The Hero’s Journey in “Ivanhoe”

Out of Sir Walter Scott’s gloriously panoramic novel, “Ivanhoe,” which also contains an ample measure of twelfth-century social overtones, Producer Pandro S. Berman and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer have fetched a motion picture that does them, Scott and English history proud. The credits should redound in that order, for it must be ungrudgingly agreed that those who emerge most triumphant are the producers of this film—they and the myriad able craftsmen and actors who helped to achieve this brilliantly colored tapestry of drama and spectacle, now on the Music Hall’s screen.

But Sir Walter is not in any way slighted in this bursting re-creation of his tale of English knights and ladies, of twelfth-century kings and knaves. As a matter of fact, his stirring story of regal intrigues and factional feuds, of jousting and storming of castles and the wooing of beautiful maids, is surprisingly well reconstructed, except for some trimming here and there and the shifting of the gold deeds of the Black Knight to the shoulders of Ivanhoe. And the nature of English history, while somewhat modernized and glamorized, does not come off too badly. It was, at least, a wild, adventurous age.

Most conspicuous in this picture, however—after one has adjusted one’s eyes to the brilliant dazzle of color and the vast confusion of expected derring-do—is the integrity and candor with which the original sub-theme of anti-Semitism in medieval England is created and shown. Aeneas MacKenzie, who adapted the story, and Noel Langley, who wrote the script, have kept the story of Rebecca, the beautiful Jewess, and Isaac, her father, well to the fore. And they have emphasized such episodes in the novel as the beating of Isaac and the trial of Rebecca as a witch to highlight the sobering implications of the universal injustice of social bigotry.In this aspect of the drama, a remarkable forcefulness is achieved and the picture brings off a serious lesson in fairness and tolerance not customary in spectacle films.

Credit for this may be given to Elizabeth Taylor, in the role of Rebecca, and Felix Aylmer, as Isaac, as well as to the men who made the film. For both of these able performers handle with grace and eloquence the frank and faceted characters of the rejected Jews.Main interest of the picture, however, is the elegant and action-crammed display of knightly jousts and sieges and the bloody sports of kings. And for this we are much obliged to Metro, which has herein brought to the screen almost as fine a panorama of medievalism as Laurence Olivier gave us in “Henry V.”One sequence of jousting with lances on horseback is a gaudy, exciting spectacle and the battle for Torquillstone Castle is as hot and lusty as any such you’ve ever seen, with hundreds of Robin Hood’s bowmen (he’s called Locksley here) firing clouds of arrows and the defenders of the castle hurling boulders upon those who’d scale the walls.

And the final battle between Ivanhoe and his deadly enemy, De Bois-Guilbert, is a wild go with axes and maces that would put a couple of angry blacksmiths to shame.As Ivanhoe, Robert Taylor does a good, sturdy, manly job and George Sanders is intriguingly fluid as the emotionally torn De Bois-Guilbert. Finlay Currie, as the elderly Cedric; Guy Rolfe, as the dastardly Prince John, and Joan Fontaine, as the beautiful Rowena, stand out in a generally fine cast.Production of this picture in England endowed it with a rich, distinctive air. It is a grand picture, told in what Sir Walter himself called his “big bow-wow style.”