Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 24, 2022)
According to Bart Simpson, Ivanhoe offers a story about a Russian farmer and his tool. Because I doubt Bart’s account, I decided to give the 1952 film adaptation of Sir Walter Scott’s 1819 novel a look.
Set in England circa the 12th century, King Richard the Lionhearted (Norman Wooland) disappears after he returns from the Crusades. Sir Wilfred of Ivanhoe (Robert Taylor) learns that King Richard resides in an Austrian prison.
However, Prince John (Guy Rolfe) now sits on the English throne and digs this situation too much to do anything to free Richard. Along with Robin of Locksley (Harold Warrender), Ivanhoe strives to bring Richard back to the throne.
So no Russians or farm implements?
Simpsons allusions aside, I knew Ivanhoe had nothing to do with the topics Bart discussed. However, I didn’t know that it connected to the Robin Hood legend until I got this Blu-ray.
Alas, any hopes that Ivanhoe would compare favorably with the better Robin Hood tales failed to bear fruit. Though a professional affair from start to finish, Ivanhoe tends to feel oddly lifeless.
Given the cast at hand, this becomes a real surprise. In addition to Taylor, we find notables such as Elizabeth Taylor, George Sanders and Joan Fontaine.
None manages to do much with their parts – not even the usually reliable Sanders. With a role as Ivanhoe’s main foe, Sir De Bois-Guilbert seems ready-made for Sanders’ brand of cool cynicism, but the character feels strangely forgettable.
As our lead, Robert Taylor feels generic and faceless. Coincidentally, I recently watched him in 1958’s Party Girl.
As a conflicted attorney who represents gangsters, Taylor provided a wholly terrific performance in that flick. Unfortunately, he brings little nuance to Ivanhoe, for he feels like little more than a bland Hero Figure.
Fontaine and Elizabeth Taylor exist as nothing more than pretty baubles. Of the whole cast, only Rolfe’s appropriately sinister John stands out as memorable.
Ivanhoe also comes with a strangely sluggish story. Oh, it punctuates the tale with dollops of action – a jousting match here, a castle assault there – but none of it provides much in terms of actual thrills.
Instead, these scenes seem perfunctory. No one appears to invest much in them, so the various conflicts come across as though the filmmakers included them solely out of obligation.
Ivanhoe does look good, with appealing Technicolor photography and a luxurious sense of production design. The movie clearly enjoyed a strong crew behind it.
Unfortunately, the end result just lacks much energy or narrative punch. Despite the potential for ample drama, Ivanhoe feels flat.