If you are looking for a great spectacle - you'll like this. I've liked this movie since I was in high school. I first watched it because my grandmother named one of my aunts 'Rowena' and I wanted to find out who or what my aunt was named for.
Later, I read the book. This movie is not terribly faithful to the book except for the main plot. For simplicity's sake, they combined characters and attributed to Ivanhoe actions and scenes he didn't actually do in the book. But this is Hollywood of the 1950s. This is Robert Taylor at one of his best films, along with Elizabeth Taylor, George Sanders and Joan Fontaine, I still love this movie, always mentally pointing out to myself what I like best about it while I watch it. It's a great introduction to the story of Ivanhoe if you're not familiar with it. My husband wasn't, and I got him to watch it last week, pointing out to him that it was a introduction to the main story. If you want to see more "book" accuracy, check out the 1982 version. I love that one too!
There are several, what I'd call "glamour" shots of Robert Taylor in the film. Where you see that shot and you think "Wow!" And the guy was 41 years old when he did the movie. The first is in the Great Hall scene. Ivanhoe is in disguise as a Pilgrim just returned from the Holy Land. He sits at the very back of the room with a robe and hood on. The family dog barks, giving him away to his father, at the front of the hall. They cut to Ivanhoe, and he looks up hopefully, with a smile, to his father. Wow. He looks terrific.
Another hood shot is right before he throws down the gauntlet in order to save Rebecca (Elizabeth Taylor) from being burned at the stake. They show a hooded figure next to a pillar. He looks up, and as he does - there's that handsome face again. The other shots have to do with him in his knight's 'mail' part of the armor, but just shows his face. King Richard looks splendidly that way too in the last shot of so of the film.
I loved George Sanders. Hopelessly in love with Rebecca, and voraciously against Ivanhoe, you know something's gotta give here. Joan Fontaine as Rowena was too old for the part. Even with a long fall on, she doesn't look like she would be under 18, as the Lady Rowena was supposed to be. But I liked her anyway, just because.
Then, there's the beautiful, 19-year old Elizabeth Taylor, hopelessly in love with Ivanhoe, and yet, because she's a Jew and he's a Christian, at that time in history there was no way those two would ever get together.
But I would be remiss if I didn't mention Emlyn Williams as Wamba. He is the funniest guy! This jester was the comic relief to the film - much needed because it was a serious time in history, and the main plot is very serious - so there had to be something of comic relief. And Wamba's character was actually also a compilation of two characters from the book. He was terrific!
All in all, I still like the film, and I'll pull it out now and again when I want a great story - or I miss seeing Robert Taylor, Elizabeth Taylor, Joan Fontaine or George Sanders...or Emlyn Williams.