26. Ivanhoe (1952)

Directed by Richard Thorpe
Written by Noel Langley
Starring Robert Taylor, Elizabeth Taylor, and Joan Fontaine

A knight returns from the Holy Land to make amends with his father and rescue King Richard. Riding through the countryside, Ivanhoe strums a lute and sings. Later, to save a Jewish banker, he smashes the instrument against a bandit’s back. The antisemitism was lost on me when I last saw this movie twenty-six or twenty-seven years ago in my dad’s apartment. He loved all those old medieval and Arthurian tales ever since he was a little kid in Manila. I could never remember whether the Normans or the Saxons were the bad guys. Joan Fontaine’s Rowena is such a nothing character; why doesn’t Ivanhoe go for Rebecca instead? Yes, I know: she’s Jewish. But the banker’s daughter has a meatier backstory and more personality than Cedric’s ward. Always with the Betty and Veronica thing. Liz Taylor reminds me of Moira Kelly in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, only without the need to understand the tragic depravity of her blonde foil. Robert Taylor’s hirsute forearms are especially manly. One fine day I’ll have the money to get this gross facial hair lasered off, sparse as it is. The museum where I work has a well-renowned collection of arms and armor. The chainmail and horse helmets on display are way more interesting to me than the 19th century European landscapes or whatever. O the brutality of hand-to-hand combat. I stopped watching Game of Thrones halfway through season five because I couldn’t stomach the gore, rape, and torture anymore. Don’t ask me to explain why hundreds of bloodless onscreen deaths are any better. Fucking men and their chivalry and war. As a kid I drank in the spectacle of knights in battle but felt comforted by the warmth and emotion of the women leads. At least everyone gets to wear what amounts to a skirt and tights. X wishes we lived in a robe and tunic-based culture, which is why she owns a bunch of jersey dresses but not one pair of jeans. But sartorial comfort didn’t make King Richard’s England any less violent and shitty. I imagine whole books have been written about the phallogocentric and homosocial aspects of jousting. The squire Wamba’s death by fire gets only a shrug from Ivanhoe. I like epic swordfights better when they’re lightsaber duels and the movie is Star Wars.