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Ivanhoe Movie Review

taylor sir richard film

1952 – Richard Thorpe –

“The man with the perfect profile,” as Robert Taylor was once known, suits well this story of Saxon and Norman strife during the exile of King Richard the Lionheart (Norman Wooland). Richard languishes as the prisoner of Leopold of Austria. Taylor's Ivanhoe travels, sometimes in disguise, to help restore Richard to his throne even if it comes by ransom. The overall approach is so reverential that the few touches of wit seem almost inadvertent. Ivanhoe returns to his father (Finlay Currie) and the Lady Rowena (Joan Fontaine) but conceals himself under his tunic at dinner since two Normans also share their table. When Rowena elicits from one of the Normans, Sir Brian De Bois-Guilbert (George Sanders), the reluctant admission that he was once bettered in a duel by Ivanhoe, the film cuts, first, to the father for his guarded reaction, and, then, to the family pooch, who also turns his head to look at the partially hidden face of Ivanhoe. If the film offered up more lighter moments like that, its solemnity would be easier to take.

As it is, action and pageantry are the strong suits. The sense of drama also intensifies in the second half when Rebecca (Elizabeth Taylor), the daughter of the Jew who ransoms Richard, is captured by the Normans and accused of witchcraft. For a while the film's interest unexpectedly falls on the villain Sir Brian and his conflicted feelings. His unrequited love for Rebecca matches hers for Ivanhoe. The dilemma concerning Rebecca brings Sir Brian's humanity to the surface, and he becomes the film's most complicated character, the only one to bring out some of the contradictions in the chivalric code (as writer Blake Lucas has pointed out in Magill's Survey of Cinema). Sir Brian desires to spare Rebecca from the charges of witchcraft. He even offers to default to Ivanhoe in their final duel and endure the resulting disgrace if only she will return his feelings. Although famed composer Miklos Rozsa turned in one of his best scores, the final fight plays without any background music, an odd choice that highlights the clank of chain and mail in an attempt to capture the savagery of the duel.

According to her biographer Donald Spoto, Elizabeth Taylor's entire part had to be dubbed by her when the film company returned to Hollywood from England. Her love life was in disarray (divorced, she was realizing that she could not endure the solitude between relationships), and her line readings were unemotional and garbled. After two weeks of shooting, producer Pandro Berman told director Thorpe to continue filming with the intention of having her redo the lines later. Spoto reports that Taylor tended to dismiss the film despite its popularity as “a big medieval western.”

Cast: Robert Taylor (Ivanhoe), Elizabeth Taylor (Rebecca), Joan Fontaine (Lady Rowena), Emlyn Williams (Wamba), George Sanders (Sir Brian De Bois-Guilbert), Robert Douglas (Sir Hugh De Bracy), Finlay Currie (Cedric), Felix Aylmer (Isaac), Francis De Wolff (Font De Boeuf), Norman Wooland (King Richard the Lionheart), Basil Sydney (Waldemar Fitzurse), Harold Warrender (Locksley), Patrick Holt (Philip De Malvoisin), Roderick Lovell (Ralph De Vipont), Sebastian Cabot (Clerk of Copmanhurst) Screenwriter: Noel Langley Cinematographer: Freddie Young Composer: Miklos Rozsa Producer: Pandro S. Berman for MGM Running Time: 107 minutes Format: VHS Awards: Academy Awards, 1952: Nominations: Color Cinematography, Picture, Original Dramatic/Comedy Score Box Office: $6M.

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