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Ivanhoe (1958)

Main image of Ivanhoe (1958)
Screen Gems/Sydney Box Productions for ITV tx. (London) 8/1-6/11/1958
39 x 30 min episodes, black & white
Directors includeLance Comfort
 Bernard Knowles
 Arthur Crabtree
Producers includeBernard Coote
 Herbert Smith
From the novel bySir Walter Scott

Cast: Roger Moore (Ivanhoe); Robert Brown (Gurth); John Pike (Bart); Ivan Craig (Blackheath); Andrew Keir (Prince John)

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Heroic knight Ivanhoe returns from the Crusades to find an England bereft of her King. With the King's villiainous brother, Prince John, intent on seizing the throne, Ivanhoe travels the country righting wrongs.

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A medieval-set action adventure series based on some of the characters in Sir Walter Scott's 1819 novel, this sure-handed Anglo-American production gave a youthful Roger Moore his first starring television role. As an adaptation of sorts, Ivanhoe was disappointing in its shortcomings; as a swashbuckler series it was bold, striking and distinctly enjoyable.

A somewhat untidy production account, however, preceded the series. In December 1956, Moore signed a contract with Columbia Pictures (Screen Gems was the studio's television subsidiary). Shooting started in early 1957; at first, the interior scenes were shot at Elstree Studios. It was decided to move the location shooting to California (to the Columbia Ranch) to film the series' exteriors (the winter in England at that time presented a rather bleak landscape).

Supporting actor Robert Brown joined the cast while the company was filming in California. The unit then returned to England and began shooting at Beaconsfield Studios. With the weather improving, the exteriors were filmed in the fields around the Buckinghamshire studios. The series premiered on ITV (various regions) in January 1958 while filming continued to complete all 39 episodes through to June 1958. Although the pilot episode ('Freeing the Serfs') was filmed in colour, the remainder of the series was shot in black & white.

Although the plotting was brisk but unoriginal (the earlier The Adventures of Sir Lancelot (ITV, 1956-57) having trotted out similar plundering knights and treacherous noblemen yarns), and the obvious photogenic talents of Moore were heavily exploited, some unusually adult-level dialogue and an uninhibited gloss on the traditions of the genre made this a splendid romp.

Cut from the same ride-boldly-into-danger fabric as their contemporaries, but sufficiently exciting, the robust hero and his companions - Robert Brown's sturdy, dependable Gurth and his son Bart (John Pike) - upheld the Arthurian chivalric code wherever they went.

Once again, the central villain of the piece was the cold-blooded Prince John (grimly sardonic and effectively played by Andrew Keir), who was becoming a stock figure on the television swashbuckler scene (after The Adventures of Robin Hood (ITV, 1955-60) and before Richard the Lionheart (ITV, 1962-63))

Even though it basically represented a familiar knighthood-in-flower escapade, the series was perhaps raised somewhat above the level of its class by the Hollywood influence of its producers and by unfussy characterisation which managed to avoid many of the obvious clich├ęs. A satisfactory treatment of the inevitable chivalric panoply.

Tise Vahimagi

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Video Clips
Richard the Lionheart (1961-65)
Comfort, Lance (1908-1966)
Crabtree, Arthur (1900-75)
Moore, Roger (1927-)
Swashbuckling TV