Posts Tagged ‘Felix Aylmer’

The Joan Fontaine Centenary Blogathon: 1952’s Ivanhoe

Sir Walter Scott wrote thrilling action-adventure novels with intricate plots, often about his country when it was in it’s early days; Scotland.  He also wrote his best known novel about that neighboring country, and sometime foe of Scotland, England, set during the rule of King Richard I.  In the 1950s, using rich technicolor, the major movie studios were on a “historical” film fix, and MGM was no exception.  Wanting to make money with such a film, producer Pandro S. Berman got the greenlight to make a lavish film version of Scott’s novel, Ivanhoe.  Curious to me, that the majority of the cast was British or had ties to the UK, but for the lead, American actor Robert Taylor was selected to play Ivanhoe.  Two beautiful actresses were chosen to play the two women that love Ivanhoe, Elizabeth Taylor as Rebecca, and Joan Fontaine as Rowena.

Today, October 22nd, would have been Joan Fontaine’s 100th birthday.  She happened to be the younger sister of another great actress, Olivia de Haviland, who is still alive and kicking, at 101!  To celebrate this great actress’s life and career, be sure to visit Crystal’s blog site at In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood and Virginie’s at The Wonderful World of Cinema to read all of the great posts from other classic film fans.  

Joan, I felt, lived an exotic type of life.  She was born in Tokyo, Japan, to British parents.  Sadly, her parents’ marriage failed, and she and her sister Olivia were taken to CA by their mother, who had herself been on the stage as a young woman, and I think had an idea to have her daughters also pursue acting as a career.  Olivia had successes first, and then Joan did, also.  Joan’s first film role was in 1935’s No More Ladies playing a very minor role, but by 1940, better parts were coming her way and in 1941, she won the Best Actress Oscar for her part as the wife convinced her husband was out to kill her in Suspicion.

Ivanhoe, was an ensemble film, in that there were quite a few characters  all revolving around the hero, Ivanhoe.  For those not familiar with the novel or the film, I’ll explain the plot, but it will contain spoilers. Wilfrid of  Ivanhoe(Robert Taylor)  is the son of a proud Anglo-Saxon man, Sir Cedric of Ivanhoe(Finlay Currie).  Sir Cedric is also an angry man, angry that the dastardly Normans have conquered England, have brought their way of government and laws and taxes to crush the Anglo-Saxons with, and he is also mad that his son, Wilfrid, has decided to run off on a wild goose chase to find King Richard(Norman Wooland) who, while traveling to fight in the current crusade,has disappeared.  Wilfrid does find King Richard, he is a prisoner of King Leopold of Austria, who is holding King Richard for a huge ransom.  King Richard’s slimy little brother, Prince John(Guy Rolfe), knows all about this but is enjoying ruling for his absent brother.  Prince John decides to do nothing  to spring his brother out of King Leopold’s dungeon.

Super serious Ivanhoe

Ivanhoe returns to his father’s home to ask his father for help in procuring the ransom money, but his father, Sir Cedric, refuses to raise any money to rescue a Norman King! Ivanhoe also takes time during his visit to woo his love, the fair Lady Rowena(Joan Fontaine), who is his father’s ward.  Several wayward travelers arrive at Sir Cedric’s door, asking for food and a place to sleep for the night: two Norman knights, Sir Brian de Bois-Guilbert(George Sanders) and Sir Hugh de Bracy(Robert Douglas) and Isaac of York, a Jewish money-lender(Felix Aylmer).  During the meal, the Normans insult the Anglo-Saxons, they ogle Lady Rowena, and as word has spread that there’s a money-lender at Sir Cedric’s, several men attack Isaac when he is checking on his  horse at the stable. The evil men’s plan to steal Isaac’s money fails when Ivanhoe rescues Isaac.  Sir Cedric has ordered his son out of his sight by this time, so Ivanhoe offers to escort Isaac to his home.  Wamba(Emlyn Williams), Sir Cedric’s jester, asks to be Ivanhoe’s squire, and accompanies Ivanhoe on the trip to Isaac’s home.  Once there, Isaac, so moved by Ivanhoe’s rescue of him, gives him the money to pay for King Richard’s ransom. Isaac also asks Ivanhoe to beseech the King that Jews in England won’t be persecuted anymore.  Isaac’s beautiful daughter, Rebecca(Elizabeth Taylor), quietly gives  Ivanhoe her late mother’s jewels to add to the ransom amount. This is  her way of thanking Ivanhoe for saving her father’s life.  Ivanhoe and Rebecca immediately are attracted to one another, but neither will act on their feelings due to the strict rules of the day forbidding Jews from  marrying Gentiles.

Isaac thanking Ivanhoe for saving his life

Joan Fontaine as Lady Rowena

I won’t go into too many more plot points, but there is a great jousting scene, a castle siege scene, Rebecca, Rowena, and Sir Cedric all get kidnapped by the evil Norman Knights, Sir Brian and Sir Hugh, as the two men are lusting after Rebecca and Rowena.  The two knights also know that holding these three hostage will bring Ivanhoe to them and they can kill him.  Prince John gets a whiff of a rumor that his big brother has been sprung from that dungeon in Austria, and he’s becoming a nervous wreck.   Of course, it will be Ivanhoe to the rescue, with some help from Robin Hood and his Merry Men(but they go by different names in this film.)

Evil, whiny, Prince John

Baddie Sir Brian trying to explain to Rebecca his love for her.

Lady Rowena thanks Rebecca for all she had done to save Ivanhoe’s life

Robert Taylor, plays his role well; very stoic throughout.  He doesn’t laugh much  because he has a lot of heroic things to do! George Sanders is great as nasty Norman Sir Brian, but then as the film progresses, we see his inner struggle with falling in love with a Jewish woman who doesn’t love him.  Elizabeth Taylor is gorgeous in the film, and plays her character with sincerity and warmth and a quiet strength.  Felix Aylmer, Finlay Currie, and Emlynn Williams are superb in their supporting roles, as is Guy Rolfe as Prince John.  Joan Fontaine, while not billed before Elizabeth Taylor on the movie poster, plays Rowena as a calm, and wise woman, who just wants peace for England, and for peace to exist between the man she loves, Ivanhoe, and his father.

To see this rousing epic, that was one of the top 4 films in England in 1952, and earned MGM big box office profits, seek out Ivanhoe.  As luck would have it, TCM will be airing Ivanhoe this week, on Oct. 25th, at 4:00 pm eastern/3:00 pm central.  The film is also available via Amazon’s instant rent.  Here is the link to Youtube to see the British version of the film trailer.

Lovely Joan Fontaine

 

 

 

 

The Wicked Lady: For the 2nd Annual British Invaders Blogathon!

In 1945, writer Magdalen King-Hall had written her 7th novel, Life and Death of the Wicked Lady Skelton.  It became a huge best-seller with book readers in Great Britian.    Gainsborough Studios came calling and they turned the book into the film, The Wicked Lady, which in turn, was the biggest box office hit of 1946 in Great Britain.  I happened to view the film a couple years ago when it was airing on Turner Classic Movies and I am so very glad that I tuned in to see it!  The film has romance, action, passion, good vs. evil, and Captain Nemo, err, James Mason in it when he was declared the biggest movie star in Great Britain.  Here’s a trailer that was used to advertise the film via Youtube.

The Wicked Lady poster 2

The Wicked Lady stars Margaret Lockwood as Barbara, who is the wicked lady of the title.   We first meet Barbara as she arrives at Sir Ralph Skelton’s(solemnly played by Griffiths Jones) estate.  Barbara is the guest of her childhood best friend, Caroline ( sweetly played by Patricia Roc).  Caroline and Sir Ralph have fallen in love and are planning to be married, but Barbara is jealous of Caroline and decides to  sneak behind her back, to seduce and steal her fiance!  Poor solemn Sir Ralph, he doesn’t know what’s hit him!  We soon see a wedding ceremony, except it’s Barbara wearing the wedding gown that Caroline was planning to wear!  Caroline is so sweet and good, and when she realizes Ralph loves Barbara, she willingly gives him up without a fight, and even agrees to be the Maid of Honor!  I would not have been so charitable!

Watch out Sir Ralph, she wants you!!!

Watch out Sir Ralph, she wants you!!!

During the wedding reception a handsome guest, Kit Locksby arrives(Michael Rennie) and as soon as he sees the bride, he falls in love with her!  Barbara, now Lady Barbara also locks eyes with the handsome Kit and we know she now has fallen out of love with her new husband and wants to be with Kit!

Lady Barbara and Kit

Lady Barbara and Kit

Since Kit is an honorable chap, he bows out of Lady Barbara’s life.  Meanwhile, the lady is bored out of her skull at the Skelton estate.  There’s 3 elderly, spinster aunts who also live in the house and they drive Lady Barbara nuts!  Especially the two who are twins.  (These three aunts are well acted by Martita Hunt, Beatrice Varley, and Amy Dalby-Varley and Dalby play the twins and they really do look alike so the casting office did a great work there!)  One evening, Sir Ralph’s sister, Lady Henrietta and her husband, Lord Highclere(played by Enid Stamp-Taylor and Francis Lister) arrive for a short visit.  The two ladies despise one another and their dialogue with each other is polite but mean-fun to see!  The Highclere’s share the tales they have heard about the daring highwayman, Capt. Jerry Jackson.  The rogue robs the coaches but not before giving passionate kisses to the ladies he robs!  These tales catch Lady Barbara’s imagination.   When Lady Barbara loses her mother’s brooch to Henrietta in a card game, Lady Barbara devises a plan to get the brooch back:she’ll disguise herself as a highwayman and stop Henrietta’s coach and get the brooch.  Since her bedroom has a secret passage to the grounds of the estate, Lady Barbara is able to sneak away, dressed as a highwayman, robs the coach, and gets her late mother’s brooch.

Henrietta has won Lady Barbara's brooch

Henrietta has won Lady Barbara’s brooch

Robbing that coach was such a thrilling activity that Lady Barbara decides to rob some more coaches!  On one of her nightly robberies she inadvertantly meets Capt. Jerry Jackson because she has invaded his designated robbery area.  He admiringly watches this new robber’s style, then invites this lady back to an inn for a shared supper.  Of course, when Capt. Jackson takes off Lady Barbara’s mask, it’s inevitable that they’re going to do a lot more than share a supper!

Lady Barbara turned highwayman!

Lady Barbara turned highwayman!

Lady Barbara, busy with her new hobby of robbery and her new love affair with Capt. Jackson, has no idea that her husband, Sir Ralph has fallen out of love with her and that he now loves, once again, Caroline!  Caroline(who had agreed to stay on at the estate to help run it because that duty was too boring for Lady Barbara), wise as well as sweet, moves back to London.  While there, she meets Kit and soon the two of them are fast friends, both confiding they have broken hearts due to being in love with people they cannot be with.

Lady Barbara and Capt. Jackson

Lady Barbara and Capt. Jackson, she can’t resist him!

A new conflict emerges to spoil all of Lady Barbara’s fun-the faithful servant Hogarth(wonderfully played by Felix Aylmer) is a Puritan, likes to quote scriptures, and he had become suspicious of Lady Barbara’s sleeping in so late each day so he takes it upon himself to stay up late one night and spy on her.  He confronts Lady Barbara: he knows of her disguise, of her using the secret passageway, of her robbing coaches with Capt. Jerry Jackson and that she is his lover, and that she may have murdered a young man who is a tenant on the estate, as the young man was a new guard for a coach company that hauls gold and silver, and the young man had recently died in a coach robbery.  Hogarth announces that he will be telling Sir Ralph all that he knows about Lady Barbara!  She is horrified and decides to convince Hogarth that she is ready to repent, that Capt. Jackson was trying to blackmail her and that she was forced to go along with him, that he was the murderer of the young tenant.  Lady Barbara is convincing and poor Hogarth is completely fooled.  However, when Hogarth is later ill, and Lady Barbara is nursing him back to health, she decides to make sure he will never recover!!

Lady Barbara promising Hogarth that she has truly repented

Lady Barbara promising Hogarth that she has truly repented

I can’t give away anymore of the plot as I want you to find this film and discover how it will all end for yourself!  Will Capt. Jackson ever be caught? Will Kit and Caroline marry?  Will Sir Ralph get a divorce from Lady Barbara and then marry Caroline?  Will Hogarth manage to tell Sir Ralph all he knows before he dies?  Will Lady Barbara continue to live a wicked life or will she get tired of it and try to really repent?

From time to time TCM does air this British film, so check their online site to see if it will be airing anytime in 2015.  It is available to view via Amazon‘s instant rent.   A kind soul has put the entire film up on Youtube, but the quality of the print isn’t that great.  Netflix may have it still on their roster.  Criterion Collection also has the film and a fun clip when Lady Barbara is at the Inn with Capt. Jackson.

The British Invaders Blogathon banner

My post today has been for the Second Annual British Invaders Blogathon, hosted by Terry at A Shroud of Thoughts.  Be sure to visit his blog site to read about other wonderful movies from across the pond that we Americans shouldn’t dismiss!