Sunday, January 6, 2013

Ivanhoe (1952)

Sometimes there is nothing better than stretching out on the couch to enjoy a cool movie from Hollywood's Golden Age. This film fits that bill.

Made in 1952, it stars Robert Taylor and Elizabeth Taylor (no relation) and is set in the time during the reign of King John - the evil one that we all know from the 1960s Robin Hood cartoon. I was half hoping that Sir Hiss would show up but sadly, he did not. In the novel, the legendary Robin Hood, initially under the name of Locksley, is also a character in the story, as are his "merry men." The character that Scott gave to Robin Hood in Ivanhoe helped shape the modern notion of this figure as a cheery noble outlaw.


The Crusades are going on, Richard the Lion-hearted is secretly returning to England, and his brother has tried to usurp the throne. These are the sons of Henry II, who had Thomas a Becket murdered in his own cathedral. Great literature is set in this time. There are jousts and castles and kidnappings in the forest. The main conflict are between the Normans who rule and the Saxons who are subjugated by King John and his knights.

I remember reading the novel by Sir Walter Scott as a kid and these Medieval epics are always fun to revisit from time to time if only for the costumes and pageantry. The film adaptation glorifies the ideas of chivalry of the High Middle Age with tolerance being shown to minority groups like the Jews and the Saxons.

For the most part the huge battles and jousting matches are bloodless but exciting. I unfairly compared the battle scenes to Lord of the Rings where EVERY arrow finds a mark and one swipe of the sword means death. Often here, it looked like someone just threw a bunch of arrows at the soldiers on the wall and they either fell down or didn't. Stunt choreography seemed in it's infancy here.

The individual fight scenes are terrific, however. The way that both lead characters maneuver their horses in single combat - axe vs morning star - is thrilling to watch. This was as close to medieval combat came to real in the movies of the time and no doubt formed an opinions of the times for many viewers, especially young children. It was also one of the first movies of the 50s to be filmed in color.

Of course everything that seems bad ends with the return of King Richard the Lion Hearted and the unification of England but all of that happens in the last ten minutes. LONG LIVE THE KING! Sort of anti-climactic but that doesn't ruin what is actually a nice little adventure.


Debra She Who Seeks said...

I read the book as a kid too AND the Classics Illustrated comic, LOL! I started to watch the movie this afternoon but only lasted about 5 minutes. Ivanhoe going from foreign castle to foreign castle searching for the imprisoned King Richard the Lionhearted by singing a certain song was based on a true story. But the searching minstrel was a man named Blondin, who was the gay Lionheart's lover. Now THAT'S devotion!

Debra She Who Seeks said...

Pardon me, his name was Blondel. Blondin was the famous tightrope walker.

Kal said...

You know so much. I was flipping through the channels this afternoon and lasted longer than you. I am a boy and we like knights on horseback. I suspect those knights had a similar relationship with their squires that Greek teachers had with their students and it wasn't a bad thing. More of mentoring with cuddles.