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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 Miklos Rozsa. 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 gets 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.
    • Only the antagonists display any animosity towards Jews. Cedric welcomes Isaac to his house much more heartily than he does the Normans, Rowena is friendly with Isaac and Rebecca and is, though with sadness, ready to accept that Ivanhoe might choose Rebecca over her, and Ivanhoe offers his friendship and protection to Isaac and Rebecca from the start. In the novel, the heroes, including Ivanhoe, are still victim to the anti-Semitic prejudices of the setting.
  • 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.
    • 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: A number of elements to streamline the movie.
  • All Love Is Unrequited: Ivanhoe does not, as in some versions, return Rebecca's affection.
  • 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.
  • Black Knight: Ivanhoe participates in The Tourney at Ashby as an anonymous knight clad in black armor.
  • The Cavalry: Locksley's men assaulting Bois-Guilbert's castle in the climax.
  • 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 expert in this adaptation, a truly unusual element for a heroic character.
  • Deadly Dodging: Ivanhoe wins the Trial by Combat by ducking Bois-Guilbert's swing, then striking upward with his axe to knock him off-balance and then finishing him off with a blow to the chest.
  • 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.
  • Demoted to Extra: King Richard and Friar Tuck.
  • 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.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Ivanhoe gets Bois-Guilbert off his horse by entangling his opponent's flail in the shaft of his axe and dragging him off that way. Once that's done he ducks the next swing and plants his axe in Bois-Guilbert's chest.
  • 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.
  • Light Is Not Good: The villainous Bois-Guilbert wears a blue and white surcoat.
  • Oh, Crap!: Prince John when Richard shows up.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation:
    • Censorship related: The Hays Code would not have allowed the Cross as an emblem of villains, hence why the Knights Templar are Adapted Out and Bois-Guilbert is a common knight rather than belonging to any order.
    • Likely done to differentiate it from The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men, despite the film basically being the The Adventures of Robin Hood of the 1950s right down to getting Olivia de Havilland's sister Joan Fontaine in a lead role, Robin Hood and Friar Tuck are never referred to as such, only by their aliases of Locksley and the Clerk of Copmanhurst.
  • Scars are Forever: As a result of the childhood blood oath, Rowena and Wilfred have matching small scars on their hands.
  • Shoo Out the Clowns: Wamba is killed off in the siege of Torquilstone.
  • Storming the Castle: Robin Hood and his men attack the castle of Torquilstone in the climax to help Ivanhoe and his father who are prisoners there.
  • Swashbuckler: This adaptation stressed that element very much, what with fights with medieval swords that seem oddly lightweight.
  • Throwing Your Sword Always Works: Ivanhoe beats De Bracy by throwing his sword at him; when De Bracy is distracted by the sword Ivanhoe tackles him and gets his knife at his throat to make him surrender.
  • The Tourney: The Ashby tourney, to which Ivanhoe participates as an anonymous Black Knight.