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Charles Marquis Warren
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In the centre of this Walter Scott classic fiction inspired film the chivalrousness and the daring stand. Ivanhoe, the disowned knight join to the bravehearted and high-minded Robin Hood, the valiant of Forest Sherwood. They want King Richard to rule the kingdom instead of evil Prince John. Written by
Kornel Osvart <email@example.com>
Scriptwriter Marguerite Roberts was a member of the American Communist Party and in 1951 she was ordered to appear before the House of Un-American Activities Committee. Roberts and her husband John Sanford refused to name fellow members of the party and were both blacklisted. MGM received permission from the SWG (Screen Writer's Guild) to remove Roberts' name from the film after she refused to testify before HUAC. See more »
When he asks for an axe, Ivanhoe is handed a throwing axe, not a fighting axe. Fighting axes had long handles and very large blades; these were the weapons that real knights used when in very close combat. Throwing axes were for distance fighting and were carefully balanced for that very purpose. See more »
Of the four films that Robert Taylor called his "iron jockstrap movies" Ivanhoe is probably the best. Filmed on location in Great Britain with a classic mixed cast of American and British players, Ivanhoe is a film for those of us who like their heroes strong and true and their causes noble ones.
It's a noble cause in every sense of the word. King Richard the Lion Hearted is held captive by Duke Leopold of Austria on a return from the Crusades. Leopold's demanding a hefty sum and Prince John who is regent over in England ain't in no big hurry to pay it. So it is one Wilfred of Ivanhoe, a Saxon knight on Crusade with the Norman King, who takes up the burden of raising that ransom.
As Walter Scott wrote the story, Ivanhoe is a pretty virtuous fellow who takes those chivalry vows quite seriously. If this had been made at 20th Century Fox Tyrone Power would have been Ivanhoe. But MGM had a perfect actor for Ivanhoe in Robert Taylor, especially with the success Quo Vadis had previously.
Joan Fontaine is the prim and proper Lady Rowena and Elizabeth Taylor is the lovely Rebecca ready to be martyred for her Jewish faith. She's the key to this whole film. She's crushing big time on Ivanhoe, but it is Norman knight Bois Guilbert who has it bad for her.
George Sanders who plays Bois Guilbert has the most complex role in the film. He's genuinely in love with Liz Taylor, but all she sees is the oppressor of her people in him. Of course by his reasoning the Normans are enjoying the spoils of conquest in England which they've been doing since 1066 even though it's over 120 years at this point. Nevertheless he's a brave knight and a worthy opponent of Ivanhoe.
Guy Rolfe as Prince John has an interesting part as well. Except in a Doctor Who episode I've never seen a good characterization of Prince later King John. Guy Rolfe is no exception. When Elizabeth Taylor is on trial for witchcraft and sorcery and Ivanhoe challenges the verdict of the court with a wager of battle, Rolfe knows how Sanders feels about Taylor. Yet in an act of supreme cruelty he chooses him as the court's champion. I suppose the idea was for Rolfe to get some kind of sadistic amusement at Sanders's discomfort. It costs Rolfe dearly.
Other good performances come from those four reliable players Finlay Currie as Cedric of Ivanhoe, Felix Aylmer as Isaac of York, Robert Douglas as Hugh DeBracy, and Emlyn Williams as Womba the Squire.
In that 19th century romantic age of literature Walter Scott did much to elevate the ideals of chivalry to what we popularly accept them today. Of course back in the day those knights weren't all that chivalrous all the time.
But this film heeds to that bit of philosophy about American popular myths, "when the legend becomes fact, print the legend."
Or film it as the case may be.
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