Ivanhoe (1952)

2010 #55
Richard Thorpe | 102 mins | TV | U

Ivanhoe is the kind of film they don’t often make any more, a pure swashbuckling romp. And when they do make them they tend to muck it up with over-complicated mythology-obsessed sequels — yes Pirates, I’m looking at you.

No such fate befalls Ivanhoe, of course. I’m not familiar with Sir Walter Scott’s novel, nor any other adaptation, so can’t comment in any way on the faithfulness, but adapter Æneas MacKenzie and/or screenwriter Noel Langley keep things moving at a fair lick, balancing well the romance, action, politics and humour. It’s an odd feeling seeing Robin Hood as a minor supporting character but, well, that’s the story I suppose.

But, as I said, it’s not really a film about acting or screenplay, though both are more than serviceable. No, swashing buckles are the order of the day, and here they certainly are. Most notable is an excellent siege sequence, a moderately epic extended battle that is certainly the film’s high point. The randomly hurled arrows and choreography-free sword fights may look a tad amateurish almost sixty years on, when we’re used to slickly staged and edited combat sequences, but the scale and rough excitement of the battle easily makes up for it. Though the final duel that ultimately follows can’t quite live up to this in terms of sheer scale and excitement, it impressively holds its own as a climactic action sequence.

I feel there’s a bit more to say about Ivanhoe’s story, particularly the love-triangle romance side of the tale, or the subplot about Jewish acceptance in a film made less than a decade after the Second World War ended, but I’m afraid those will have to wait for a more intelligent reviewer another time. Having chosen to watch Ivanhoe as a swashbuckler (you may have gathered that by now), my subtext sense was not fully tingling. But I can confirm that it is indeed a very enjoyable swashbuckling romp.

4 out of 5

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