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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
United Artists THE VIKINGS (1958) is one of the great epics of the
fifties. Based on the book "The Vikings" by Edison Marshall it was
produced by Jerry Brasler for Bryna Productions (Kirk Douglas' own
company which he named after his mother).Beautifully photographed in
Technirama and Technicolor by ace British cinematographer Jack Cardiff
more than 4000 multinational performers and technicians worked on the
giant production. Filmed on actual locations in the mountains and
fjords of Norway the picture is well remembered for its scenic beauty
and authentic sets. The splendid screenplay was put together by Dale
Wasserman and Calder Willingham and Richard Fleischer directed with a
deft hand an all star cast. The picture is also notable for the fine
polished narration spoken by an uncredited Orson Welles.
Ragnar (Ernest Borgnine) is the savage Viking chieftain who with his Viking horde rape and pillage along the English coast. On one such raid he rapes an English Queen who later gives birth to a boy they call Eric (Tony Curtis). But his existing son Einar (Kirk Douglas) is unaware he has a half brother and grows to hate Eric especially after the Vikings attack an English ship and abduct the princess Morgana (Janet Leigh) whom both sons desire. Sometime later Eric rescues the princess from the Viking camp and in a small boat makes a dash for England with Ragnar and Einar in hot pursuit. During the chase Ragnar's ship goes aground in the fog but Eric saves him, pulls him aboard and takes him to England as well where the treacherous king Aella sentences Ragnar to die in the dog pit. Later Eric returns to Norway to muster Einer and his men to attack the English castle where Morgana is being held and to avenge Ragnar's death. The picture ends in a marvellous set piece as the Vikings take the castle after a blistering well staged battle and Eric and Einar battle it out to the death in a terrific sword duel atop the dizzying castle parapets.
Performances are superb from the entire cast. Douglas himself is a standout in his own production. His facility for knockabout action is a joy to behold. His prowess and unerring skill at stunts is well revealed in THE VIKINGS exemplified in the taking of the castle sequence. Here Douglas, under fire from rocks and arrows, charges and leaps across the open moat grabbing onto the axe handles which his men had already thrown and embedded in the underside of the raised drawbridge. Then using the axes to grip he clambers up and over to let the bridge down. It is a stunning and spectacular piece of stunt work! Again in an earlier scene Douglas can clearly be seen doing what is known as Dancing The Oars whereby he hops from oar to oar outside the ship for the amusement of the camp. Excellent too was Tony Curtis! Here was the emergence of Tony Curtis the ACTOR which manifested itself in Burt Lancaster's "Trapeze" (1956), with Lancaster again in "Sweet Smell of Success" (1957) and then in "The Defiant Ones"(1958). Gone were his pretty boy days at Universal International the studio he started with and where he would become their top pinup male star alongside a young Rock Hudson and Jeff Chandler. Also a standout in THE VIKINGS is Ernest Borgnine giving a powerful portrayal of the Viking leader Ragnar - a part he was born to play. Others in smaller roles are good too such as Alexander Knox as the Friar, Frank Thring as the sly and dubious Aella, James Donald as Egbert the English traitor and Janet Leigh (Mrs. Curtis at the time) as the princess.
My only problem with the movie is the staid and laboured music score by Italian composer Mario Nascimbene a composer who never really distinguished himself in anything he did. Despite the haunting and echoing motif that sings out the two words of the film's title on a giant elephant tusk the colourless tinny sounding score is quite insipid and uninspired. It is surprising that a composer the calibre of Miklos Rozsa or Dimitri Tiomkin - two men who could score such epics in their sleep - were not approached to work on Douglas' picture. Their involvement would have added immeasurably to the film giving it a greater buoyancy and density. However, the score not withstanding THE VIKINGS is still a great movie and remains one of cinema's finest blockbuster epics.
This movie is guaranteed to set the pulses of any red blooded viewer racing.It pulsates with vibrant action and splendid period atmosphere; Kirk Douglas was born to play the role of Einar and he extracts every bit of menace and finally pathos as a warrior whose love for the wrong woman finally destroyed him.Tony Curtis shows restraint in his role and is free of the too eager to please grinning and mugging which marred his later performances.The action is the thing here,however,and what action it is;the final attack by the vikings on the English castle is a stupendous spectacle with swords,axes,grappling hooks used aplenty as a horde of expert stuntmen have the time of their lives whilst the truly magnificent score by Mario Nascimbene provides suitable accompaniment to their lusty adventures.With wonderful scenery,convincing performances and enough testosterone to launch a 100 longships,"THE VIKINGS" is a gloriously sadistic and savage experience that belies its 1958 vintage,disengage your brain and revel in this serio-comic romp which should be in the video collection of any true action fan.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The Dark Ages in the cinema have to live up to accepted connotations of
pillage, murder and rapewithin the limits of the family picture, of
Richard Fleischer's film is photographed with all the visual grandeur of Technirama, with some mystically beautiful shots of the Viking ships in the fjords of Norway... The film presents fearsome warriors who glide silently out of the mists in their great dragon-shaped long ships to pillage towns and villages before disappearing once more out to sea... These are the Vikings and their fighting prowess, feared along the England coasts...
Led by fiercest warriors, they live for adventure and combat... The Vikings believe that a warrior dying a glorious death will gain immortality as his exploits will be forever remembered by those left behind... To this end, the Vikings (calling upon their god to help them) continually seek combat and fear little as they look for a way to enter Valhalla...
The Vikings, worshipers of Odin, the god of war and death, try to conquer England, which at that time was a series of small, divided kingdoms... The film plays against the background of lust and blood, love and hate, as Eric (Tony Curtis), symbolizing the traditional rebel slave emerges from obscurity and performs the deeds of a proud warrior, predestined to win with the steel of his sword...
The opening scene presents a vivid introduction to Norse savagery as Viking leader Rainar (Ernest Borgnine), invades the English coast and pillages everything in his path... He kills the king and rapes the queen, who later has to admit to her confessor Father Godwin (Alexander Knox) that she is pregnant...
Twenty years later, Aella (Frank Thring), the successor, announces that in order to strength their defenses against the Vikings, he will unite the kingdoms of Northumbria and Wales by marrying the Welsh princess Morgana (Janet Leigh), a price the young lady was not willing to pay...
The mean king also turns upon his upright cousin Lord Egbert (James Donald) and accuses him of being an English conspirator, and has him thrown into jail... Egbert is rescued from a cruel death by Ragnar...
Back in Norway, Ragnar is greeted by his son Einar (Kirk Douglas) who is instantly hostile to the Englishman...
While showing Egbert some 'barbarian' customs, Einar comes across a pair of slaves, one of whom is Eric...
Apparently captured as a child, Eric has grown up among the Vikings, but he and Einar become enemies when Eric turns his hunting hawk on him...
Eric stands trial and is punished by being cast into a slop-pool to be eaten alive by giant crabs...
Egbert notices a royal pummel-stone Eric wears around his neck... Aware that the Queen mother had placed such an ornament on her illegitimate offspring, he suspects the identity of Eric and asks Ragnar innocently: 'If Eric survives, what then?'
When the king's intended bride is kidnapped by Einar, and brought to Norway, Morgana finds herself drawn to Eric to the consternation of Einar, who would like to have the lovely princess as his Viking queen...
With the help of Eric, Morgana is able to escape back to England, but this only intensifies the hate between Einar and Ericwhom we know are half brothers...
The jovial humor of the script (by Calder Willingham, later co-author of the script for 'The Graduate') is nicely captured in a scene between British princess Morgana and her older and less well endowed companion, who are in the power of the Vikings, held prisoner in a boat moored in the fjord by their stronghold... Both are expecting that violation is on the way, a possibility which is worrying Morgana very much more than her companion...
'The Vikings' serves as an illustration of the lifestyle of the ferocious Norsemen whose idea of fun and games was pretty much as lethal as their warfare...
Two Viking half brothers (who are unaware that they are related) fight
over Welsh Princess Morgana, who has been captured during a raid in England
while en-route to marry the King of Northumbria.
A handsomely mounted historical epic in the old tradition. However, a great deal of effort was made to achieve accuracy in terms of clothes, villages, ships, weapons etc. The stunning Norwegian locations add to the authenticity, and are breathtakingly photographed in Technirama by master cinematographer Jack Cardiff.
Kirk Douglas, Tony Curtis and Ernest Borgnine all give strong performances, although the characters are hard to like. The level of brutality is quite surprising for a film made in 1958, and the overall atmosphere is one of harshness.
While the film is perhaps not quite in the league of 'Spartacus' or 'El Cid' in terms of epic status, it is admirably authentic, unsentimental and vigorous.
When I was a boy of 11 years, I admired the reconstructed Viking ships near our cottage at the Hardanger fjord. It was the year 1957, when Kirk, Tony and Borgnine visited our country and participated in this beautiful movie... In a funny sort of way, the picture makes us Norwegians proud of that brutal past... I have seen it many times, and am struck by the surprisingly "right" atmosphere, touched by the landscape that I know so very well, and fascinated by the action. OK, so it's Hollywood, but somehow, I have the feeling they don't make movies like this any more. Pity! Well, maybe I'm getting old.
I saw this film at the pictures a long, long time ago.
I was a kid and was as wide eyeyed as any kid seeing a spectacular of comparable impact as Star Wars or Harry Paintpot or any derivative.
How on earth could any little lad be less than profoundly moved by the images of of eyes being ripped out by a hawk, people being eaten by crabs, wild wolves eating people in a pit, hands being chopped of.
This was a bloody massive movie and still is.
I just bought it on VCR and feel like a kid again.
I cannot imagine any modern kid being as equally moved but I'm sure they will come across it one day the same way I see impressive movies on TV made way before I was around.
Trouble is, for some reason this film never seems to get shown on either satellite or terrestrial TV. Why is that?
Setting asside my middle aged predudice, I challenge anyone to put forward a movie of a more spectactularly impressive introductary sequence and haunting theme music.
Ernie Borgnine, playing the viking father of Kirk Douglas but actually very close in age, does a marvelous job in this film. I have seen this film many times and each time I am more impressed than the last time. Also, the beautiful scenery sets a background for the sea scenes and the home location of the Vikings. The Fjords, hills and waterfalls are so very beautiful. I especially enjoyed the final battle scene where Einar and Eric are fighting on the top of a castle tower where it looked as if any slight false move would have both of them and the camera operator tumbling down to an awful demise. I highly recommend this film to those who enjoy watching Kirk Douglas, Tony Curtis, Ernest Borgnine and the others.
The Vikings is a top notch movie. I too saw this movie as a young kid in the 50's and I loved it then. I went and saw it every time it was rereleased in the theaters. Viewing it on video 40 years later it has lost none of its luster. Kirk Douglas gives an outstanding performance as Einar. Ernest Borgnine should be the prototype of all future viking performances. Excellent supporting cast in Frank Thring and James Donald. Everything about this movie is excellent including the musical score, the scenery, the story line, the makeup. This film gives a true picture of Viking savagery and love of life and war. I do not want to give away any of the plot so just rent this movie you will not be disappointed.
Call me a fool, but I feel strongly that the Richard Fleischer/ Kirk Douglas
1958 film THE VIKINGS is a waiting-to-be-rediscovered masterpiece.
Of the costume drama spectaculars of the 1950s-1960s, it has the most coherent script and theme. It knowledgeably explores the themes Europe was dealing with during its Dark Ages. Acting performances are first rate (Frank Thring's villainy drips pure acid), and the photography is breathtaking. Mario Nacimbene's score has a majesty that matches any, including its little love theme. See it (if possible) on the big screen/wide screen format.
I've always thought that this was a fun film to watch. Kirk Douglas with his impressive physique is well cast but I think Ernest Borgnine steals the show playing his father. A great role for him. Maybe Tony Curtis looks a little out of place among the vikings but he's always been a good enough actor to pull it off. Great sets and just beautiful cinematography. The film was shot on real locations in Norway. If you get a chance to see this just sit back and enjoy this fun adventure film.
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