Ivanhoe (1952): MGM Oscar-Nominated Epic Starring Robert Taylor, Elizabeth Taylor, and Joan Fontaine

In the early 1950s to fight the threatening competition from TV, MGM produced several lavish costume epics and medieval romances, hoping that the big canvas would lure audiences to the movie theaters.

“Ivanhoe” opened at the Radio City Music Hall on July 31, 1952, and despite mixed reviews proved to be a commercial success.  Which may explain why it was nominated for the Best Picture Oscar later that year.

The all-star cast of the movie, which was shot in the U.K., includes Robert Taylor in the title role, Elizabeth as Rebecca, and Joan Fontaine as Rowena.

The romance of Ivanhoe, Rowena and Rebecca is set against the politics of the late twelfth century.  Prince John attempts to usurp the throne of his brother King Richard, who has been captured and held prisoner on his way back from the crusades.  The Normans vie with the Saxons, whose rule they had dispossessed a century before.

Wilfred of Ivanhoe, the Saxon knight (Taylor) has become a supporter of the Norman Richard and has been ostracized by his father Cedric (Finlay Currie), a Saxon lord, for his new allegiance, and also because he has sought the hand of the Saxon heiress Rowena (Fontaine), whom Cedric wishes to marry off to Saxon royalty, hoping to reconcile the warring factions among his people.

Ivanhoe enters the tournament at Ashby in disguise and is wounded but victorious.  Isaac of York (Felix Aylmer), a persecuted Jewish merchant, with whom Ivanhoe seeks an alliance to raise money to ransom the imprisoned Richard, cares for him, along with his daughter Rebecca (Taylor).  Ivanhoe loves Rowena and he’s loved by Rebecca.  When Rowena is captured, she is freed by Ivanhoe and his men.  The saga ends with a great tournament where Sanders and Taylor fight it out with mace and ax and Ivanhoe triumphs.

The plot is secondary, and the dialogue is too Americanized for the film to be semi-authentic.  But MGM’s top exec Dore Schary wanted to give audiences a rousing, colorful and kinetic display of medieval fireworks of swordplay and romance, and in this respect, he succeeded.

“Ivanhoe” launched Taylor’s career as a medieval hero, cashing in on his god looks and bearing, and reaffirmed the young Liz Taylor’s growing status as a desirable leading lady.

 

Oscar Nominations: 3

Picture, produced by Pandro S. Berman

Cinematography (Color): F. A. Young

Scoring: Miklos Rozsa

Oscar Awards: None

Oscar Context

The most nominated films in 1952 were Fred Zinnemann’s Western “High Noon,” John Huston’s “Moulin Rouge,” and John Ford’s rustic romance “The Quiet Man,” each with 7 nods including Best Picture.  But the winner was “The Greatest Show on Earth,” winning two of its five nods. The fifth nominee was the historical drama “Ivanhoe,” which received three but lost in each of its categories.

The Cinematography Oscar went to Winton C. Hoch and Archie Stout for “The Quiet Man,” and the Scoring Oscar to Dimitri Tiomkin for “High Noon.”

 

Cast

Ivanhoe (Robert Taylor)

Rebecca (Elizabeth Taylor)

Rowena (Joan Fontaine)

Brian de Bois Guilbert (George Sanders)

Wamba (Emlyn Williams)

Sir Hugh de Bracy (Robert Douglas)

 

Credits

Produced by Pandro S. Berman

Directed by Richard Thorpe

Screenplay: Noel Langley, adapted by Aeneas Mackenzie from the novel by Sir Walter Scott

Art Direction: Alfred Junge

Score: Miklos Rozsa

Cinematography: F.A. Young