Cast & Crew
In late twelfth century England, Saxons and Normans retain lingering hatred of one another. Unpopular Norman Prince John has ruled England since his brother, King Richard, left for the Holy Land to lead the Third Crusade, and many assume that Richard is now dead. During Saxon Ivanhoe's long journey back to England, however, he finds Richard in an Austrian prison, languishing because John will not pay his ransom. Once back in England, Ivanhoe disguises himself as a minstrel and goes to the castle of his father Cedric, with whom he became estranged when he left for the Holy Land. While Cedric offers hospitality in his banquet hall to both Norman and Saxon travelers, Ivanhoe is recognized only by his faithful servant, Wamba. Wamba takes him to see Rowena, Cedric's ward, whom Ivanhoe has loved since childhood. Ivanhoe returns to the banquet hall just as another traveler, a Jew named Isaac, seeks refuge for the night. Although the Normans present, including De Bois-Guilbert and Sir Hugh De Bracy, protest, Cedric offers hospitality to Isaac, insisting that everyone is welcome at his table. As they dine, the Normans discuss a tournament that will soon take place in Ashby, prompting Guilbert to recall a past tournament during which a masked Saxon knight named Sir Wilfred of Ivanhoe bested him, then disappeared. Cedric then bitterly says that Ivanhoe was his son, but is now dead to him. Ivanhoe later reveals himself to Cedric and asks for money to save Richard, but Cedric is convinced the king is dead and refuses. Ivanhoe tells Rowena that he will see her after winning the tournament, then leaves with Wamba. Later that night, Norman soldiers attempt to rob Isaac, who has been forced to sleep in the barn, but Ivanhoe and Wamba interrupt the attack. A grateful Isaac then takes Ivanhoe and Wamba to his home in Sheffield, where Ivanhoe asks Isaac to help raise money for Richard's ransom. Isaac does not find Richard any more sympathetic to Jews than John, but because Isaac is in Ivanhoe's debt, he promises to supplement whatever money is raised. The next night, a young woman who says that she is the servant of Isaac's daughter Rebecca, approaches Ivanhoe at the inn at which he is staying and offers jewels to finance his kit in the tournament. Looking closely at her eyes, Ivanhoe recognizes her as the beautiful woman he noticed at the window of Isaac's house and deduces that she is Rebecca. On the day of the tournament, Prince John presides as well-outfitted Normans defeat ragged Saxon challengers. Then Ivanhoe rides onto the field, suited in black and identifying himself only as a Saxon. The Saxons cheer as he challenges, then bests, five Norman knights. Despite a wound in the shoulder, Ivanhoe stays on his horse and is declared the winner. As the victor, Ivanhoe selects Rowena as the tournament's Queen of Love and Beauty, then must fight Guilbert, who now recognizes him. After a fierce battle, Ivanhoe is knocked from his horse and carried off the field. Rebecca, who tells Rowena that she has learned the medical arts from a woman burned as a witch, attends to Ivanhoe's serious wounds. Although Rowena senses that Rebecca loves Ivanhoe, she knows that he will be well cared for by her and allows him to be taken to Isaac's house. Their departure is observed by a Norman who tells Guilbert. That night, Guilbert tells John about Ivanhoe's attempts to raise Richard's ransom money and the involvement of Isaac, who is a wealthy banker. Meanwhile, in Sheffield, Rebecca confesses her love to the unconscious Ivanhoe, but is gently warned by her father that her love is impossible because she is a Jew. When Ivanhoe awakens, Isaac tells him that money for the ransom is growing, just as Wamba and Locksley, a Saxon nobleman who lives in the forest, arrive to warn him that "Prince John's jackals" are after him. Wamba adds that Cedric and Rebecca have come to Sheffield to be near him, prompting Ivanhoe to ask Wamba to take Rebecca to Cedric while he hides in the forest with Locksley. By the time Guilbert and De Bracey arrive at Sheffield, Ivanhoe is gone, further angering Guilbert. He and his men soon find the caravan on which Rebecca and Rowena are traveling, and take the women, Cedric and Wamba prisoner. Hearing of their capture, Ivanhoe approaches Guilbert's castle and asks that he be allowed to take their place. Guilbert agrees, then Ivanhoe enters the courtyard and asks to speak to Cedric, with whom he reconciles. Instead of allowing Cedric and the others to leave, however, Guilbert breaks his word and puts both men in chains. Upstairs, the ambitious De Bracy proposes to Rowena, who is the last of the royal Saxons, but she slaps him. Later Guilbert, who desires Rebecca, tells her that he must possess her. She runs to the balcony and threatens to jump, but when he offers to free Ivanhoe if she returns his passion, she agrees. Just then Locksley and his archers surround the castle. Guilbert has Ivanhoe brought up from the dungeon and threatens to hang him, but Ivanhoe is able to escape when the archers fire arrows at his guards. As a battle ensues, Ivanhoe frees the men in the dungeon, but in doing so a fire erupts that envelopes Wamba. As more of Locksley's men storm the castle, Ivanhoe rescues Rowena from De Bracy, but Guilbert escapes by using Rebecca as a shield. When Guilbert brings Rebecca to Prince John's court, John and his advisors come up with a plan to use their captive. A few days later, Isaac tells Ivanhoe that the king's ransom money has been raised, but Ivanhoe reveals that John has demanded the same amount to free Rebecca or she will be burned as a witch. Isaac tells Ivanhoe that it is his responsibility to free Rebecca and insists that the money raised be sent to ransom Richard. Seeing Ivanhoe's concern, Rowena reveals her fears that he is in love with Rebecca, but he denies it. At Rebecca's trial, paid and coerced witnesses testify that she is a witch, and only Guilbert defends her. After Rebecca denies that she is a witch, Guilbert asks to speak with her privately and begs her to renounce her faith to save her life. After her refusal, the court sentences her to burn at the stake. Just then, Ivanhoe, who has secretly watched the trial, throws down his glove and challenges the court to determine her guilt by a battle with her champion. John accepts the challenge and chooses Guilbert as his champion for a fight to the death at Ashby. Moments before the tournament, Guilbert offers to default to Ivanhoe if Rebecca will only accept his love, but Rebecca answers that they are in God's hands. While Guilbert and Ivanhoe battle hand-to-hand with ball and chain, Richard and his men ride onto the field, forcing John to bow in submission. Ivanhoe finally defeats Guilbert, who dies after telling Rebecca he loves her and that fate made her love Ivanhoe instead of him. After Guilbert dies, Rowena questions Rebecca about Ivanhoe, but she insists that his heart belongs to Rowena.
Francis De Wolff
Pandro S. Berman
A. W. Watkins
F. A. Young
Schary wasted no time in preparing for his next spectacle. He decided to do a film adaptation of Sir Walter Scott's historical adventure Ivanhoe - a fanciful tale of knights, swordplay, chivalry and kingdoms. The story begins with the kidnapping of King Richard the Lionhearted. Ivanhoe, (Robert Taylor, whose stoic embodiment of virile integrity redefined his image for the rest of his career), a Saxon knight who fought for King Richard in the Crusades, makes an effort to raise the ransom to free his King. Isaac of York (Sir Felix Aylmer), and his daughter Rebecca (Elizabeth Taylor) help Ivanhoe raise the ransom. They are taken prisoner by De Bois-Guilbert (George Sanders), leader of the Normans. Although deeply in love with Rebecca, De Bois-Guilbert takes her to John, who sentences her to the stake as a witch. Ivanhoe steps forward to fight for her freedom and wins just as King Richard returns to reclaim the throne.
To pull off such a grand story MGM needed to perfect the ambience and detail of medieval England, which on the surface was no easy task. First, and most importantly, was the budget, which the studios could cover based on the millions of dollars they had accumulated in British banks during the war but were restricted from taking out of the country. The studio had to spend their money in England, and they invested a majority of it in Ivanhoe. So extravagant were the expenditures that when a suitable castle was not found MGM built one especially for the film and allowed it to age for almost a year before any scenes were shot! To top that, an average day's shooting for some of the more elaborate sequences like the Ashby Tournament called for the presence of all the principal actors plus 12 trumpeters, 15 Norman and 15 Saxon squires, 25 special foresters, 135 ordinary foresters, 160 members of a rough Saxon crowd, 120 Normans, 60 horses, a truckload of arrows and 6 cows!
Even more interesting was how MGM worked around the strict British labor laws (it specifically denied visas for American actors in British films unless strong reasons could be presented) for importing Hollywood talent. Three of the film's four stars (Liz Taylor, Joan Fontaine and George Sanders) were British born, making work visas for them easily attainable and Schary had no qualms while he was there to utilize some of the finest British actors of the day such as Emlyn Williams, Finlay Currie, Sebastien Cabot and Sir Felix Aylmer to add authenticity and grandeur.
The technicians recruited for Ivanhoe were amongst the best in their field: cinematographer Freddie Young, who would later find fame and Oscar recognition for his collaborations with David Lean (Lawrence of Arabia, 1962), Alfred Junge chosen as art director for his work with Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger on Black Narcissus (1947), and composer Miklos Rozsa, well respected for his symphonic works in Oscar-winning films like Spellbound (1945) and A Double Life (1947).
Finally, one cannot undervalue the direction of Richard Thorpe. Indeed, it's a testament to his skill as a director, that despite all the professional sheen and polish in every technical aspect of this movie, he never lets the majestic pageantry overwhelm the general excitement of the story, for he keeps the film moving at a consistent pace that is brisk, vigorous and sweeping.
It all proved to be money, time and creative energy well spent. Released in the summer of 1952, Ivanhoe was MGM's highest grossing film for the year and one of the top four moneymakers of 1952, grossing over $6.2 million. It also earned three Academy Award Nominations for Best Picture, Best Score and Best Cinematography. Yet, most importantly, Ivanhoe possesses a timeless popularity that makes the film as entertaining today as it was when it was released nearly 50 years ago.
Director: Richard Thorpe
Producer: Pandro S. Berman
Screenplay: Marguerite Roberts, Noel Langley, based on the novel by Sir Walter Scott
Cinematography: F.A. Young
Editor: Frank Clarke
Art Direction: Alfred Junge
Music: Miklos Rozsa
Cast: Robert Taylor (Ivanhoe), Elizabeth Taylor (Rebecca), Joan Fontaine (Lady Rowena), George Sanders (Sir Brian De Bois-Guilbert), Emlyn Williams (Wamba)
C-107m. Close captioning.
by Michael T. Toole
A cow jumped the moon, but a fool he jumps higher, from Wamba the serf, to Wamba the squire.- Wamba
A gentleman at last, and my first task is to steal a horse!- Wamba
The film's opening title card reads: "Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer presents Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe." Hollywood Reporter news items and other contemporary sources offer the following additional information about the production: M-G-M had planned to adapt Scott's novel to the screen as early as 1937. At that time, the production was to be shot at M-G-M's British studios, with Robert Taylor announced as the star. Various news items in 1937 and 1938 also mentioned M-G-M stars Clark Gable, Myrna Loy, Luise Rainer, Lionel Barrymore and Wallace Beery as possible co-stars with Taylor. Following the outbreak of war in 1939, pre-production on the film was halted.
According to a New York Times article, in 1947, when producer Dore Schary was at RKO, he became interested in adapting Scott's novel for the screen. When he left RKO to become head of production at M-G-M, he brought the property with him, then in 1949, producer Pandro S. Berman began pre-production on the film and assigned writer Marguerite Roberts to work on the script. At that time, according to a New York Times article, Roberts was to alter the story so that "Isaac's avarice will be considerably moderated" from Scott's novel. In early January 1951, Noel Langley was brought on as the film's co-screenwriter. Only Langley received a screenplay credit on the film, with Aeneas MacKenzie credited with adaptation. According to Hollywood Reporter news items in 1951, M-G-M received permission from the SWG (Screen Writer's Guild) to remove Roberts' name from the film after she refused to testify before HUAC. A cutting continuity of the film, on deposit with copyright records, indicates the removal of Roberts' name from the previously typed credits with the handwritten notation "not on film." In 1997, her credit was restored by the WGA (Writer's Guild of America).
When M-G-M revived the production, a decision was made to go ahead with the film at M-G-M's British studios, with Taylor as the star, just as planned in the late 1930s. According to a Hollywood Reporter news item, Kathleen Bourne from M-G-M's story department, and Cyril Cambridge, from the electrical department, went to England to determine requirements for the production, along with cinematographer F. A. Young, but the exact contribution to the film of Bourne and Cambridge has not been ascertained. Just prior to the start of production, actress Deborah Kerr, who was to portray "Rowena," had to drop out of the cast because she was pregnant. Actor Stuart Raymond was cast in the film, according to a Hollywood Reporter news item, but his appearance in the released film has not been confirmed.
The picture was filmed entirely on location in England, with some of the castle sequences filmed in a reproduction of Torquilstone, a twelfth century Norman castle. Although a studio press release indicated that Taylor would sing for the first time onscreen, he had actually sung, briefly, in the 1935 M-G-M film Broadway Melody of 1936 (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40).
According to news items and studio press materials, the studio launched one of their largest publicity campaigns in many years for the film. A July 22, 1952 Hollywood Reporter news item noted that, on behalf of M-G-M, Maurice Wolf was scheduled to give a series of lectures of Ivanhoe for various clubs, including the Rotarians, the Lions and the Kiwanis. According to a September 9, 1952 news item, the film had taken in $1,310,590 at the box office in thirty-nine days of limited release, setting a record for an M-G-M film. According to Motion Picture Almanac, the film was the second highest-grossing film of 1952, taking in more than $7,000,000 at the box office. Ivanhoe received an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture. The film received two other nominations, one for Young for Best Cinematography (Color) and one for Miklos Rozsa for Best Score.
The Saxon-Norman conflict, which is a major theme in the film, began following the Battle of Hastings in 1066, when the Norman William the Conqueror defeated the then-ruling Saxons. Modern historical sources note that the conflict between the groups was no longer a factor by the late twelfth century, but that Scott chose to incorporate the animosity between the two groups for his novel. The legendary character Robin Hood was only called "Locksley" in the film. For additional information on films featuring the character, please see the entry for the 1938 Warner Bros. picture The Adventures of Robin Hood in AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40.
There have been many film adaptations of Scott's novel, including several silent short films and Italian-language features. Universal released a feature-length version in 1913, directed by Herbert Brenon in England and starring King Baggot (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1911-20). A British feature film, entitled Rebecca the Jewess was also released in 1913. There was a British television series entitled Ivanhoe that ran from 1957 to 1958, starring Roger Moore, and a British mini-series of the same title, produced in 1997.