Tag: George Sanders

All About Eve (1950)

Anne Baxter and Bette Davis become deadly rivals in All About Eve

Director: Joseph L Mankiewicz

Cast: Bette Davis (Margo Channing), Anne Baxter (Eve Harrington), George Sanders (Addison DeWitt), Celeste Holm (Karen Richards), Gary Merill (Bill Sampson), Hugh Marlowe (Lloyd Richards), Thelma Ritter (Birdie), Gregory Ratoff (Max Fabian), Marilyn Monroe (Claudia Casswell)

At a theatre awards ceremony, a table of people watch Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter) collect the Sarah Siddons Award for Distinguished Achievement. She thanks them all effusively. They stare at her with mute loathing. I guess that’s show business. Mankiewicz’s biting and witty film boasts possibly one of the greatest scripts for the movies ever written, a biting expose of rivalries and backstage politics, that also manages to find a lot of warmth for its characters. Arch, but in its own strange way tender hearted and hopeful, its Mankiewciz’s greatest achievement.

Margo Channing (Bette Davis) is a gifted actress and one of the leading lights of Broadway, as well as the on-stage muse of playwright Lloyd Richards (Hugh Marlowe), close friends with his wife Karen (Celeste Holm) and in love with her director Bill Sampson (Gary Merill). But Margo is just beginning to worry, now she has reached her forties, that her parts are drying up. Into her world arrives Eve (Anne Baxter), a besotted fan who swiftly becomes first her assistant then her understudy and eventual replacement. Despite her sweet exterior, Eve is fiercely ambitious determined to find fame and success – and only cynical theatre critic Addison DeWitt (George Sanders) seems to notice.

All About Eve cemented Mankiewicz as Hollywood’s go-to for high-brow literary entertainment. Which is odd when you think about it, because what makes All About Eve work – and enduringly popular – is that it’s a fantastically quotable soap, played with relish. It’s not a million miles away from a ten-part, cliff-hangers aplenty Netflix drama. But it stands out because of Mankiewicz’s craft – when you pen lines as cutting, acerbic, tender and true as those in All About Eve, is it any wonder that Hollywood sees you as the next Fitzgerald?

And the dialogue is sparkling, from start to finish. From a cuttingly dry opening voiceover from George Sander’s Addison DeWitt – beautifully delivered, crammed with cynicism, cattiness, pride and purring contempt (“Minor awards are for such as the writer and director since their function is merely to construct a tower so that the world can applaud a light which flashes on top of it.”) that it sets the tone for a film where dialogue is king. Mankiewicz is not much of a visual stylist – only the final shot, a besotted fan starring into an endless series of mirrors – sticks in the mind, and his approach as a director is intensely theatrical, but it doesn’t matter when his dialogue sings.

All About Eve works as both a supremely entertaining peek behind the curtain and also a neat parable about ageing, change and relevance. Perhaps there are few better examples of the changing of the guard, than the impact of growing old on a woman in theatre: from girlfriend to mother, with hardly a role in between. It’s the change Margo is dreading. And as she grows too old for her leading lady roles, what has she actually to show for it? Not much in the way of family or happiness.

If Eve looked closer, perhaps she’d wonder if it was worth it. As Margo makes clear in her dressing room and at a party thrown for Bill, she’s not got much to look forward to. (It’s not often commented on that the film’s most famous line, “Fasten your seatbelts it’s going to be a bumpy night”, is followed by an evening of Margo’s maudlin self-pity). For all her glamour and fame, it’s clear Margo is unhappy: “So many people know me. I wish I did” she says at one point, and for all the whirlwind of her life, she’s not exactly over-burdened by close friends.

It’s easy to forget, because All About Eve is so well known for being a bitchfest – and Mankiewicz’s cutting one-liners are genius – that you forget its lead is a sad and lonely figure, and the film presents a conservative view of motherhood being a crucial role for a woman. We don’t automatically remember this speech’ but it’s crucial for Margo: “There’s one career all females have in common – whether we like it or not: being a woman. Sooner or later, we’ve got to work at it, no matter how many other careers we’ve had or wanted. And, in the last analysis, nothing is any good unless you can look up just before dinner or turn around in bed – and there he is.”

Margo is the signature part for Bette Davis, but memory has distorted it. You can expect it to be a parade of sharply barbed attacks, but it is much more than this. Yes, she does these with aplomb (“I wouldn’t worry too much about your heart. You can always put that award where your heart ought to be”), but under the regal grande dame, there is a rather vulnerable woman, scared about where her life is going and terrified of being unloved. For all the Davis fireworks, it’s an affecting – and perhaps this is why it became such a gay icon, during those years of people forced into the closet –vulnerable and lonely performance.

That vulnerability contributes to the sense of vampire story. Eve arrives in the dead of night, inveigles her way into Margo’s life and then slowly takes that life over. Eve is almost draining Margo’s life force, leaving her even more aware of the lonely impact of her choices. There’s the suggestion of sexual obsession in Eve – standing on stage, holding Margo’s costume in front of her and imagining the applause, Eve seems as much besotted with Margo as she does with becoming her. And of course Eve is a unknowable fake. Anne Baxter’s gentle, butter-wouldn’t-melt sweetness is just the right side of phoney. Only Thelma Ritter’s (very funny) bitchy dresser detects dictates her invented backstory about a deceased husband is baloney (“What a story! Everything but the bloodhounds snappin’ at her rear end.”).

Later Birdie will comment Eve is studying to become Margo – and that’s spot on. As Eve moves further up the ladder, Baxter drops her gentleness and becomes increasingly steely. “A contempt for humanity, an inability to love and be loved, insatiable ambition – and talent. We deserve each other” Addison will tell her – and he’s spot on. Eve’s driving motivation is ambition, and anyone is fair game if it will help her move up the greasy ladder of theatrical success.

Eve uses everyone. She manipulates Karen into making Margo missing a performance – then invites the press in advance to her performance, which is met with raves. Afterwards Eve gives an interview in which she lacerates Margo as a bitter has-been holding her back. It’s enough for Karen – and Celeste Holm is very good as this gently supportive woman, with the firmest principles of anyone on show here – but the men can’t let go. It takes an attempted seduction to drive away Bill, but the weaker Lloyd seems to be sucked into her web (the film is coy about the implied affair). It should be clear that Eve is a force draining energy out of everything she can, determined to get to the top.

And we know she gets there: after all we’ve seen her win the Sarah Siddons prize! But Eve has none of Margo’s soul. The film ends with her meeting the even more vainly empty Phoebe, who Addison immediately recognises is intent on the same scheme as Eve was. And so, the whirligig of time brings in its revenges. Eve has learnt everything from Margo, except how to be a human: she has all her technique and none of her heart. The film even manages to feel a bit sorry for her – a woman who has achieved everything she wants, and finds it makes her neither happy nor popular.

It’s the heart of Mankiewicz’s film, perhaps even its warning message. What is the point of all this greatness, if all you have to show for it are false-friendships with poisonous pals like Addison? It’s the moral message behind a film filled with one-liners and wonderful speeches, a masterclass in theatrical writing for cinema. Bette Davis is superb, funny and heartfelt. Baxter is quietly terrifying. Ritter and Holm are superb and Sanders is so well case in this role, you wonder if Mankiewicz somehow invented him specially for it. All About Eve may be grand, soapy entertainment – but soap has never been smarter than this.

Rebecca (1940)

Joan Fontaine and Laurence Olivier find married life isn’t a bed of roses in Rebecca

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Cast: Joan Fontaine (The second Mrs de Winter), Laurence Olivier (Maxim de Winter), Judith Anderson (Mrs Danvers), George Sanders (Jack Favell), Reginald Denny (Frank Crawley), Gladys Cooper (Beatrice Lacy), C. Aubrey Smith (Colonel Julyan), Nigel Bruce (Major Giles Lacy), Florence Bates (Mrs Edythe Van Hopper), Edward Fielding (Frith), Leo G. Carroll (Dr Baker)

It’s impossible to know what people are really thinking isn’t it? Rebecca is a film all about secrets and misconceptions, the biggest enigma of them all being that title character, the deceased wife casting a ghostly shadow over every scene. Adapted from Daphne du Maurier’s best-selling novel, Rebecca was Hitchcock’s first American picture and a masterclass in atmosphere with a vulnerable and deeply sympathetic lead, packaged into a wonderfully entertaining film combining the best of producer David O. Selznick’s sense for literary translation with Hitchcock’s filmic virtuosity.

On the French Riviera, a naïve young woman (Joan Fontaine), working as a paid companion for widower Mrs Van Hopper (Florence Bates), meets and becomes engaged to the aristocratic Maxim de Winter (Laurence Olivier). Maxim is a widower, whose previous wife Rebecca drowned. Becoming the second Mrs de Winter, our heroine quickly finds herself out of her depth in Manderley, Maxim’s colossal country home. Every where she goes there are memories of Rebecca, her husband still seems to be in love with his first wife and the housekeeper Mrs Danvers (Judith Anderson), still fanatically loyal to Rebecca, takes every opportunity to subtly remind the second Mrs de Winter of her own inadequacy. But is there a darker mystery behind the death of Rebecca?

Hitchcock’s Oscar-winning film (his only one, although he didn’t get the Director award) is a gothic delight. The action takes place in a mist-filled Cornwall, in a house where every nook and cranny has a dark secret. From its opening sequence, with the camera tracking through a fogbound forest before emerging in sight of a the intimidatingly grand Manderley, this is a film swimming in atmosphere and a dread of dark, psychological secrets, wrapped up in a dynamic melodrama.

At its heart is the vulnerable second Mrs de Winter – so timid we never even learn her name – beautifully embodied by Joan Fontaine. Nervous, awkward and shy, her hands often clasped together and shoulders (under a parade of unglamourous cardigans) tense, she rarely (if ever) looks comfortable. Fontaine’s wonderfully judged performance makes her bashful and deferential but also kind and guileless. Her polite eagerness to do the right thing and help people makes us warm to her instantly. And it’s impossible not to empathise with this gentle middle-class girl, parachuted into being the grand mistress of a huge house. Everyone seems to find her wanting – even Maxim’s decent sister (a droll performance by Gladys Cooper) good naturedly criticises everything from her lack of hobbies to poor dress sense.

That house would make anyone feel inadequate. Hitchcock frequently shoots Fontaine dwarfed by Manderley’s huge interiors, with its walls which seem to stretch on forever. She looks like a small frightened rabbit, as hopelessly oppressed by the building as she is bewildered by the procedures involved in running a house like this. Plus, there are all those reminders of Rebecca – everything seems to carry a monograph and not an item in the house seems to be without her personal touch. In many ways Rebecca is a ghost story without a ghost, where Rebecca’s presence (or lack of it) dominates the entire world of the film.

And our heroine (so uncertain of who she is, she tells a phone caller “I’m sorry Mrs de Winter has been dead for some time” before she suddenly remembers that is now her) won’t be allowed to escape that legacy. Not least because Mrs Danvers is there to remind her. In a superbly cold, calculating and chilling performance of barely repressed obsessiveness, Judith Anderson is outstanding as this housekeeper from your nightmares. Mrs Danvers is determined to turn Manderley into a mausoleum to her lost mistress – and ideally the new Mrs de Winter into a human sacrifice. Hitchcock manages to suggest more than a hint of sexual obsession into Mrs Danvers – she fondles with awe Rebecca’s negligee, drapes herself in Rebecca’s fur coats and remembers her with a breathless intensity. It’s an obsession that makes her subtly unbalanced and deeply dangerous.

Rebecca contains many of the themes that would run through Hitchcock’s work. Obsession obviously has a dark hold over Manderley, not least over Maxim who has the air of a man capable of violence. Unspoken, unknown crimes haunt over Manderley. The death of Rebecca is constantly bought back to us, not least with the film’s continual visual reference to crashing waves. The second Mrs de Winter feels isolated and watched at every turn, a stranger (and potential victim) in her own home. Several shots hammer home giddy, vertigo-inducing heights – from Maxim’s introduction on the cliffs, to the long drop from the heights of Manderley which Mrs Danvers urges a distraught Mrs de Winter to consider taking.

But what’s superb about Rebecca is that the reveals we expect to find are of course totally different to the reveals we get. A lot of this hinges on Olivier’s complicated and fascinating performance as Maxim. In many ways a man of total self-assurance – he barely breaks away from his breakfast to phone Mrs Van Hopper and inform her he will marry her companion – the more time we spend with him, the more his vulnerability, insecurity becomes clear, as does his patrician pride which leads to a self-damaging bluntness. When the secrets are revealed, its striking how this scion of the upper classes becomes suddenly lost – just as finally receiving some answers and reassurance turns Fontaine’s Mrs de Winter into someone more sure of herself than we have ever seen.

The film’s final act spools out a well-paced, intriguing courtroom drama, turned reversed murder-mystery. While some of the original novel’s developments are changed for code-related reasons (the usual provisos on crime and punishment), it makes very little impact on the compelling nature of the vice that seems to be trapping Maxim and his wife. Much of this is powered by George Sander’s superbly hissable turn as a preening playboy (and total shit), purring lines such as “I say marriage to Max is hardly a bed of roses is it?” with a near sadistic glee. It builds to a denouement straight out of horror, with Mrs Danvers taking rightful place as a demonic lord of misrule.

Rebecca was a product of the collaboration between Selznick and Hitchcock: two strong personalities who knew their own mind. Their relationship was fraught and troubled – they basically agreed on almost nothing – but the clash produced a work that stands as some of their best. Selznick demanded Hitchcock stick to the book – he had wanted to name the lead character ‘Daphne’, and introduce a running joke of sea sickness and a Jane Eyre-ish ‘mad woman in the attic’ – and in turn Hitchcock refused to film Selznick’s suggested flourishes (such as a smokey “R” filling the night sky for the final shot). Goes to show that conflict can produce great art.

Rebecca is an outstanding gothic melodrama, superbly acted (there is not a weak link in the cast) and brilliantly directed with a mist-filled flair and sense of heightened tension. A fascinating psychological puzzle while also being superbly gripping entertaining, it’s one of the finest Best Picture winning films of all time.

Foreign Correspondent (1940)

Joel McCrea, Laraine Day and George Sanders take on shady European powers in Foreign Correspondent

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Cast: Joel McCrea (John Jones/Huntley Havestock), Laraine Day (Carol Fisher), Herbert Marshall (Stephen Fisher), George Sanders (Scott ffolliott), Albert Basserman (Van Meer), Robert Benchley (Stebbins), Edmund Gwenn (Rowley), Eduardo Cianelli (Mr King), Harry Davenport (Mr Powers), Edward Conrad (Latvian)

In 1940, Hitchcock was new in America, after a parade of successes in Britain. 1940 was a red-letter year for the master, directing not one but two of the films up for Best Picture. The Oscar was carried home for his masterful gothic adaptation of Du Maurier’s Rebecca, but equally memorable was Foreign Correspondent, a stirring, heartfelt thriller about the build-up to war in Britain, a passionate cry for American intervention and brilliant propaganda contribution to the British war effort (even Joseph Goebbels tipped his hat to it).

John Jones (Joel McCrea) is the new foreign correspondent in Europe for the New York Morning Globe. Given the pseudonym “Huntley Havestock” (because it sounds better), Jones is picked out because he’s a hard-boiled crime journalist, practised at winkling out a story, rather than the cozy posh boys usually sent out to Europe. In Amsterdam, Jones attends a peace conference hosted by leader of the British peace party Stephen Fisher (Herbert Marshall), where eminent Dutch diplomat and architect of the fragile European peace Van Meer (Albert Basserman) is due to speak. While Jones falls in love with Fisher’s daughter Carol (Laraine Day), Van Meer mysteriously falls to show at the dinner – and arrives at the conference the next day only to fail to recognise Jones and immediately get assassinated. Suddenly Jones finds himself in the middle of a dangerous game of spies with only British journalist Scott ffolliott (George Sanders) and Carol to help him.

Hitchcock’s Foreign Correspondent is a masterful spy caper, in the style of many of his early successful works such as The Thirty-Nine Steps, superbly assembled by a genius at the top of his game, with access to funding and techniques beyond what he had in Britain. Hitchcock went through several versions of the script – there were no fewer than nine writers who worked on this film, four of whom are credited – but it matters not a jot when the script they finally came up with matched such superb, zingy, screw-ball style dialogue with such brilliant set-pieces.

The film also had a serious purpose as well. From the start, this is a cry of one of Britain’s most prominent ex-pats to his newly adopted nation to join the effort to preserve Western civilisation against the onslaught of Nazi oppression. Joel McCrea’s Jones – a part written for Gary Cooper, who forever regretted turning the role down – is the quintessential American, disinterested in the world, sure of America’s place in it, who has his eyes opened and passion ignited by seeing up-close and personal the dangers from the agents of totalitarianism. The agents of the enemy nation – probably Germany, a country that is referenced in passing, but the film deliberately keeps it shady in an attempt to appear even-handed – are ruthless, brutal and unscrupulous. Their plans are fiendish and they are bent on world domination. But all this is worn very lightly within a caper framework that has as much interest in Jones falling in love with Carol as it does with foiling the baddies.

It also plays neatly on Jones’ very old-school American obsession with fair-play, and bringing down the baddies no matter what. Witnessing Van Meer assassinated before his very eyes, Jones is determined to go to any lengths to ensure both that justice is done and he is the man who gets the story. At the same time, Jones also has an honest and homely sense of romanticism about him. The film gets a tonne of comic and romantic mileage out of the cracking dialogue between McCrea and Loraine Day as Carol, with the sort of intelligent, witty banter that wouldn’t seem out of place in a screwball comedy, with Jones’ blunt “I say what I mean” attitude crashing beautifully against Carol’s more English rectitude. 

Hitchcock shows himself a brilliantly adept director of comedy – something he doesn’t get enough credit for – in these sequences between the two of them sparring over the course of the movie. And it’s not just them, but also his work with George Sanders – cast against type as a cool, noble British agent – brilliantly hilarious as the curiously named “ffiolliott” (the sequence, mid car chase, where he calmly explains to the befuddled Jones while bullets fly why his name deliberately has no capital letter is hilarious). Comedy is a rich vein in Foreign Correspondent and it works so well here because it lightens both the drama of the thriller elements and the political message of “pro-intervention”.

The thriller sequences are just as superb. The assassination sequence is a stand-out, a shooting on a rain soaked series of steps outside a conference, with the assassin making his retreat through a crowd of on-lookers carrying umbrellas under hot-pursuit from Jones. Hitchcock takes his camera above the crowd, meaning we only follow its progress through the disruption of the umbrellas, before the two men emerge (bullets flying) and move straight into a breathless car chase through the Dutch countryside. It’s a masterful sequence.

And it’s far from the last. The film has a superb series of tension-filled sequences, from Jones playing an elaborate game of cat-and-mouse in a Dutch windmill, trying to avoid being seen by the German agents occupying it while finding out as much as he can about their plans, to Jones reporting what he has found to a man we already know is a double agent. Edmund Gwenn, cast well-against type as a jovial, remorseless assassin, gets a brilliant sequence of attempts to kill Jones without putting him on guard, culminating in a vertigo inducing sequence at the top of Westminster Tower. It’s the second such sequence, Jones already having to climb over the roof of a hotel in Amsterdam to escape assassins (along the way brilliantly hitting the neon sign of the Hotel Europe so that it reads “Hot Europe”). Hitchcock tops it all with a brilliant plane-crash sequence shot with chutzpah and daring and is a technical marvel considering the resources available in 1940.

All this excitement and adventure helps to deliver the message of the film as strongly pro-interventionist to encourage the Americans to enter the war on the side of the Allies. Van Meer (a fabulous performance from Albert Bassermann of old-school nobility, made even more astonishing by the fact he didn’t speak a word of English and learned it all phonetically) has a brilliant, impassioned speech – all the more affecting for its  lack of histrionics – that condemns the brutality and violence of the dictatorships. The film is capped with Jones’ Ed Murrow-style broadcast from Blitz-besieged London. Both sequences raise genuine lumps to the throat – McCrea’s delivery is perfect – and the final sequence is all the more astonishing when you realise it was conceived and shot before the Blitz even started.

Not that the film is completely obvious in its allegiances. The turn-coat Brit in the film is a complex, even sympathetic figure who is merely serving his actual home country in the best way possible. He’s largely presented as reluctant to commit crimes, but believing that they must be done and is even allowed a heroic death. His identity perhaps is fairly guessable (he even has a Germanic dog!) but it still works very well in the film.

Hitchcock draws superb performances from the cast – helped by that script of zingers. McCrea is just about perfect, Day very sweet, Sanders is brilliant, Herbert Marshall’s Stephen Fisher a brilliant portrait of arrogance and tortured duty, Robert Benchley very funny (and writing his own scenes) as Jones’ colleague who’s struggling to stay on the wagon, Harry Davenport superb as Jones’ His Girl Fridayish editor. Basserman was Oscar nominated – and deserves it for his big speech – but it could have been any of the cast. Hitchcock’s Foreign Correspondent is often overlooked among the master’s many, many triumphs. But any pro-interventionist, anti-German film that has even Joseph Goebbels singing its praises must have a fair bit going for it.

Ivanhoe (1952)

Robert Taylor and Elizabeth Taylor (no relation) fighting for Good Old England

Director: Richard Thorpe

Cast: Robert Taylor (Sir Wilfred of Ivanhoe), Elizabeth Taylor (Rebecca), Joan Fontaine (Rowena), George Sanders (Sir Brian De Bois-Guilbert), Guy Rolfe (Prince John), Emlyn Williams (Wamba), Robert Douglas (Sir Hugh De Bracy), Finlay Currie (Sir Cedric of Ivanhoe), Felix Aylmer (Isaac of York), Norman Wooland (King Richard), Basil Sydney (Waldemar Fitzurse), Harold Warrender (Robin Hood)

Adapted (very loosely) from Sir Walter Scott’s novel, Ivanhoe was another instalment in Hollywood’s battle to drag people away from their new-fangled TV sets. This rivalry meant technicolour spectacles like this were the most valued animals in a studio’s stable, which probably explains why Ivanhoe was the MGM film nominated for Best Picture in 1952, while The Bad and the Beautiful (which set a record for most Oscar wins for a film not nominated for Best Picture) and, almost unbelievably, Singin’ In the Rain were overlooked.

Noble knight Ivanhoe (Robert Taylor) finds Richard the Lionheart (Norman Wooland) locked up in Austria. Returning to England, he looks to raise funds to rescue the King – mostly by putting the gentle squeeze on Jewish banker Isaac of York (Felix Aylmer) while flirting with his daughter Rebecca (Elizabeth Taylor). He must also reconcile with his father (Finlay Currie) and his sweetheart Rowena (Joan Fontaine), and prevent wicked Prince John (Guy Rolfe) and his sidekick Sir Brian (George Sanders) from taking control of the Kingdom.

Bless, this film looks quite dated now. The bright primary colours of the costumes are endearingly sweet, with our heroes dressed in capes and tights with all the delight of primary school children in a play. You need to tune into its simplicity – failing to do so means you’ll struggle to watch the final battle scenes as characters go toe-to-toe with all-too-obviously bouncy rubber swords (at one point, a sword literally bends and snaps back into place after a strong blow). The film is crammed with fights, jousts, sieges and battles – there is precious little room for plot, dialogue or character, but at least you get a maelstrom of action (even if it rarely makes much sense).

At the centre of it all is Robert Taylor as Ivanhoe. As in his other roles, Taylor is as stiff and lifeless as a board, while his transatlantic vowels clang with even more painful obviousness amongst the cut-glass and ‘ever-so-’umble’ accents from the cast of jobbing British actors. Taylor squares his jaw and does his best with the derring-do – although, as per usual, he makes Ivanhoe such a dull person, you can hardly raise the slightest interest in him. Inexplicably every woman in the film (i.e. both of them) are head-over-heels in love with him.

But then all the heroes in this film are stick-in-the-muds. Harold Warrender is the most arrogant, least fun Robin Hood you’ll ever see. Finlay Currie gives swagger as Ivanhoe’s father, but is basically a pompous windbag. Emlyn Williams as comic relief “Wampa” is so tiresome you’ll breathe a sigh of relief when he burns to death in a fire. Joan Fontaine is so saintly opposite the balsawood Taylor that you find it unlikely that we will ever hear the pitter-patter of little Ivanhoes.

The bright spots are the villains. Guy Rolfe has huge fun as a moustachio-twirling, scheming Prince John. George Sanders gets the most out of Ivanhoe’s rival Sir Brian (can you think of any other film with a villain called Brian?), although the part (and the film) is far beneath him.

Brian is of course infatuated with the Jewish Rebecca (played with a radiant charisma by a very young Elizabeth Taylor). If the film has any claim to being a more than just a gaudy knight’s tale, it’s in its treatment of its Jewish characters and careful exploration of anti-Semitism in medieval England. Taylor and Felix Aylmer (as her father) give sensitive performances as put-upon, civilised people, ill-used by those around them and expected to lend support at the drop of a hat. Ivanhoe’s assumptions that they (a) have tonnes of money and (b) will feel duty-bound to help Richard are met with a quiet regret and a pointed comment that Richard’s own anti-Semitism track-record is hardly that good. Later Rebecca is placed on trial, her Jewishness central to accusations of sorcery. Persecution is an underlying theme of the film – and although it ends with all right as rain, the threat of it throughout much of the action makes the film feel more substantial than it is.

The main problem is it’s not made with any inspiration. Thorpe is a mediocre director, and the editing flashes through some parts of the story almost too fast to follow what’s happening. The ending suffers in particular from this economy: suddenly we cut from Brian and Ivanhoe fighting to the death, to Richard arriving with an army of knights, Brian being killed largely off-camera, a quick dying speech from him, then Richard announcing everything is fine in the kingdom. It’s all so sudden, it feels like they just ran out of film so needed to wrap it up quickly.

Still, Ivanhoe is fairly good fun despite all of this. It doesn’t require any concentration – and is hardly a minor-classic, let alone any other form of classic – and it has some truly hit-and-miss performing, but it barrels along ago. It may be workmanlike in the extreme, but its bright primary colours mean there’s always something to look at.