Review by Matt Bailey
Posted on 17 January 2005
Source Warner Bros. DVD
There are a few moments of fantastically thrilling derring-do on Warner Brothers’ new DVD release of the 1952 film, Ivanhoe: they are in the trailer for the superior film, Scaramouche starring Stewart Granger, released the same year. I have seen Scaramouche a number of times and never tire of it; I am always eager to watch it another time. I have seen Ivanhoe twice now, and I hope never to see it again.
Sir Walter Scott, the author of the original 1819 novel, was, in his lifetime, best known as a Scottish poet and novelist who explored the history and legends of his homeland, making it rather ironic that he is best remembered today for a novel concerning an English conqueror. I have never read Ivanhoe as it seems to have fallen out of fashion as a requirement for high school English classes, but on the basis of the 1952 film adaptation, I must say that I do not feel that missed out.
In this ostensibly epic tale of knights and maidens, chivalry and swordfights, there is not a single actor who does not appear surpassingly bored, especially George Sanders—that great deliverer of camp wit—who looks particularly ill at ease in his chain mail suit. Robert Taylor—who was never all that charming of a persona to begin with—is an absolute dud as Wilfred of Ivanhoe, a role that calls for an actor able to convey dash and virility (such as… well… Stewart Granger in Scaramouche), not someone who perpetually gives the impression of having a burr in his tights.
The entire first hour of the film is as gripping as watching a clogged bathtub drain. Suddenly, well into the second hour, the siege of a castle is staged and the movie springs to life. For around ten minutes, the movie is a fast-paced adventure: arrows fly through the air, stones rain down on loyal Saxons climbing the castle walls, knights clash with clanging swords (obviously made of rubber), and wounded men fall from the parapets into the moat. Then, just as suddenly, the movie screeches to a standstill again. Some folderol about a witch trial and a judgment from God is tossed about, Richard the Lionheart miraculously arrives from his imprisonment, and the movie is over.
I am sure that people of a certain age (okay, old folks) remember this film fondly. All I can see in it is a pallid imitation of the highly entertaining The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), full of tired and gassy-looking actors (except for Elizabeth Taylor, who merely looks uncomfortable), with an odd sprinkle of proto-Zionist propaganda in it. For your swashbuckling needs, you are far better off turning to The Sea Hawk, Captain Blood, or… Scaramouche.