Ivanhoe (1982)

When all else fails, raid the classics!  “Ivanhoe,” by Sir Walter Scott, has been filmed more than a few times before 1982, but the 1970s and 1980s found a flourishing trade in filmed classics, particularly a slew of Dumas films that all seemed to star Richard Chamberlain.  Since “Ivanhoe” is chock-filled with adventure and romance, it’s not a bad idea for another remake.  If nothing else, you don’t have to pay Clavell, you don’t have to pay Judith Krantz.  Hell, you don’t even have to pay Jackie Collins.  Sir Walter Scott is as cheap as the Bible and he can’t object to any changes.  So, we’re faced with a rather cheap-looking production, but it’s diverting enough.  Not a classic, but kind of fun.

The tone is set from the narration.  “You are about to see a tale of story of bold nights and beautiful maidens.  A story of love and hatred and prejudice.  Thought our story is old, the love, the hatred and the prejudice are ever new.”  Okay, I’m already worried.  Are we trying to make “Ivanhoe” relevant to 1982?  Love and hate are certainly eternal, but there are very few prejudices that straddled England in 1194 and the United States in 1982.  Well, let’s see how they manage this!

It starts with James Mason as Isaac of York riding through the thick woods of England that are as omnipresent in film as Anthony Andrews and John Rhys-Davies are to the miniseries, so guess who’s about to show up?  Isaac is pulled off his horse by hooded Anthony Andrews as Ivanhoe.  Wilfred is actually helping Isaac, because the Knights headed by Front de Boeuf (John Rhys-Davies) are lurking about looking for Jewish Isaac (ah, okay, I see a prejudice in common, but James does it no favors by invoking a Jewish cadence that pegs him as…well…as James Mason after a vaction in Poland circa 1927). 

Isaac repays Wilfred by giving him the horse and lance he needs to participate in a nearby fair.  Front de Boeuf is already there, looking villainous, as is Brian de Bois-Guilbert (Sam Neill), praying and De Bracy (Stuart Wilson).  Watching the tournament: Cedric (Michael Hordern), Prince John (Ronald Pickup), Rebecca (Olivia Hussey) and Lady Rowena (Lysette Anthony), the pretty blonde Saxon, which doesn’t sound so pretty when Isaac spits out the words scornfully.  The rules are read, much ado is made about choosing a lady for the joust and then we’re off.  So far, so good.  Twelve minutes in and we have some action.  Jousts are always exciting, and mercifully short.  When Ivanhoe makes his appearance, his daddy Cedric refuses to get worked up since he’s disowned him.  It’s equally bad news for the three winners so far because Ivanhoe is a native Saxon against the three Normans.  He knocks Front de Boeuf to the ground.  The other two go down also and Ivanhoe is the winner, allowed to pick the fair’s queen, Lady Rowena, looking so dewy it’s impossible.

The decision is also much to the chagrin of poor Rebecca (hey, in her career, Olivia got Romeo and God’s seed, so she did okay in the end).  She whines to her father, Isaac, that not all Christians are bad, and then in comes Ivanhoe to repay the debt to her father.  Isaac refuses all money since Ivanhoe saved his life.  He still has no eyes for Rebecca.  Ditsy Rowena did not realize Ivanhoe under his helmet at the joust as her true love, even though her father has promised to Athelstone (Michael Gothard).  Rowena’s fool Wamba (George Innes) speaks in riddles that go over her head, trying to help her figure it out. 

Day Two of the fair.  Now the guys get to do hand-to-hand combat (though knives are not allowed).  Ivanhoe wins this too and though injured, finally reveals himself to Rowena, who presents him that day’s crown honor.  He promptly passes out, though it may be from the terrible acting of Lady Rowena, and no one will help him.  Not his father, who abjectly refuses.  Rebecca begs Isaac to help, but he wants no parts of a Christian, but he relents.  As for the knights who lost, they are worried that the return of Ivanhoe means King Richard isn’t far behind, on his way back from the Crusades, which means Prince John and the rest of them are out of business (indeed, he is lurking not far away).

Rebecca nurses Ivanhoe back to life, using herbs “passed down from the days of Solomon.”  They are leaving and want to take Ivanhoe with them, but he refuses.  Not because they are Jews, as Rebecca wonders, but because he doesn’t want to “inconvenience” them.  Geez, our hero is just too damn good, isn’t he? 

At the banquet, Prince John tries to toast to Cedric’s son Ivanhoe, but Cedric refuses.  He want his married his ward Rowena to Athelstone, a drunkard.  He further sticks his foot in dog doo by toasting King Richard, the only Norman he’ll drink to, Saxon he is to the core.  Isaac and Rebecca have taken Ivanhoe to York and Prince John finds out King Richard is back in England, so he and his evil knights are off to York as well.

Isaac and Rebecca’s caravan is stopped when their men desert them, fearing forest bandits, and take all the horses.  Ivanhoe is barely coherent, so things are not looking good for this bedraggled threesome.  Isaac then nags God for heaping this horror upon them, nailing in more annoying behavior.  Who should happen upon them?  Cedric and Rowena, of course!  Cedric refuses to deal with Jews, but Rebecca makes an impassioned plea for the patient, whom she says is an old person who cannot make it otherwise.  Rowena steps in and begs Cedric, who finally agrees.  “So be it.  They travel in the rear,” he says. 

The Norman knights overtake the party, with De Bracy promised Rowena.  Brian gets all lovesick for Rebecca, despite her being an “infidel,” and still no one bothers to look under the cover of the sick bed, believing it to be the old lady Rebecca says it is.  So, the Saxons and the Jews are taken to Front de Boeuf’s castle where De Bracy finally looks under the cover, but allows them in anyway.  I guess it’s better to keep one’s enemies close. 

Wampa has managed to escape being taken prisoner and he’s found by King Richard, who now knows where everyone is, but unfortunately he’s soon captured himself…by Robin Hood (David Robb) and his band of merry men!  Friar Tuck (Tony Haygarth) is drunk in a fun way.  They agree to help set the captives free. 

Cedric sputters in captivity, unable to chew the scenery only because it’s supposed to be stone,   Athlestone wants a drink and Rowena plays the tough dame (though not very well) to De Bracy.  De Bracy isn’t such a bad catch.  Sure, he has bad taste in friends (especially Front de Boeuf, as done by John Rhys-Davies with his usual too-big-for-television bluster) and he threatens her with Ivanhoe’s life, but he seems the least noxious of the Normans.  “The fate of all depends on your decision,” De Bracy tells Rowena, who, let’s face it, isn’t smart enough to get out of this blackmail plot. 

Brian still wants Rebecca, but not to marry her.  “Not if you were the Queen of Sheba!”  No, no.  He only wants to have sex with her, but she threatens to spread the word that a Knight Templar has had his way with a Jewess.  He offers to make her his mistress, which she reacts to by almost jumping out the window.  Brian agrees to a truce, at least temporarily. 

In the battle of overacting, Front de Boeuf wants Isaac’s money or else he’ll torture him to death.  Isaac doesn’t have the money, so he tells Front de Boeuf to send Rebecca to go fetch the money, but Front de Boeuf that he’s already “given her” to Brian.  Isaac goes into an act that would make the worst Shylock groan, and Front de Boeuf orders grand torture to start.  In the nick of time, a note arrives that is more important.  “I will be back,” Front de Boeuf huffs, meaning we can only hope for another scene as maddeningly wacky as this one.  The letter is “in the Saxon hands” and it’s a letter of defiance to the three knights.  It demands the prisoners delivered to the letter writer in an hour, causing maniacal laughs from the villains, which are immediately quenched by the signature of Robin Hood.  This frightens even Front de Boeuf, who blames Brian, though his and De Bracy’s soldiers are the ones far off in York.  The reply letter says they will simply kill the prisoners, unless a man of God is sent to them to hear confession.  Friar Tuck refuses to go, so they dress up Wamba (who retains his fool’s hat under his cowl).

We’ve been lacking our leading man for a long time, but he finally wakes up.  He’s weak, but he wants to help.  Rebecca says they are locked in from the outside, but if he can just find out if Rowena is okay, that will do for now.  He talks of how much he loves Rowena, asking her if she’s ever loved like that.  Of course she has, she loves him, but she says no.  He digs the knife in deeper, by saying he can’t understand how someone as wonderful as she is can be single.  He forgets she’s a Jewess?  Her olive make-up doesn’t remind him?

Mamba arrives as the friar, knowing only one Latin phrase, and finding it hard to drop his fool schtick.  He reveals himself to Cedric, offering his clothes to Cedric so he can escape and Wamba will die in his place.  Cedric wants Wamba to instead switch clothes with Athlestone, a prospect Wamba and Athlestone both refuse, so Cedric it is.  Cedric gets to the door of the castle, almost to freedom, when Front de Boeuf stops him, but his disguise is not undone.  Instead, Front de Boeuf gives him his plans!  Idiotic Cedric can’t resist revealing himself as he runs off, and no one bothers to chase him.  Front de Boeuf is furious, but Athlestone is willing to make a deal.  He’ll help if he and the fool are freed…oh, and Rowena (so bland she slipped his mind the first time around).  That turns out to be a sticking point, so it looks like we have a battle on our hands! 

The battle is mainly a ballet of the howling extras, though King Richard does kill Front de Beouf.  Ivanhoe watches from the window and wishes to be at Richard’s side, but doesn’t do anything to make it happen.  Rebecca wonders why the English love to fight.  Ivanhoe gives a rah-rah speech about glory and chivalry that almost has her hooked until his wound flares up again.  Rebecca says she would only fight to get the Holy Land back.  The Jews will have to wait in line for that since the Christians and Muslims are already fighting for it.  But wait!  This has an effect on Ivanhoe who lovingly kisses Rebecca and vows never to forget her.  She’s far more memorable than Rowena, but we know they won’t end up together! 

Robin and company make it through the door (there’s not moat, a moat would have helped).  De Bracy is pinned down by Richard and spares his life to get to Ivanhoe.  Brian gets there first and abducts Rebecca.  Everyone but Ivanhoe is fighting now, even Athlestone, though he’s wounded.  Ivanhoe is rescued by King Richard and whisked off to Robin’s camp.  Cedric can only think about where Athlestone is, and no one hears the whimpering man only feet away, under a downed pile of hay. 

In camp, King Richard frees De Bracy, telling him to leave England under penalty of death.  You see, he’s a good king.  He gets even more chaste by saying he’s learned so much from watching the Saxons fight.  And then AGAIN when he protects Isaac from Friar Tuck by punching him out in a bit of comedy.  How much tolerance can we learn in ten minutes?  Apparently enough to build a nation upon. 

King Richard also decides to reconcile Ivanhoe and his father, which may be more complicated than fixing the Christian-Jewish problem or the Norman-Saxon problem. 

Isaac and Friar Tuck go off to the palace of the Knights Templar, where they have just been discussing how Rebecca must have bewitched Brian.  The Grand Master (Philip Locke) questions Isaac, insisting that Rebecca is a witch and has Brian under a spell.  He feeds it by confessing that Rebecca is a “healer.”  The Grand Master takes that to mean sorcery, even though Isaac means nursing.  Semantics are going to keep this plot going?  The Grand Master, looking enough like a Klan member to bring that whole prejudice connection going between 1194 and 1982.  Brian is told Rebecca must be burned, and now suddenly Brian wants her life saved.  All he has to do is cast her off, which leads to Rebecca’s trial in front of The Grand Master. 

King Richard and Ivanhoe leave Robin Hood, but not revealing his identity, though Robin Hood has revealed his.  Richard tells him he knew anyway.  Obviously he’s read the books, watched the movies, seen the shows.  I mean, who the hell doesn’t know Robin Hood?  DUH!  Our godly Richard notes to Ivanhoe that he cannot reveal himself until peace is brought to the kingdom, i.e. the Normans and Saxons film an “I’d like to teach the world to sing” Coca-Cola commercial holding hands. 

Rebecca has a trial, but it’s obviously rigged against her.  If she does not come up with a champion quickly, she will be put to death.  Anyone care to guess who will be her champion?  Anyone who hasn’t read the book, that is.  \

At Cedric’s palace, King Richard reveals himself and promises “equal protection” for Normans and Saxons (playing again on familiar wording) if he will forgive Ivanhoe.  That was easy!  We’re racing to conclusion here, aren’t we.  However, Cedric refuses to give Rowena’s hand to Ivanhoe until two years of mourning are completed.

Cue Athlestone, alive.  He willingly pays homage to King Richard and gives Rowena gladly to Ivanhoe because he knows she’s never loved him and he’s never loved her.  “I implore you, can we eat at last?” he says, having taken care of a whole lot of business in the matter of two minutes.

It’s a busy palace, this one.  Isaac shows up to ask Ivanhoe to champion his daughter and off he goes, though not before giving a chaste little kiss to Rowena, who has just been reunited with him.  Damn you, Sir Walter Scott and your plotting!  Damn you! 

With butter doing anything but melting in her mouth, Rebecca is paid a visit by Brian, offering to save her and ride off to the Holy Land with her, but she refuses and he pretends he doesn’t love her.  Like she needs him?  Ivanhoe is on his way.

Remember Prince John?  He has no soldiers left and King Richard is fast approaching.  Front de Boeuf is dead, Brian cannot help and De Bracy is sticking to his promise to King Richard to leave England.  Even Prince John’s most loyal vassal hies to the priesthood in fear. 

Unless you have ever read an adventure or romance novel, you will know that as Rebecca is tied to a pole atop a pyre, she’s not REALLY going to die.  The Grand Master calls for her champion and no one comes forward.  The Grand Master puts off the burning for an hour.  Brian tries to get Rebecca to run away with him, she refuses, and then he begs her to renounce her faith.  She refuses that too.  It’s going to be a looooooong hour atop that pyre.  Well, not that long, because the hour passes literally in five seconds. 

Ah, here comes Ivanhoe, riding in just as the fire was to be applied to the pyre (yes, a fire pyre, all of you Sondheim fans).  Ivanhoe not only defends her, but denounces Brian and offers to fight him.  Before these two cocks go off to fight, Rebecca must accept Ivanhoe as her champion.  Like she’s in a position to refuse him?  Okay, now they can fight.  Ivanhoe has bested Brian twice with a lance, so this isn’t likely to be very full of suspense.  Ivanhoe is knocked off his horse, which means combat with swords.  The Grand Master as his fey but talkative assistant all but snort fire as they hope for Brian’s success.  At first, it seems to be going his way, because Ivanhoe is still weak.  Robin Hood and his men are hiding behind the trees, willing to help, of course, but it’s been decreed that no one may interfere with this fight.  They don’t have to.  Brian looks at Rebecca and holds the gaze a bit too long, giving Ivanhoe the chance to run him through with a sword. 

King Richard arrives in his kingly robes with Prince John in tow and banishes the Grand Master and the rest of the Knights Templar.  Off they go.  Robin Hood and Friar Tuck are a little ashamed they didn’t realize who he was.  Richard pronounces complete equality between Saxons and Normans, as he promised. 

We need a wedding!  Though Ivanhoe loves Rebecca, he loves Rowena more, so it’s Rowena he marries.  Rebecca goes to Rowena to say her goodbyes, since she and her father are going off to Spain to seek religious freedom.  Wow, there’s irony for you!  The Inquisition never got even a foothold in England, but in Spain, it was a grand success for all but the Jews. 

Off Rebecca and Isaac go, as Ivanhoe looks longingly.  He has is bland blonde, he’s not changing his mind.

Categories: Adventure Miniseries

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