First, let’s talk about Robin Hood. He’s the guy in green tights that takes money from the rich, gives it to the poor, has some merry men in the woods, is all chivalrous, great archer, loves a fair maiden and has some beef with Prince John. Ivanhoe is just a few details away from being Robin Hood.
Ivanhoe (Robert Taylor) is a knight returning from the Crusades where Richard the Lionheart (the rightful king of England) is being held for ransom in Austria. Ivanhoe’s father has kinda disowned him, a girl, Rowena (Joan Fontaine) (who I honestly thought was his sister for a while) is in love with him and Big-I tries to pull money together to free Richard. He turns to a Jewish banker to help raise the money and competes in a jousting tournament anonymously. He dominates but gets injured, because jousting is pretty dangerous. As he’s laid up, he gets word that Prince John’s men are looking for him. So he and his Jewish friends hide for a while and turn to his father for help, but are captured. Don’t worry, Ivanhoe has a lot of friends who are willing to storm a castle and create some fun action scenes.
So, to make Ivanhoe a full blown Robin Hood we just need to think of the Jewish banker as rich, King Richard as poor and substitute jousting for archery. Don’t worry, he wears green tights for a while.
Ivanhoe is also a ladies man. There seems to be a cat fight brewing between iHoe’s best girl, Rowena and the generous Jewish girl who tends to his jousting wounds, Rebecca (Elizabeth Taylor). There is tension, they say they’re jealous of each other in that well-mannered damsel way but there was never anything to worry about, Ivanhoe’s far too chivalrous to be tempted by a new pretty girl.
The main problem is that Robert Taylor brings no presence to Ivanhoe. He simply does things, says things and doesn’t make me care. I wanted him to jump off screen and show me that he isn’t a Robin Hood knock-off, but that never happens. Perhaps when he agreed to the green tight costume for the sword fight/escape scene, he knew it was too late.
The battle scenes are the best parts of the film. My favorite little moments are when the plans are quickly discussed in the middle of battle. We know all this crazy action is going on all around them, but two men just kinda stop and talk very calm and quick about it with no emotion at all. It felt way too stiff, unnatural and laughable. Really, I found it very funny, one moment swords are clanging all over and the next these two just stop.
The film is a nice little spectacle, with it’s greatest moments being in medieval battle of all sorts but in the end it’s not that satisfying. I won’t give away the ending, but I found myself saying, “Really? It’s just going to end like that?” It’s just, maybe I wanted more, not more movie, but a real ending.