This version kind of made me laugh. It's as if someone read the story and said, "What's this? Ivanhoe spends most of the story sidelined? But we've got Robert Taylor lined up for the role! What's up with this Black Knight who keeps rescuing Ivanhoe? King Richard? Bah! Who needs King Richard, give his part to Ivanhoe!" And so, Ivanhoe becomes the Black Knight instead of the Disinherited Knight and any time there is a rescue or heroic action scene by someone else, they give that part to Ivanhoe. He becomes a bit of a superman! Nothing can keep him down. Oh, he still gets wounded, but he bounces right back up so he can go storm the castle himself. Now if you're going to have a movie called "Ivanhoe," and you're unfamiliar with the story, this version might actually be truer to your expectations. But coming to this version last, I was a bit underwhelmed.
And so far, I think the only movies I genuinely like Robert Taylor in are Westerns. I dig him in Westerns, but in these older period movies? Much as I want to like him, he's just flat and expressionless and seems a bit out of time and place.
Best things in this one are George Sanders and Joan Fontaine. Really, can you go wrong with George Sanders? He is always awesome, purring his lines with that smooth, delicious voice. He makes an excellent Bois-Guilbert in this version. I quite enjoyed his performance. And Joan Fontaine might just be my favorite Rowena in any version. She's beautiful, strong and feminine at the same time. Normally, I'm kind of rooting for Rebecca to win Ivanhoe, but not in this version. In this one, I loved Rowena. I'll admit, though, I'm not an Elizabeth Taylor fan. She was undeniably beautiful when she was young, but her voice always grates on me, and she just didn't sell me on her Rebecca. I guess she kind of fits with Robert Taylor, though.
Nice scenery, nice jousting, great storming of the castle, and a first-rate score by Miklos Rozsa also helped this version. This is probably my second favorite Rozsa score after Ben-Hur. He wrote some of the most beautiful and romantic and heroic music ever for this one, and I could listen to it all day. I absolutely love his score.