(1958 – United Artists. Starring Kirk Douglas, Tony Curtis, Janet Lee and Ernest Borgine. Dir: Richard Fleischer (20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Fantastic Voyage, Soylent Green). 116 minutes)
Not many Hollywood films have concerned themselves with stories of the Vikings. There have been some over the years such as “Alfred the Great (1969)”, “Erik the Viking” (1989) and “The 13th Warrior (1999) but none are as good as 1958’s “The Vikings”.
The film opens with Orson Welles narrating a not highly accurate overview of viking beliefs over a Bayeux Tapestry style animation sequence. We are then introduced to Ragnar (Ernest Borgine), leader of a viking raid on an English kingdom. Ragnar kills the king and rapes the queen. These are our heros folks.
The king’s evil cousin Aella (Frank Thring) takes the throne, but unbeknownst to him, the queen has secretly had Ragnar’s child. This child is then sent off to Italy for safekeeping, with the stone from the royal sword around his neck so he can be identified in the future.
Note the scene where Aella is crowned, it is a unbroken take lasting about 2:48.
A treaty with Wales provides Aella with a bride to be, Morgana (Janet Lee), but fate has other plans…
Aella accuses his cousin Egbert (James Donald) of aiding the viking raids, an accusation that turns out to be true. Egbert escapes by night, and joins the viking fleet headed by Ragnar, and they return to Norway.
This movie may not be perfect, but all is forgiven by the sequence of the long ship’s return on the fjord. It was filmed on location in Norway, and combined with the rousing score makes for a memorable moment.
We now meeting Ragnar’s son Einar (Kirk Douglas), interrupted in mid love making by Ragnar’s return. In a nice piece of accuracy, Einar’s horse is small, as horses of the period were.
Einar is out hawking, failing to impress the English lord Egbert, when his bird is outdone by a slave’s hawk. It seems an earlier scene introducing this slave, Erik (Tony Curtis) was cut, as Einar says “You again” when they meet. Repaying an insult, Erik has his hawk attack Einar, putting out his eye. Einar has Erik taken away to await a fitting death.
Cut to the beer hall for a night of drinking, women and the Big Wheel of Adultery. Erik is brought in for judgement, but Ragnar is told by the seer Kitala (Eileen Way) that Odin will punish any who kill the slave, so Ragnar has Erik tied up in a tide pool so the cold and the crabs can do the deed. Einar rips a necklace from Erik’s neck before he is led out, and “da dum”, it is the royal stone. Turns out Erik is Ragnar’s son and Einar’s half brother (having been captured in a raid), but only Lord Egbert know this, but says nothing. He asks Ragnar what will happen to Erik should he survive. Ragnar says anyone can have him should he survive. Survive? Ha ha ha ha.
At the pool, Kitala calls upon Odin to save Erik. It seems Odin is listening, sending a wind that turns back the tide. Egbert wins the slave, which leaves Einar none too pleased.
I don’t want to spoil the movie any farther incase some of you want to go out and see it, but I will add this:
The good: A good wide screen, colourful, well photographed 1950’s adventure. Kirk Douglas chews the scenery and growls his lines, but that’s to be expected. Ernest Bognine is actually quite good as Ragnar, nobody plays a slimy villain quite like Frank Thring and Eileen Way is enjoyably wide eyed crazy. The man and wife team of Curtis and Lee, although today it would be called stunt casting, does add to the flavour of the film. Extra points for the fact no one wears a horned helment.
The bad: Tony Curtis should never be cast in historical pieces, such as “Spartacus (1960)” or “Taras Bulba (1962)”. His accent is a cause of endless amusement.
Although it did attempt to portray the period correctly, Aella’s castle is wildly anachronistic, as is Janet’s Lee’s 9th century rocket bra.
Score: 3/5, as the last half is not as strong as the first. Recommended anyway. ODIN!!