DVD Review HTF REVIEW: Ivanhoe

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Herb Kane, Jan 11, 2005.

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  1. Herb Kane

    Herb Kane Screenwriter

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    [​IMG]
    Ivanhoe





    Studio: Warner Brothers
    Year: 1952
    Rated: Not Rated
    Film Length: 107 Minutes
    Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1 Academy
    Audio: DD Monaural
    Color/B&W: Color
    Languages: English & French
    Subtitles: English, French & Spanish
    MSRP: $19.97
    Package: Single disc/Keepcase





    The Feature:
    Similar to last year’s Time Warner – AOL classics contest, last year WB and TCM ran a similar contest and offered up a list of twenty potential films from the Warner vaults of which the top five would be chosen. After the votes were tallied in August, those selected were: Ivanhoe (1952), Random Harvest (1942), The Letter (1940), King Solomon’s Mines (1950) and Ice Station Zebra (1968). Hopefully, we’ll see the remainder of those titles surface in 2005 as well as those that were not selected in last years poll.

    Originally an MGM British production, the film was based on the novel written by Sir Walter Scott, scripted by Æneas MacKenzie and was directed by Richard Thorpe who was also responsible for the direction of The Prisoner of Zenda (1952), Knights of the Round Table (1953), Jailhouse Rock (1957) as well as several of the MGM Tarzan films. After the success of Quo Vadis, the film along with other adventure stories such as Kim and King Solomon’s Mines (also released in this wave), led to other big-budget spectacle adventure films being shot in Europe such as Scaramouche, Knights of the Round Table and Ivanhoe.

    Set in the 12th century, Ivanhoe is the story of Normans versus the Saxons. Sir Wilfred of Ivanhoe, (played by Robert Taylor) returns to his native England from the Crusades to raise a ransom for King Richard the Lionhearted (played by Norman Wooland), held in Austria. But upon his arrival he is all but disowned by his father Cedric (played by Finlay Currie) who he’s at odds with, a Saxon who loathes King Richard. His father introduces Ivanhoe's fellow knights Sir Brian de Bois-Guilbert (played by George Sanders) and Sir Hugh de Bracy (played by Robert Douglas) to Cedric's lovely ward, Lady Rowena (played by Joan Fontaine), who was once in love with Ivanhoe.

    Ivanhoe departs and eventually rescues Isaac of York (played by Felix Aylmer), a wealthy Jew, from a band of anti-Semitic Normans. Ivanhoe promises that the Jews in England will be treated well if Richard returns to the throne. As a token of his appreciation, Isaac's daughter Rebecca (played by a very young Elizabeth Taylor) sponsors Ivanhoe and his appearance in a jousting tournament. Ivanhoe, while masked and his true identify concealed, conquers all of his opponents and dedicates his victory to Rebecca. Richard's wicked brother Prince John (played by Guy Rolfe) attempts to dishonor Ivanhoe so that the ransom money can never be paid.

    As a result, what follows are a series of adventurous battles and clashes and eventually, Rebecca is kidnapped and tried as a witch, knowing this farce will flush out Ivanhoe out with the hope of finally putting an end to him. However, King Richard, with the help of Robin Hood (played by Harold Warrender) foils the villains.

    The film was nominated for three Academy Awards including Best Picture (Pandro S. Berman), Best Color Cinematography (Freddie Young) and most deservedly, Best Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture (Miklós Rózsa), but failed to win in any of the categories.

    The Feature: 3.5/5
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    Video:
    Shot in Technicolor, Ivanhoe is presented in its original aspect ratio of Academy and for the most part is satisfying, however don't expect to be overwhelmed. When watching this movie, one can't help but be reminded of The Adventures Of Robin Hood - whether the comparison is fair, is hard to say. But if you venture off into this film with similar expectations of what was achieved with TAoRH, you're going to be terribly disappointed. If nothing else, it serves as an constant reminder of what was achieved with the Errol Flynn classic, through the WB Ultra-Resolution process.

    The first thing that springs to mind is the color. This is where the disc falls flat. I’m not sure if I would go so far as to call the overall look dull (it certainly is compared to TAoRH), but it lacks the vigor and joie de vivre that we’ve seen with many of the recent Technicolor releases. There are instances of vibrancy, but more often than not, I felt the colors were just flat. As a result, the film looks rather lifeless. Black levels were impressive and whites were stark and clean. Skin tones were usually accurate but did appear to be pasty white occasionally. Shadow detail and contrast levels were fine.

    Image definition was usually pretty good and nicely defined with occasional soft scenes here and there. There was a moderate amount of fine film-grain present throughout much of the film and the level of depth and dimension was satisfactory.

    The vast majority of the print looked mostly clean and free of dust and dirt anomalies, although slight signs of dirt as well as occasional scratches did exist. There were infrequent bouts of shimmer and jitter and light speckle also existed throughout the film, but never became annoying or bothersome.

    The compression and authoring appears to have been handled fine as they were no signs of any compression errors, nor was edge enhancement ever an issue.

    Video: 3.5/5
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    Audio:
    My feelings are similar with respect to the audio portion and I have very little to complain about. Again, this DD Monaural soundtrack does a fine job, but rarely rises above the level of satisfactory.

    First off, the track is totally free of any hiss or annoying pops or crackle. The overall tonal fidelity of the track is natural, never sounding edgy or harsh. The overall dynamic range is rather thin but that should be of no surprise considering the limitations of the period.

    Most importantly, dialogue was always exceptionally bold and clear even during the incredible Miklós Rózsa score that accompanies the film throughout.

    A solid job with very little to complain about.

    Audio: 3.5/5
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    Special Features:
    Not a lot here in terms of special features, but up first:
    [*] A 1952 Tom And Jerry Technicolor short entitled the “Two Mouseketeers” which is an appropriate selection, in pretty nice shape. Duration: 7:22 minutes.
    [*] The only other special feature is a Swashbuckler Trailer Gallery which consists of trailers for the following three films:

    - Ivanhoe Duration: 1:52 minutes.
    - Scaramouche Duration: 3:33 minutes.
    - Knights of the Round Table Duration: 4:23 minutes.

    All three trailers are in very good shape, with Ivanhoe being the weakest of the three.

    Special Features: 2/5
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    **Special Features rated for the quality of supplements, not the quantity**



    Final Thoughts:
    Ivanhoe is a very good film, not a great one. It’s almost an impossible film to view without thinking or comparing it to the earlier and much more celebrated swashbuckler, The Adventures of Robin Hood. However, drawing such comparisons between the two films is most certainly a means to an inevitable letdown as the film fails to achieve the same level of success – not only the film itself, but the presentation, as well.

    All of the performances are quite good with extended praise going to Joan Fontaine who, as always, turns in an exceptionally delicate and warm performance. Without question, the highlight of this film is the wonderful film score of Miklós Rózsa who manages to bring to life many of the action sequences and elicits the appropriate mood and atmosphere of the film. All in all, the production values, costumes, and sets, are what we would expect from an MGM epic film of the 50’s.

    The presentation is by no means a disappointment, but doesn’t reach the same level of distinction as many of the other Technicolor films that have seen recent releases. If you’re a huge fan of the film or a fan of swashbucklers from the period, you probably won’t be disappointed, but you probably won’t be left in awe either.

    Overall Rating: 3.5/5 (not an average)
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    Release Date: January 11th, 2005
     
  2. Andrew Budgell

    Andrew Budgell Screenwriter

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    I bought this today, along with The Letter. I haven't watched it yet, but am looking forward to it!
     
  3. Andrew Budgell

    Andrew Budgell Screenwriter

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    Great review, Herb! I watched about half of Ivanhoe and I have actually been rather impressed. The colours seem to be quite vivid, although there is a number of scratches on the print which deter from a more impressive video quality. Other than that, I was quite satisfied. I think the disappointment is coming from what we know can be achieved using the Ultra Resolution restoration. Because this DVD probably won't be a big seller, Warner probably had to make due with a strict budget to restore this title, and obviously couldn't splurge on an Ultra Resolution treatment. Either way I am just thankful to be able to cross another Elizabeth Taylor film on DVD off my list! Keep 'em coming, Warner!

    Andy
     
  4. Douglas R

    Douglas R Cinematographer

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    Pleased, Herb, to see you give major credit to Miklos Rozsa. His music, especially for the MGM historical epics, is simply wonderful and Ivanhoe was one of his very best scores.
     
  5. MarkBourne

    MarkBourne Stunt Coordinator

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    Fun Fact trivia: On location in Scotland, Ivanhoe's cinematographer Freddie Young, who later shot Lawrence of Arabia, made fine use of the countryside and Doune Castle -- years before the castle returned in its greatest star appearance in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Suddenly Ivanhoe's siege battle cries out for John Cleese as a French knight hurling insults at Ivanhoe and his men.
     

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