Friday, December 2, 2011

Rebecca's Choice

Have recently watched (about the fifth time) the 1952 MGM movie version of IVANHOE, which occasionally strays to somewhere more or less in the near vicinity of the novel. (Took me years to learn to enjoy the movie on its own terms.)Just before the final, climactic battle, Rebecca (Elizabeth Taylor) stands at the foot of the stake, between Brian de Bois-Guilbert (George Sanders) and Ivanhoe (Robert Taylor). The two knights are about to engage in a trial by combat to the death. If Bois-Guilbert wins, Ivanhoe will die and Rebecca will be burned at that stake. Bois-Guilbert is in an unwelcome situation: he really loves Rebecca, though he will owe it to his knighthood to fight his best. At the last minute, he tells her softly that if he should concede the trial by combat, he will be forever disgraced in his knighthood but Ivanhoe will be declared the winner (without any danger to himself at all) and Rebecca will live. Bois-Guilbert is ready to bear the disgrace and humiliation, if only Rebecca will come live with him and be his love. (I paraphrase somewhat; I have not yet learned the movie line by line.) At this point, something very large in me always wants Rebecca to answer, "Brian, baby, you're on!" Now that they can do so much with computer graphics, think they'll ever be able to give us a doctored version of the movie with that outcome?
Critical and popular opinion seemed always to be asking about the novel, all through the 19th century, how Ivanhoe could prefer Rowena to Rebecca. (Joan Fontaine as Rowena leaves less of a question mark in the movie.) The question that always hits me, even in the movie -- where they managed to give the hero a lot more heroic stuff to do -- but most especially in the novel, is what on earth can Rebecca see in Ivanhoe? In her place, I'd certainly at least take Brian's offer under serious consideration.

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