Ivanhoe (1952)
Ivanhoe (1952)

Genre: Adventure and Romantic Drama Running Time: 1 hr. 46 min.

Release Date: July 31st, 1952 MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Director: Richard Thorpe Actors: Robert Taylor, Elizabeth Taylor, Joan Fontaine, George Sanders, Emlyn Williams, Robert Douglas, Finlay Currie, Felix Aylmer, Francis DeWolff, Basil Sydney




n the 12th century at the close of the third crusade in Jerusalem, Saxon knight Sir Wilfred of Ivanhoe (Robert Taylor) journeys across the countryside, from castle to castle, in search of his king, Richard the Lionhearted. The King of England has vanished, dealing a cruel blow to his people, who are still reeling from the ongoing contention between the Saxons and the Normans. When Ivanhoe arrives in Austria, he discovers that Richard is being held in a prison atop a castle by King Leopold, who has demanded a ransom. But corrupt Prince John, Richard’s brother, has been concealing the situation so as to remain in power.

When two Norman knights, Hugh De Bracy (Robert Douglas) and Brian De Bois-Guilbert (George Sanders), stop by Cedric’s (a perfectly cast Finlay Currie) castle for the evening, Ivanhoe sneaks in to visit his love, Princess Rowena (Joan Fontaine). Cedric also happens to be Ivanhoe’s father, though they’ve had a falling out over an issue of defiance, leading to disownment. Despite Cedric refusing to believe the news of Richard being alive, Ivanhoe sets out to free his king, unaided save for sidekick Wamba (Emlyn Williams) – originally a court jester, promoted now to squire. The duo’s first mission is to deliver Isaac of York (Felix Aylmer), a Jew, safely back to his home, where they negotiate monetary help from Isaac’s people, promising that Richard will offer a fairness that John refuses. Ivanhoe’s next stop is a combat at arms contest at Ashby, where he must be victorious in order to rally additional support for his quest – or die trying.

Although “Ivanhoe” isn’t nearly as well-known as the many legends of Robin Hood (and his theatrical iterations), this medieval epic exists alongside Locksley’s own exploits, making for an amusing supplement to the more famous yarns. The rogues of Sherwood Forest, jousting competitions, plenty of chain mail, sword fights (the kind that never draw blood), brazen insults toward royalty, bitter betrayal, shifty spies, threats of torture, a siege with hundreds of extras, and a love triangle grace this picture, which has all the flavors of Robin Hood yet much less of the excitement. Fortunately, there’s Elizabeth Taylor as Isaac’s daughter Rebecca, who adds a certain Hollywood glamor to the proceedings, as well as Miklos Rozsa’s alternatingly romantic and swashbuckling music.

The majority of the film involves the politics of the time, not only detailing the ongoing contempt between the Saxons and Normans, but also prejudices against the Jews. In fact, so many of the interactions focus on religious intolerances, negotiations, trades, ransom demands, and standoffs that it’s exponentially more thrilling when a major battle sequence finally arrives – loosing swarms of arrows, plumes of black smoke, makeshift bridges across a moat, battering rams, and numerous bodies cascading from high towers. This climactic assault (on Torquilstone Castle) is so complex and multi-faceted that it takes up nearly the entire last act. By the actual finale, which returns again to the slower pacing of a sham witchcraft trial (“Forgive me m’lady, they made me say it!”), “Ivanhoe” concedes to its romance and drama more than its adventure – even though Sanders is at his slimy best (inexplicably scripted to regain his chivalry at the close) and a horseback duel (with a mace and chain against an axe) for the fate of Rebecca poses dependable suspense.

– Mike Massie

  • 7/10