Odd – that Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer should have developed a yen for the swashbuckler in the early 1950s just as Warner Bros. and Errol Flynn were bowing out of their tenured sword play; odd and perfectly timed, with MGM’s usual zeal for gloss, spectacle and lavish escapism filling in the gap and, in some cases, topping their competitor. Valiantly throwing down the gauntlet, MGM launches Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe (1952) with visual aplomb.
Among the most thrilling tales of knights and their ladies fair, the film stars Robert Taylor as the medieval champion destined to raise a ransom for captured King Richard (Norman Wooland). Ivanhoe's unpopular rescue of Isaac (Felix Aylmer), from anti-Semites subverts his attempts to reconcile with his estranged father (Findlay Currie). But it yields a fruitful bounty of gratitude from Isaac's daughter, the fair Rebecca (Elizabeth Taylor).
She pays Ivanhoe's entry fee into an jousting tournament. Mischief grows as Ivanhoe's closest associates, Sir Brian (George Sanders) and Sir Hugh (Robert Douglas) conspire with the evil Prince John (Guy Rolfe) to steal Rebecca and Rowena (Joan Fontaine) for themselves and do away with our strapping (though not quite so young) hero. Alas, both maidens fancy the raven haired Ivanhoe instead. So, what’s a paragon of viral manhood squeezed into nylon leggings and a breast plate to do?
Director Richard Thorpe lavishes this glowing tale with nonstop adventure and thrills, told in typically epic MGM style. There are shadings of Warner Bros. own Adventures of Robin Hood, as well as a foreshadowing of Lerner and Lowe’s Camelot. But Ivanhoe has a flavoring all its own, and with the icy cool Fontaine and smoldering Taylor providing perfect counterpoints in femininity as backdrop, who can resist this veritable feast for the romantic in all of us?
Robert Taylor's career received a major boost with this film. He ought to have been doing these types of roles in the 1930s while he was still in his prime. By 1952 he was a little long in the tooth to be Scott's exuberant swain, but Taylor's charisma more than makes up for his slightly sagging facade. He's stoic and charming and very much the man of the hour.
Elizabeth Taylor's beauty is beyond reproach. It's easy to see why her career excelled during this period. Though often fed through the meat grinder as pure eye candy in films of questionable artistic integrity, in this case Taylor is cast spot on. She is worthy of the film and vice versa.
Bottom line: Ivanhoe is pure entertainment!
Warner’s DVD transfer is remarkably clean and solid. The Technicolor image exhibits only marginal deterioration in fidelity. For the most part, colors are rich and vibrant. Fine details are nicely realized for a very textured image that will surely please. Occasionally slight blurring occurs. There is also a hint of haloing during several matte process shots and draws attention to the fact that much of the glory of the realm is actually painting on glass re-composited with foreground action. Black levels are deep and solid. Whites are generally clean.
The audio is mono but impressive in its balance and blend. Extras, alas, are limited to a Tom & Jerry cartoon already available on the Tom & Jerry 2-disc set from Warner and a swashbuckler’s theatrical trailer gallery – total 3. Ho-hum. For DVD Decision DVDs more was and should have been expected herein. But overall, this is a very nice visual presentation.
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)