Ivanhoe (1952 film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Richard Thorpe|
|Produced by||Pandro S. Berman|
|Screenplay by||Æneas MacKenzie|
by Sir Walter Scott
|Music by||Miklós Rózsa|
|Edited by||Frank Clarke|
Ivanhoe is a 1952 historical adventure epic film directed by Richard Thorpe and produced by Pandro S. Berman for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. The film was shot in Technicolor, with a cast featuring Robert Taylor, Elizabeth Taylor, Joan Fontaine, George Sanders, Emlyn Williams, Finlay Currie, and Felix Aylmer. The screenplay is written by Æneas MacKenzie, Marguerite Roberts, and Noel Langley, based on the 1820 historical novel Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott.
The film was the first in what turned out to be an unofficial trilogy made by the same director and producer and star, Robert Taylor. The others were Knights of the Round Table (1953) and The Adventures of Quentin Durward (1955). All three were made at MGM's British Studios at Elstree, near London.
In 1951, the year of production, one of the screenwriters, Marguerite Roberts, was blacklisted by the House Un-American Activities Committee, and MGM received permission from the Screen Writers Guild to remove her credit from the film.
Richard the Lionheart (Norman Wooland), King of England, vanishes while returning from the Crusades. One of his knights, the Saxon Wilfred of Ivanhoe (Robert Taylor), searches tirelessly for him, finally finding him being held by Leopold of Austria for an enormous ransom. Richard's treacherous brother, Prince John (Guy Rolfe), knows about it, but enjoys ruling in his absence.
Back in England, Ivanhoe, pretending to be a minstrel, meets Sir Brian de Bois-Gilbert and Sir Hugh deBracy, two of Prince John's Norman supporters. When the Norman party seeks shelter for the night, Ivanhoe leads them to Rotherwood, the home of his father, Cedric the Saxon. Cedric welcomes the knights coldly while Ivanhoe sneaks into the lady Rowena’s chamber and they kiss. Later in private, Ivanhoe pleads with Cedric to aid in raising the ransom of 150,000 marks of silver to free Richard, but Cedric wants no part of helping any Norman. Ivanhoe makes Wamba, Cedric's jester, his squire. Later the two men rescue the Jew Isaac of York, another guest of Cedric's, from two Norman soldiers. Shaken, Isaac decides to return home to Sheffield. Ivanhoe escorts him there. Isaac’s daughter, Rebecca, then gives Ivanhoe jewels to buy a horse and armor for the tournament at Ashby.
Nearly everyone of note is at the tournament, including Prince John. The Norman knights Brian De Bois-Gilbert, Hugh de Bracy, Front de Boeuf, Philippe de Malvosoin and Ralfe de ViPont defeat all Saxon comers. Then a mysterious Saxon knight appears, arrayed all in black, his face hidden behind his visor. He declines to reveal his name, but challenges all five Normans. He easily defeats the first three, Malvoisin, Ralph, and Front de Boeuf (Francis de Wolff), one after the other. When Ivanhoe salutes Rebecca, Bois-Guilbert is immediately smitten by her beauty. While Ivanhoe bests de Bracy, he is seriously wounded in the shoulder. His identify is guessed by some. In the last joust against Bois-Guilbert, Ivanhoe falls from his horse. He is carried off, to be tended to by Rebecca.
Ivanhoe is taken to the woods under the protection of Robin Hood (Harold Warrender). The other Saxons make for the city of York, but are captured and taken to the castle of Front de Boeuf. When Ivanhoe hears the news, he gives himself up in exchange for his father's freedom. However, the Normans treacherously keep them both. Robin Hood's men storm the castle. In the fighting, de Boeuf drives Wamba to his death in a burning part of the castle and is slain in turn by Ivanhoe. The defense crumbles. Bois-Guilbert alone escapes, using Rebecca as a human shield, but de Bracy is captured while attempting the same with Rowena.
Meanwhile, the enormous ransom is finally collected, but the Jews face a cruel choice: free either Richard or Rebecca, for Prince John has set the price of her life at 100,000 marks, the Jews' contribution. Isaac chooses Richard. Ivanhoe promises Isaac that he will rescue Rebecca.
At Rebecca's trial, she is condemned to be burned at the stake as a witch, but Ivanhoe appears and challenges the verdict, invoking the right to "wager of battle." Prince John chooses Bois-Guilbert as the court's champion. Bois-Guilbert makes a last desperate plea to Rebecca, offering to forfeit the duel in return for her love, though he would be forever disgraced. She refuses, saying, "We are all in God's hands, sir knight."
In the battle to the death, Ivanhoe is unhorsed, but manages to pull Bois-Guilbert from his horse and inflict a mortal wound with his battle axe. As he lies dying, Bois-Guilbert tells Rebecca that it is he who loves her, not Ivanhoe. Rebecca acknowledges this to Rowena.
King Richard and his knights arrive to reclaim the throne from his brother. John, grudgingly accepting defeat, kneels before his brother. Richard then calls on his kneeling people to rise, not as Normans or Saxons, but as Englishmen.
- Robert Taylor as Ivanhoe
- Elizabeth Taylor as Rebecca
- Joan Fontaine as Rowena
- George Sanders as De Bois-Guilbert
- Emlyn Williams as Wamba - and Narrator (uncredited)
- Robert Douglas as Sir Hugh De Bracy
- Finlay Currie as Cedric
- Felix Aylmer as Isaac
- Francis De Wolff as Front De Boeuf
- Norman Wooland as King Richard
- Basil Sydney as Waldemar Fitzurse
- Harold Warrender as Locksley/Robin Hood
- Patrick Holt as Philip De Malvoisin
- Roderick Lovell as Ralph De Vipont
- Sebastian Cabot as Clerk of Copmanhurst/Friar Tuck
- John Ruddock as Hundebert
- Michael Brennan as Baldwin
- Megs Jenkins as Servant to Isaac
- Valentine Dyall as Norman Guard
- Lionel Harris as Roger of Bermondsley
- Carl Jaffe as Austrian Monk
- Guy Rolfe as Prince John
- May Hallatt (as Elgitha) [uncredited]
- Desmond Roberts (as Marshal at Ashby) [uncredited]
- Robert Brown (as Castle Guard at Torquilstone) [uncredited]
- Paddy Ryan (as Castle Guard who plunges from a high tower into the moat at Torquilstone) [uncredited]
- Martin Benson (as Jewish Delegate) [uncredited]
- Jack Churchill (as archer on the walls of Torquilstone) [uncredited)
In 1951 the film's main scriptwriter, Marguerite Roberts, was ordered to appear before the House Un-American Activities Committee, where she and her husband, John Sanford, cited the Fifth Amendment and refused to answer questions about whether they had been members of the American Communist Party. Consequently, they were both blacklisted, and MGM received permission from the Screen Writers Guild to remove Roberts' credit from the film. It would take nine years before she was allowed to work in Hollywood again. (Roberts had already completed another screenplay for an MGM film, The Girl Who Had Everything. It was released early in 1953, but she wasn't credited.)
Scenes were filmed on soundstages at MGM-British Studios, Borehamwood, Herts, and on location at Doune Castle, Scotland. Both the Ashby-de-la-Zouch tournament and the Torquilstone Castle siege were shot on the large Borehamwood backlot. Woodland scenes were shot in Ashridge Forest, Herts and Bucks.
Miklos Rozsa's score is one of his most highly regarded, and it received both Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations. However, the composer was deeply disappointed with the film's treatment of Scott's novel, as he explained in his 1982 autobiography:
The music of Quo Vadis established me as a composer of 'epic' scores. I became apparently a specialist in historical pictures, much to my delight. Whether a film was good or bad, the subject was invariably interesting and worth spending time on.
Such a film was Ivanhoe. The book was a favourite of my youth, in Hungarian translation, of course. I re-read my Scott and was again delighted. When I read the script I was less delighted. It was a typical Hollywood historical travesty and the picture for the most part was cliche-ridden and conventional. So I turned back to Scott, and Scott it was, rather than Robert or even Elizabeth Taylor, who inspired my music.
In Ivanhoe I went back to mediaeval musical sources ...
In an interview with Bruce Duffie in 1987 Rozsa identified some of these medieval sources:
The various themes in Ivanhoe are partly based on authentic Twelfth Century music, or at least influenced by them. Under the opening narration I introduced a theme from a ballad actually written by Richard the Lionhearted. The principle Norman theme I developed from a Latin hymn by the troubadour Giraut de Bornelh. This appears the first time with the approaching Normans in Sherwood Forest. Later during the film it undergoes various contrapuntal treatments. The love theme for Ivanhoe and Rowena is a free adaptation of an old popular song from the north of France. The manuscript of this I found in a collection of songs in the Royal Library of Brussels. It's a lovely melody, breathing the innocently amorous atmosphere of the middle ages, and I gave it modal harmonizations. 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 motives 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.
Ivanhoe was released in the summer of 1952. 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. It was MGM's biggest earner for 1952 and one of the top four money-makers of the year. It was also the fourth most popular film in England in 1952.
The film was nominated for three Academy Awards: Pandro S. Berman for Best Picture, Freddie Young for Best Cinematography, Color, and Miklós Rózsa for Best Music, Scoring. In addition, Richard Thorpe was nominated by the Directors Guild of America, USA, for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures. There were also two Golden Globe Award nominations: Best Film Promoting International Understanding and Best Motion Picture Score, for Miklós Rózsa.
Bosley Crowther, critic for The New York Times, wrote that "Producer Pandro S. Berman and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer have fetched a motion picture that does them, Scott and English history proud" and delivered "almost as fine a panorama of medievalism as Laurence Olivier gave us in 'Henry V.'"
Differences from Scott's novel
- The film omits the characters Gurth the Swineherd, Athelstane of Coningsburgh, Ulrica of Torquilstone, Lucas Beaumanoir (Grand Master of the Templars) and Prior Aymer of Jorvaulx, while it introduces a company of crusaders who do not appear in the novel. Ivanhoe's early injuries are rapidly healed, and he plays a very active part during the siege of Torquilstone Castle. Unlike the novel, King Richard is not involved until the final scene, when he and his crusader knights ride in. In the novel, Rebecca is tried and sentenced by the Templars, not by Prince John.
- At the beginning of the novel Ivanhoe has arrived in England disguised as a palmer, a pilgrim returning from Palestine. In the film he is posing as a troubadour.
- In the film—surprisingly, in view of the character's 1950s hero status—Ivanhoe surreptitiously kills two Normans during the siege of Torquilstone. He stabs one (a sentry) in the back with a dagger and shoots the other (a squire) in the back with a crossbow bolt. (In an American Western of this period that would violate the implicit principle that only a villain 'shoots a man in the back'.) Nothing similar happens in the novel, in which Ivanhoe is the epitome of chivalry—in Chaucer's phrase, 'a very perfect gentle knight'. (Both incidents were dropped from the comic book versions, below.)
- In the novel, Ivanhoe is described as 'a young man of twenty-five ... [with] a profusion of short fair hair' [Ch XII]. (Scott doesn't make it clear if he's clean-shaven, mustached, or bearded. Most illustrators have shown him as one of the first two.) In the film, Robert Taylor is dark-haired, bearded, and looks ten years older. He is still knightly and handsome, but he isn't as Scott describes the character.
- Sir Brian De Bois-Guilbert is represented as a layman, a secular Norman knight, not as a Knight Templar. (The Templars were military monks, bound by a rule of celibacy. There is no reference to the Templars in the film.) Scott describes him as 'a man past forty ... [with] thick black moustaches ... a deep scar on his brow ... one of his eyes ... slightly injured' [Ch II]. George Sanders, at forty-five, was the right age, but his hair and beard were brown and he had no facial scar or injured eye.
- The novel's Sir Maurice de Bracy is called Sir Hugh De Bracy in the film. Like Bois-Guilbert, he appears as a Norman knight returning from the Crusades. In the novel he is one of Prince John's mercenaries, or Free Companions.
- Ivanhoe assumes the role of the 'Black Knight' (the disguised King Richard in the novel) as well as being the Disinherited Knight. He also assumes the role of the minstrel Blondel, the legendary discoverer of the location of King Richard's imprisonment, who does not appear in the novel.
- In the film a ransom is being collected for King Richard. When the novel opens, King Richard has already been ransomed.
- Wamba the Jester (in whom the book's characters of Wamba and Gurth are combined) does not die in the novel, as he does in the film.
- In the novel, 'Locksley' is revealed as Robin Hood and the 'Clerk of Copmanhurst' is revealed as Friar Tuck. In the film their true identities are never mentioned. In fact, the clerk appears as a layman, not a churchman. However, Sebastian Cabot's clerk is made up to resemble the Friar Tuck of Willard Louis in Douglas Fairbanks' 1922 Robin Hood.
- The film includes Rebecca and her father, Isaac, in King Richard's climactic statement that all are "for England." At the end of the novel the two leave England, overwhelmed by Rebecca's ordeal and by the strength of hatred for the Jews.
Comic Book adaptions
- Fawcett Movie Comic #20 (December 1952). Full-color photo-cover • 32 pages in full color plus covers, artist unknown • Copyright 1952 by Fawcett Publications, Inc. ( It's notable, though ironic, that both the front cover and page one carry the credit "Screen Play by MARGUERITE ROBERTS and NOEL LANGLEY". )
- Sun (Weekly picture paper • Amalgamated Press • London) No177, 28 June 1952 - No197, 15 November 1952. 21 issues, 42 pages in full colour. Drawn by Patrick Nicolle. ( Remarkably faithful to the look of the film. However, Locksley and the Clerk of Copmanhurst are unambiguously portrayed as Robin Hood and Friar Tuck. And, like the above, it includes an incident not in the film: at the beginning of the story a mounted Austrian soldier challenges Ivanhoe and is defeated. This was either in the script but not shot or it was shot but removed from the final cut. )
- The Eddie Mannix Ledger, Los Angeles: Margaret Herrick Library, Center for Motion Picture Study.
- "Filmography of Marguerite Roberts".
- Los Angeles Times, March 17, 1989: Marguerite Roberts; Writer Blackballed in 1950s Red Hunt Retrieved 2012-09-08
- "Visit Scotland: Stage and Screen". Retrieved 2009-01-10.
- Miklos Rozsa: Double Life (The Baton Press • Tunbridge Wells • 1982) p155
- Quoted by Arnold Jason in booklet with Miklos Rozsa IVANHOE: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Audio CD • Soundtrack Factory • 2016) pp8-12
- "COMEDIAN TOPS FILM POLL". The Sunday Herald. Sydney. 28 December 1952. p. 4. Retrieved 9 July 2012 – via National Library of Australia.
- Bosley Crowther (August 1, 1952). "The Screen in Review; Sir Walter Scott's 'Ivanhoe' Makes Lavish Metro Film, Now at the Music Hall". The New York Times.
- "Fawcett Movie Comic #20". Grand Comics Database.