Thursday, April 21, 2016

British History in Film | Ivanhoe (1952) and Robin Hood (1922)

Ivanhoe (1952)

Last time, we left off with Henry II still king and fighting with his wife about who would take his place. She wanted Richard; he wanted John. If you know nothing else about the history of medieval Britain, you know that Richard won that argument. And you know it because of stories like Ivanhoe and Robin Hood.

I debated which to watch first, but settled on Ivanhoe just to get it out of the way. I love Walter Scott's novel, but the movie doesn't do it justice and weakens the Robin Hood character (which it just calls Locksley). And Robert Taylor's performance as the title character is super stiff. I think he's going for noble, but jeez he's wooden and it's surprising that Elizabeth Taylor and Joan Fontaine both go for him. The women are equally great though. Taylor easily makes me root for her, but Fontaine gives her character plenty of complicated emotions, too. I like them both.

George Sanders is doing what George Sanders does as the villain, but I always like that and De Bois-Guilbert is a tragic variety of his typical cad. The jousting scene and the attack on the castle are both a lot of fun, too. Ivanhoe isn't not one of my favorite medieval swashbucklers, but it still has plenty to recommend it.

Robin Hood (1922)

Now for the good stuff. Douglas Fairbanks' silent version of Robin Hood is an origin story, so Robin Hood as we know him doesn't appear until halfway through the movie. That might sound similar to complaints about the Ridley Scott version, but thanks to Fairbanks' impressive charm and some great humor, even the Hoodless half is a lot of fun.

Once the movie enters familiar territory, it gets even better with lavish sets and Fairbanks proving why he's the king of the swashbucklers. Silent or not, this version sets a high bar for other Robin Hood films. Next week, we'll look at a couple of more and see if they clear it.

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