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Warner Home Video presents
Ivanhoe (1952)

Ivanhoe: Then you force me to choose between my father and my king.
Cedric the Saxon: Choose? Choose between whom? You have no king, and I have no son.

- Robert Taylor, Finlay Currie

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: January 14, 2005

Stars: Robert Taylor, Elizabeth Taylor, Joan Fontaine, George Sanders
Other Stars: Emlyn Williams, Robert Douglas, Finlay Currie, Felix Aylmer, Francis De Wolff, Norman Wooland, Harold Warrender, Guy Rolfe, Sebastian Cabot
Director: Richard Thorpe

Manufacturer: WAMO
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (violence, implied torture)
Run Time: 01h:46m:34s
Release Date: January 11, 2005
UPC: 012569515420
Genre: historical adventure

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B B+A-B D+

DVD Review

Although the Waverly novels of Sir Walter Scott were voraciously read in the 19th century and first half of the 20th century, they've fallen quite a bit out of fashion; Scott's stylish prose probably seems a bit creaky to many modern readers. But he also knew how to tell a ripping adventure story, with deeper thematic elements. This all-star version of the best known of the Waverly novels, Ivanhoe, keeps much of that thematic material intact while also keeping the entertainment value.

During the last years of the 12th century, King Richard the Lionhearted (Norman Wooland) has been taken prisoner in Austria. Former crusader Sir Wilfred of Ivanhoe (Robert Taylor), scouring the continent for his missing king, finally locates him and learns that Richard's captor is demanding a huge ransom. Returning to England, Ivanhoe attempts to raise money for the ransom through the financial contacts of a Jew, Isaac of York (Felix Aylmer). Simultaneously, he seeks equal treatment for his Saxon people, kept under the thumbs of the Norman conquerors, led by Prince John (Guy Rolfe), the King's wicked younger brother, and also to regain the approval of his alienated father, Cedric the Saxon (Finlay Currie). Not incidentally, he finds himself torn romantically between Isaac's daughter Rebecca (Elizabeth Taylor) and Cedric's ward, the Lady Rowena (Joan Fontaine).

The chafing conflict between Saxon and Norman is a central theme of Scott's novel (readers will recall the famous first scene, where the linguistic differences between the two peoples are hashed out; alas, that scene doesn't make it to the film). The rivalry is captured well here, though historical inaccuracies unsurprisingly abound. Robin Hood, or Locksley (Harold Warrender) is also found running around and coming to the rescue. As in Scott's novel, Richard is made to be a paragon of integrity and fair treatment, which is hardly the reality of the situation, but given the source material that's probably not too surprising. The jousting sequences are a highlight of the picture, with Ivanhoe battling for the freedom of his people and the Jews as well as the rightful king. Scott's theme of opposition to anti-Semitism is also highlighted here, and the English at the time had in fact been quite happy to exterminate the Jews in their own pogroms, so this underbelly of history is at least correct in substance, if not exactly presentation.

Taylor is a decent leading man for this type of piece, but the script leaves him rather helpless at times. Taylor is wholly unconvincing as an English Jewess but she does have a decent chemistry with Taylor. The character is so well written, both here and in Scott, that it's easy to forgive the actress' shortcomings. Lady Rowena, on the other hand, remains a virtual cipher who seems to exist solely as competition for Rebecca. There are a boatload of bad guys, headed by Guy Rolfe (Mr. Sardonicus himself). But George Sanders is also memorable as the slimy Brian de Bois-Guilbert, who wants Rebecca for his own, and Francis de Wolff as the villainous Front De Boeuf gives more menace to the Norman side. Character actors Finlay Currie and Felix Aylmer do a good job with their oppressed old men who strive to do the right thing, despite their tempers and hearts telling them to do otherwise.

The violence is minimal, and there's little blood in any event. It's a thrilling old-time costume adventure story that holds up pretty well due to its depth even if the characterizations are a bit on the uneven side.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The full frame Technicolor picture generally looks quite fine. Grain is rather heavy, but it's well-rendered through use of a high bit rate so it's not sparkly and annoying. Color is vivid for the most part, with the jousting scenes in particular being spectacular. Occasional speckling is the only significant defect.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish, Frenchyes

Audio Transfer Review: There's mild hiss that is audible at reference levels, but at more moderate listening levels it's hardly perceptible. Miklos Rosza's score sounds quite nice, with the trumpets in particular coming across with excellent presence. The pseudo-Shakespearean dialogue is clear enough. It's mono but very good mono for a 50-year-old picture.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 27 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Aviator, Scaramouche, Knights of the Round Table
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 00h:56m:49s

Extra Extras:
  1. Tom and Jerry cartoon
Extras Review: There's not much for extras here. One of my favorite Tom and Jerry cartoons, The Two Musketeers (1952) is included; it's not only thematically appropriate, but it also came out from MGM the same year as the feature so they may well have played together theatrically. Oddly, it's not the cleaned up and restored print found on the Tom and Jerry Spotlight Collection, and shows a fair amount of wear. Trailers for the feature and two other historical adventures are included as well as the pre-menu (but skippable) trailer for the theatrical release of The Aviator. Chaptering is acceptable.

Extras Grade: D+


Final Comments

One of the better and more colorful adaptations of Scott, presented in a nice transfer but little in the way of extras.


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