Adapted from Walter Scott’s novel, Ivanhoe raises ransom money to free King Richard while alienated from his father because of his love for Rowena. Yet he falls in love with the Jewish healer Rebecca and battles the Norman Brian de Bois-Guilbert for her.
Wilfred of Ivanhoe (Rober Taylor) finds that King Richard (Norman Wooland) is being held in Austria for ransom. Ivanhoe guides the Norman knights led by Brian de Bois-Guilbert (George Sanders) to stay with his father Cedric (Finlay Currie). The fool Wamba (Emlyn Williams) takes Ivanhoe to see Rowena (Joan Fontaine). They kiss, and Ivanhoe asks for her help. Cedric welcomes Isaac of York (Felix Aylmer) to his table. Rowena comes in and asks for news of the crusade. Brian says that Ivanhoe vanished after winning a tournament. Cedric has disowned his son Ivanhoe, who says that King Richard is alive. Cedric tells Ivanhoe to leave.
Ivanhoe accepts Wamba as his squire. They rescue Isaac and escort him home. Ivanhoe says he needs 150,000 marks to free King Richard. Rebecca (Elizabeth Taylor) hears and brings jewels to Ivanhoe.
In a tournament Normans defeat Saxons. Ivanhoe arrives nameless as a Saxon in black. He defeats several Normans before he is carried off unconscious. Rowena finds Rebecca taking care of Ivanhoe. Brian tells Prince John (Guy Rolfe) it is Ivanhoe working for King Richard. John orders Ivanhoe taken.
Jewish Isaac tells his daughter Rebecca that religion separates her from Ivanhoe. Locksley (Harold Warrender) warns them and hides Ivanhoe in the forest.
Brian’s Normans capture Cedric, Rowena, and Rebecca. Ivanhoe surrenders himself for their release, but Brian breaks his word by demanding the ransom money. Hugh De Bracy (Robert Douglas) tells Rowena that he wants to marry her, but she slaps him. Brian tells Rebecca she is the price for her father’s release. She threatens suicide; but Brian says it would mean Ivanhoe’s death, and he kisses her. Locksley (Robin Hood) has his archers surround the castle. Brian shows him Ivanhoe and threatens to hang him. Ivanhoe escapes and frees Cedric and Wamba. The archers repulse a Norman sortie. Then they make a bridge and assault the castle. Brian has boulders dropped on them. Ivanhoe fights with a sword, but Wamba is killed. Brian takes Rebecca, and Hugh comes for Rowena; but Ivanhoe defeats Hugh. Brian escapes with Rebecca.
Prince John tells Brian that Rebecca is his prisoner. Locksley and his men bring riches to Ivanhoe, and Isaac offers 100,000 marks. Ivanhoe tells Isaac that Prince John demands 100,000 for Rebecca; but Isaac gives it for King Richard.
Rebecca is accused of sorcery and tried before Prince John. Brian denies Rebecca is a witch. John says King Richard has been bought, and he wants Rebecca burned. Rebecca says she is a healer. Brian advises her to confess and renounce her religion. She refuses and is sentenced to death. Ivanhoe comes forward and demands “wager by battle.” John choose Brian as his champion.
Brian offers to submit if Rebecca accepts him, but she trusts in God. Brian and Ivanhoe fight on horseback, and Ivanhoe is unhorsed; but he defeats Brian. King Richard arrives with his crusaders. Brian tells Rebecca he loves her and dies. Rebecca tells Rowena that Ivanhoe is hers. King Richard unites England.
Based on English history of the 1190s the conflicts between Saxons and Normans as well as Christians and Jews are depicted amid the chivalry of knights and ladies. The resolution aims at religious tolerance and a united England; but the Christian will marry a Christian, and the Normans will rule autocratically until the Magna Carta in 1215.