyn (Angela Lansbury), who is betrothed against her will, falls for Giacomo. Add in a witch, poison pellets and a random song that are supposed to be recognition codes and you have a very funny movie.
Even though it is 30 years old, Murder She Wrote still holds up. Jessica Fletcher is a smart, capable woman of a certain age. Then and now, a woman of a certain is most likely a grandmother who the audience only sees as the grandmother. She is not seen a standalone character outside of that role.
The Court Jester is my favorite Danny Kaye movie for several reasons. First of all, it is very funny. Decades after this movie was made, fans still went up to Danny Kaye and asked him to repeat “The Brew That Is True” speech. Secondly, the women in this movie are smarter than the men. Hawkins maybe the lead character, but Maid Jean is a badass female (as much as a female could have been badass in 1955). Gwendolyn may be the Princess, but is smart enough to go about getting what she wants, even if it means a little trickery on her part.
Do I recommend them? Absolutely.