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Film / Ivanhoe

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Ivanhoe is the 1952 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer movie adaptation of Walter Scott's eponymous novel, directed by Richard Thorpe and starring Robert Taylor as Sir Wilfred of Ivanhoe, Elizabeth Taylor (no relation to Robert) as Rebecca, Joan Fontaine as Rowena, George Sanders as De Bois-Guilbert, Felix Aylmer as Isaac and Finlay Currie as Sir Cedric of Ivanhoe.

The film was nominated for three Academy Awards, for Best Picture, Best Colour Cinematography, and Best Score for Miklós Rózsa. It is part of a Thematic Series with 1953's Knights of the Round Table and 1955's The Adventures of Quentin Durward (which were also produced by MGM and directed by Richard Thorpe, and also starred Robert Taylor, and Quentin Durward was also adapted from a Scott novel), what with their similar chivalric spirit and tone and lavish production values. All three were filmed at MGM's British Studios at Elstree, near London.


Ivanhoe provides examples of:

  • Adaptation Distillation: Condenses the novel's plot while retaining the basics of everyone's characterization, and avoids the Useless Protagonist problem by making Ivanhoe and Rowena more active.
  • Adaptational Badass: This version of Ivanhoe is more active, as he manages to outmaneuver the Normans while giving himself up, rescue most of the prisoners, and kill Front-de-Boeuf. Wamba too get a big upgrade as he's fighting alongside Ivanhoe throughout the film, skilled enough to fight toe-to-toe with Norman knights despite just being a jester like in the original story.
  • Adaptational Heroism: Cedric doesn’t push Rowena into marriage against her will (Athelstane being Adapted Out) and forgives Ivanhoe much earlier than in the book.
  • Adaptational Villainy: The antagonists are hit with it really hard.
    • In contrast to the novel where one of the few standards he had was staying true to his word, here Bois-Guilbert easily goes back on his promise to free the prisoners in exchange for Ivanhoe.
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    • Rebecca’s threatened suicide scene is practically the complete opposite of the one in the book. There, Bois-Guilbert convinces her to step down as he swears he won’t try to rape her again; here, he delivers a full-fledged Scarpia Ultimatum (complete with not really planning to spare the heroes), forcibly kisses her and threatens to kill Ivanhoe still if she isn’t responsive enough next time.
    • De Bracy’s honorable traits and his genuine feelings for Rowena are removed too: he admits he is only guided by his ambitions.
  • Adaptation Name Change: Maurice de Bracy is changed to Hugh de Bracy.
  • Adapted Out: King Richard's plotline as the Black Knight. Ivanhoe takes the role of the leader of the attack on Torquilstone Castle.
  • All Love Is Unrequited: Ivanhoe does not, as in some versions, return Rebecca's affection.
  • An Axe to Grind: Ivanhoe chooses a one-handed axe as his weapon in the final duel.
  • Beard of Evil: Prince John has a villainous weedy beard. And De Bracy has a nasty little moustache.
  • Betty and Veronica: For Ivanhoe, the blond-haired Childhood Friend Romance Rowena and the exotic impulsive Rebecca who falls in love with him at first sight.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Richard shows up at the very end to do this.
  • The Cavalry: Locksley's men.
  • Childhood Marriage Promise: Ivanhoe and Rowena, cutting their wrists and mixing the blood.
  • Combat Commentator: The knights briefly do this during the joust.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Ivanhoe has no compunctions about sneaking up behind people and stabbing them in the back, or hiding in dark corners and popping out to stab them in the back. Even when he's Flynning, he doesn't really fight fair - the sword fight is just so he can get close enough to stab his opponent with the dagger he carries in his off-hand. Ivanhoe is practically a Knife Nut in this adaptation, a truly unusual element for a heroic character.
  • Death by Adaptation: Wamba is promoted to Gurth's role, and is killed at Torquilstone by Front-de-Boeuf.
  • Death from Above: Inverted when one of the Torquilstone guards who is fighting Ivanhoe is killed when the fire bursts up underneath the floor.
  • Dull Surprise: Robert Taylor's performance edges into this at (a few) points.
  • Epic Flail: Bois-Guilbert's weapon in the climatic duel.
  • The Evil Prince: Prince John is the king’s brother planning to usurp the throne for himself.
  • Face Death with Dignity: Bois-Guilbert dies calmly telling Rebecca he loved her and wishing her well.
  • Flynning: Oh, yes. At several points you can see one combatant just holding his sword up while the other hits it repeatedly.
  • Friend in the Black Market: Isaac providing Ivanhoe with armor and ransom money for King Richard.
  • Good Weapon, Evil Weapon:
    • Unusually, Ivanhoe uses a dagger (usually the weapon of a villain) in his duels, often locking swords with his opponent and then pushing up close to them in order to stab them.
    • Played with during the final duel, where Bois-Guilbert uses a mace and chain—a nicely evil weapon—but Ivanhoe uses an axe. This is to drive home that he's not Rebecca's Knight in Shining Armor.
  • Hero Secret Service: Especially evident in the message-arrow scene.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade: Also present in this adaptation, although it's played with differently. Ivanhoe staunchly supports Richard, because he's Richard's friend; almost all the other characters point out that there's very little to choose between Richard and John. Ivanhoe builds support for Richard by promising a civil rights movement.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: When Rowena comes to see Ivanhoe off as he is leaving for Rebecca’s trial by combat, she tells him, albeit sadly, that the ultimate choice rests with him, not with her or Rebecca.
    • And Rebecca has it all the time, being friendly with Rowena after their initial argument at Ashby and reassuring her that Ivanhoe’s love never wavered.
  • Kangaroo Court: One of the witnesses against Rebecca starts crying and admits that she was forced to testify.
  • Leitmotif: The swaggering, menacing Norman theme.
  • Oh, Crap!: Prince John when Richard shows up.
  • Scars Are Forever: As a result of the childhood blood oath, Rowena and Wilfred have matching small scars on their hands.
  • Spiritual Successor: Received quite a few: King Richard and the Crusaders, the television series The Adventures of Robin Hood and Richard the Lionheart, the 1970 Ivanhoe miniseries, The Men of Sherwood Forest and the Ivanhoe series starring Roger Moore.
  • Swashbuckler: This adaptation stressed that element very much, what with fights with medieval swords that seem oddly lightweight.


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