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Another classic Hollywood epic of chivalry comes to Blu-ray. 4 Stars

Another work of classic literature comes to the screen in Richard Thorpe’s 1952 version of Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe, an abridged yet faithful rendition of the gallant tale of knights, fair damsels, and a kingdom torn apart by civil war.

Ivanhoe (1952)
Released: 20 Feb 1953
Rated: Approved
Runtime: 106 min
Director: Richard Thorpe
Genre: Adventure, Drama, History
Cast: Robert Taylor, Elizabeth Taylor, Joan Fontaine
Writer(s): Noel Langley, Æneas MacKenzie, Marguerite Roberts
Plot: A knight seeks to free the captive King Richard and put him back on the throne.
IMDB rating: 6.8
MetaScore: N/A

Disc Information
Studio: MGM
Distributed By: Warner Archive
Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
Audio: English 2.0 DTS-HDMA
Subtitles: English SDH
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 1 Hr. 47 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray
Case Type: keep case
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Region: All
Release Date: 12/14/2021
MSRP: $21.99

The Production: 4/5

Another work of classic literature comes to the screen in Richard Thorpe’s 1952 version of Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe, an abridged yet faithful rendition of the gallant tale of knights, fair damsels, and a kingdom torn apart by civil war. Though Robert Taylor’s Americanized rendition of the title character sometimes seems oddly situated among the very British cast and environs that surround him, there’s no denying that the film is adventure-filled with some spurts of romance and lots of action set pieces.

With his adored King Richard (Norman Wooland) imprisoned in Austria with an outrageous ransom required for his release while his evil brother John (Guy Rolfe) sits on the throne selling his loyalty to the Normans, loyal Saxon knight Ivanhoe (Robert Taylor) sets out to find someone who can pay the ransom. Ivanhoe’s estranged father Cedric (Finlay Currie) won’t aid him, but the Jewish leader Isaac (Felix Aylmer) will raise the necessary funds hoping the Jews will be given a fairer shake in an England under Richard’s rule. In the meantime, Ivanhoe and his Saxon compatriots including Robin of Loxley (Harold Warrender) and his loyal band must fight the dastardly Normans at every turn, led by the treacherous De Bois-Guilbert (George Sanders) and his right-hand man Sir Hugh De Bracy (Robert Douglas). To gain an upper hand, De Bois-Guilbert isn’t above kidnapping two fair damsels with special ties to Ivanhoe: his betrothed-from-childhood Lady Rowena (Joan Fontaine) and Issac’s comely daughter Rebecca (Elizabeth Taylor) who on more than one occasion has come to Ivanhoe’s rescue.

The adaptation of Sir Walter Scott’s hefty novel by Noel Langley and Aeneas MacKenzie eliminates many characters and subplots but retains the gist of the story. And the screenwriters and director Richard Thorpe treat us to the kind of old-fashioned chivalric epic we had become accustomed to after 1938’s The Adventures of Robin Hood with lots of gallantry and gorgeous Technicolor. Thus, we have jousting tournaments with some adept horsemanship, a lengthy sequence where the Norman castle is stormed by the Saxons with thousands of arrows fired and many boulders launched in counterpoint and then the resultant swordplay (not always staged adroitly by journeyman director Thorpe for us to get the most out of the lives saved and lost: the lovable character played by Emlyn Williams isn’t given his due during this extended sequence), and the climactic close-quarter faceoff between Ivanhoe and De Bois-Guilbert. King Richard’s triumphant procession also adds something of an anticlimax to the proceedings as handled by Thorpe; possibly a more urgent ride-to-glory might have added even greater suspense to the too-close-to-call battle to the death between our hero and villain.

In his favor, Robert Taylor’s Ivanhoe isn’t made a Superman nor is he the expert swordsman that either Errol Flynn or Tyrone Power was in the many swashbucklers each man made: he’s sometimes bested in combat and occasionally requires assistance or luck to supersede some of his challenges. Cinematographer Freddie Young has photographed both Joan Fontaine and (especially) Elizabeth Taylor to great advantage, and each lady plays her role with earnest devotion and conviction despite the overly familiar love quadrangle (De Bois-Guilbert loves Rebecca who loves Ivanhoe who loves Rowena) that sits at the heart of the tale. As always, George Sanders makes for an oily, calculating villain, and Guy Rolfe as the weasel-like King John matches him sneer for sneer. Both Finlay Currie and Felix Aylmer make for stalwart family patriarchs while Emlyn Williams delightfully steals all of his scenes as jester-turned-squire Wamba. Also acquitting themselves admirably are Robert Douglas as Sir Hugh De Bracy, Francis DeWolff as the evil Front De Boeuf, and Harold Warrender and Sebastian Cabot as Robin and Little John, though those aren’t the names they’re given in this story.

Video: 5/5

3D Rating: NA

The film’s original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.37:1 is admirably retained in this 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. Polished up to perfection and cleaned of all age-related anomalies, the Oscar-nominated Technicolor camerawork of Freddie Young is seen to excellent advantage here with skin tones possessing an especially pleasing appearance. The movie has been divided into 27 chapters.

Audio: 5/5

The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono sound mix is aces all around. The dialogue has been smoothly recorded and has been mixed with Miklos Rozsa’s magnificent Oscar-nominated background score and the rousing sound effects to produce a full, rich sound palette. There are no problems at all with age-related distractions like hiss, crackle, pops, or flutter.

Special Features: 2/5

Two Mouseketeers (7:24, HD): 1951 Oscar-winning animated short with Tom and Jerry.

Theatrical Trailer (4:04, HD)

Overall: 4/5

Nominated for the Best Picture Academy Award, Richard Thorpe’s Ivanhoe is an adventure-packed romantic entertainment of the old school with top stars, expensive production design, and an engaging narrative. The Warner Archive Blu-ray release offers the film unquestionably in its best-ever home video incarnation and comes with a firm recommendation for lovers of classic Hollywood.

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Published by

Matt Hough

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Andrew Budgell

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Fantastic review as always, Matt! I'm planning to watch my copy on Friday to kick off my Christmas vacation. I hope it arrives as quickly as National Velvet did. I'm sure it will look every bit as stunning! Dinner at Eight and In the Good Old Summertime will be arriving with it, so it will be a very merry WAC holiday!
 

benbess

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Matt H. writes in his excellent review: "Cinematographer Freddie Young has photographed both Joan Fontaine and (especially) Elizabeth Taylor to great advantage, and each lady plays her role with earnest devotion and conviction despite the overly familiar love quadrangle (De Bois-Guilbert loves Rebecca who loves Ivanhoe who loves Rowena) that sits at the heart of the tale. As always, George Sanders makes for an oily, calculating villain, and Guy Rolfe as the weasel-like King John matches him sneer for sneer. Both Finlay Currie and Felix Aylmer make for stalwart family patriarchs while Emlyn Williams delightfully steals all of his scenes as jester-turned-squire Wamba."

I watched this for the first time a few days ago, and I was taken with the effectively somber portrayal by Elizabeth Taylor, who at the time of filming had just escaped from her disastrous first marriage to the abusive Conrad Hilton Jr., heir to a hotel fortune. Taylor portrays well someone intimate with injustice. This film was more direct than I thought it would be in addressing that:

"Isaac of York: I see you love Richard, sire, but he was no friend to my people. Our synagogues were looted to send him on his crusades.

Ivanhoe: Do you prefer the persecution of his brother, John?

Isaac of York: There is little to choose between Black John and Richard, yea and nay, if you are a Jew.

Ivanhoe: Then I pledge you this, Isaac. You're a race without a home or a country. Deliver Richard, and he will deliver your people from persecution.

Isaac of York: My friend, you ask for more than we can give. - And you offer more than Richard can give."

The movie features another wonderful score by Miklos Rosza, and here's an interesting quote from him about his work for Ivanhoe:

"Rebecca needed a Jewish theme, reflecting not only the tragedy of this beautiful character but also the persecution of her race. Fragments of medieval Jewish motifs suggested a melody to me. My most difficult job was the scoring of the extensive battle in the castle because the producers wanted music to accompany almost all of it. I devised a new theme for the Saxons, along with a motive for the battering ram sequence, thereby giving a rhythmic beat which contrapuntally and polytonally worked out with the previous thematic material, forming a tonal background to this exciting battle scene. Scoring battles in films is very difficult, and sadly one for which the composer seldom gets much credit. The visuals and the emotional excitement are so arresting that the viewer tends not to be aware that he or she is also being influenced by what is heard."


There are some good action scenes in this movie, including one really long fall that to me was jaw dropping, and a bit worrying. According to imdb it was well-known among stuntmen of that era and even beyond.


"Stuntman Paddy Ryan's fall from the battlements of a castle into the moat below became the stuff of legend amongst his peers because it was so spectacular."

According to wikipedia the movie was a huge hit....

"Ivanhoe was released in the summer of 1952. It opened at the Radio City Music Hall in New York City on July 31, 1952[1] and set an opening week record at the Hall with a gross of $177,000.[10] In its opening 39 days, the film took $1,310,590 at the box office, setting a new record for an MGM film. According to the studio records, it made $5,810,000 in the US and Canada and $5,086,000 elsewhere, resulting in a profit of $2,762,000.[2] It was MGM's biggest earner for 1952."

In the non-alphabetical listing of Elizabeth Taylor before Joan Fontaine I guess you can see how one star is rising, while the other is starting to fall.


ivanhoe 2.jpeg
liz taylor.jpeg
 
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benbess

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Oh, one more thing. As mentioned, the colors and clarity for this restoration are spectacular. But at one point the clarity seems to reveal in close-up the glue that is holding on Robert Taylor's beard and mustache. Mostly, however, this blu-ray shows in a wonderful way the details of the performances, costumes, and production design.

i.jpeg
 
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richardburton84

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Matt H. writes in his excellent review: "Cinematographer Freddie Young has photographed both Joan Fontaine and (especially) Elizabeth Taylor to great advantage, and each lady plays her role with earnest devotion and conviction despite the overly familiar love quadrangle (De Bois-Guilbert loves Rebecca who loves Ivanhoe who loves Rowena) that sits at the heart of the tale. As always, George Sanders makes for an oily, calculating villain, and Guy Rolfe as the weasel-like King John matches him sneer for sneer. Both Finlay Currie and Felix Aylmer make for stalwart family patriarchs while Emlyn Williams delightfully steals all of his scenes as jester-turned-squire Wamba."

I watched this for the first time a few days ago, and I was taken with the effectively somber portrayal by Elizabeth Taylor, who at the time of filming had just escaped from her disastrous first marriage to the abusive Conrad Hilton Jr., heir to a hotel fortune. Taylor portrays well someone intimate with injustice. This film was more direct than I thought it would be in addressing that:

"Isaac of York: I see you love Richard, sire, but he was no friend to my people. Our synagogues were looted to send him on his crusades.

Ivanhoe: Do you prefer the persecution of his brother, John?

Isaac of York: There is little to choose between Black John and Richard, yea and nay, if you are a Jew.

Ivanhoe: Then I pledge you this, Isaac. You're a race without a home or a country. Deliver Richard, and he will deliver your people from persecution.

Isaac of York: My friend, you ask for more than we can give. - And you offer more than Richard can give."

The movie features another wonderful score by Miklos Rosza, and here's an interesting quote from him about his work for Ivanhoe:

"Rebecca needed a Jewish theme, reflecting not only the tragedy of this beautiful character but also the persecution of her race. Fragments of medieval Jewish motifs suggested a melody to me. My most difficult job was the scoring of the extensive battle in the castle because the producers wanted music to accompany almost all of it. I devised a new theme for the Saxons, along with a motive for the battering ram sequence, thereby giving a rhythmic beat which contrapuntally and polytonally worked out with the previous thematic material, forming a tonal background to this exciting battle scene. Scoring battles in films is very difficult, and sadly one for which the composer seldom gets much credit. The visuals and the emotional excitement are so arresting that the viewer tends not to be aware that he or she is also being influenced by what is heard."


There are some good action scenes in this movie, including one really long fall that to me was jaw dropping, and a bit worrying. According to imdb it was well-known among stuntmen of that era and even beyond.


"Stuntman Paddy Ryan's fall from the battlements of a castle into the moat below became the stuff of legend amongst his peers because it was so spectacular."

According to wikipedia the movie was a huge hit....

"Ivanhoe was released in the summer of 1952. It opened at the Radio City Music Hall in New York City on July 31, 1952[1] and set an opening week record at the Hall with a gross of $177,000.[10] In its opening 39 days, the film took $1,310,590 at the box office, setting a new record for an MGM film. According to the studio records, it made $5,810,000 in the US and Canada and $5,086,000 elsewhere, resulting in a profit of $2,762,000.[2] It was MGM's biggest earner for 1952."

In the non-alphabetical listing of Elizabeth Taylor before Joan Fontaine I guess you can see how one star is rising, while the other is starting to fall.


View attachment 122140 View attachment 122141

Thanks for posting all that information about one of my favorite films growing up, especially that quote from Rózsa on the score (one of my all-time favorites from his repertoire). As it turns out, Rózsa didn’t have to work too hard to find the battering ram motif during the siege sequence. If you listen to the magnificent Tadlow recording of his score for Quo Vadis, you’ll find it’s actually repurposed from music he wrote for the Burning of Rome sequence in the earlier film which was for the most part discarded.
 

benbess

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As far as I'm remembering at the moment, Ivanhoe is maybe the only Technicolor movie on blu-ray from the year 1952 that looks great. There were actually dozens of movies made in three-strip Technicolor in 1952, but for various reasons none of the others looks more than good on blu-ray.


Warner Archive is one of the very few places beyond Criterion that I'm remembering at the moment that actually goes back to the original three-strip negatives, cleans them all up perfectly, aligns them all perfectly, and then adjust the color perfectly. Compare what you see with this blu-ray of Ivanhoe with the blu-rays or streaming versions of other Technicolor movies from 1952 and you can see the difference. The other Technicolor movies from 1952 from Paramount (such as The Greatest Show on Earth) and Universal (such as Bend in the River) have so-so pq in comparison. With these movies from other studios there are registration issues at times, plus dust and damage that hasn't been cleaned up, and the colors aren't always quite right. Of course, the Technicolor movies from Paramount, Universal, etc, still look better than those from 20th Century Fox, which as we know threw out their three-strip Technicolor negatives back in 1976.

Iirc even the other movies owned by Warner from 1952 so far don't look as good as Ivanhoe. Warner also owns Singin' in the Rain, but the three-strip negatives for that one were actually lost in a fire iirc, and so it looks good but not great. Warner released a blu-ray for the 1952 Technicolor Danny Kaye movie Hans Christian Anderson years ago, but the pq was a disappointment. John Huston's Moulin Rouge from 1952 I thought it looked great streaming a year or so ago, but so far no blu-ray for that one that I know of.

Anyway, overall 1952 was a good year for movies, and Ivanhoe makes my personal top-ten list, although there are still a lot I haven't seen from this year.

Singin’ in the Rain
High Noon
My Cousin Rachel
The Greatest Show on Earth
The Member of the Wedding
The Bad and the Beautiful
Moulin Rouge
Ivanhoe
Bend of the River
The Quiet Man

Interesting how many different versions of the Ivanhoe poster MGM made. And here's one for 1952's Moulin Rouge....

iv best.jpeg
moulin rouge.jpeg