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"They Conquered the Seas in their Dragon Ships, Fought Bravely in many o' land! For the Valkerie Maids will come for the Man, Who Dies with a Sword in his hand!" *
I don't exactly remember if we had "Blockbuster" type pictures in 1958; but if we did, then the Kirk Douglas, Tony Curtis, Janet Leigh, Ernest Borgnine Star Studded extravaganza THE VIKINGS, surely would have qualified as one. The epic celebration of pillaging, plundering and gang-rape was adapted from the Historical Novel of the same name by one Edison Marshall.
The Box Office success of this 'Major Motion Picture' (another anachronistic use of the Queen's English) led to the inevitasble development of either the sequel or the spin-off. In this case they opted for a sort of spin-off TV Series. The characters in it weren't exactly the same ones, but they were quite similar. The series featured the Father, a half-fast King or Chieftain named 'Firebeard', who was most likely, a red-headed dude like me-self! It was tamed down and adapted to the television series acceptable levels of "soft-core" violence, being that using swords, yet having no penetration. Their pillaging and plundering seemed to be more of the justified sorts, by their running into less than admirable adversaries, be they Frenchmen, English or others of their own Norse extraction.
The producers, Kirk Douglas' own Brynaprod Company with United Artists Television, managed to give just about all concessions required. Yet in the final analysis were still reviewed as being " ..of low Moral Tone.", by certain publications; such as The New World, the official newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago.
The storyline managed to walk that old tightrope between representing this 10th Century seagoing warrior story and giving us a ½ hour heroic adventure. With 'Firebeard' and his two sons, Leif* (star Jerome Courtland), older brother Finn (Walter Barnes) and the giant warrior, Haldar (portrayed by Peter Bull (?) or, as we remember, Buddy Baer**), the fearsome foursome looked sort of like a middle Ages' version of "BONANZA", with the Cartwrights.
We do recall the first episode. Being the series 'Pilot', there was a lot more ca$h allotted; which translated into more actors & actresses, greater and more frequent action/combat scenes and generally a richer look. We also incredibly recall an interaction where 'little brother', Leif, manages to save older brother, Finn, by watching his back and slaying an adversary via the "old thrown sword run-'em' thru" method. Finn later thanks his kid brother, adding: "You know that if anything happens to me, you're the one who will be Chieftain, some day." The props and costuming, being particularly important in a period piece like this were highly convincing; outstanding, even! ("And they are mild!") The hardware consisted of broad swords, long bows, shields and only the occasionally appearing helmet. (Leif had a really neat helmet, which he mainly just carried, kinda like an American football!)
All that and their use of a mast less & sail free Viking Ship, were doubtless leftovers from the movie. The scenery and location were adequate; but we don't that think it was done in Brittany, France; as was the feature. It was more than likely done in the good old U.S.A.'s Southern California beaches and studio back lots.
The show was with us for the 1959-60 season, when this writer was an 8th Grader. It was shown in the Networkless method, via Syndication. It was WGN, Channel 9, here in Chicagoland that carried it.
At seasons' end, the crew must've just packed up, and sailed off west to Iceland, Greenland, Vinland (the coast of present day Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Maine) and on to Thule and Valhalla! They were not seen again, even in re-runs!
NOTE: * A rendition of their Theme, from memory, only!
NOTE: ** We believe that listing this character as Leif "Ericson" is an error, as we don't recollect his being called that, ever!
NOTE: *** Former Heavyweight Boxer, Contender to Joe Louis' Crown, the huge Buddy Baer, younger brother of Heavyweight Champ, Max Baer, Sr., was the only guy we remember as the Warrior, Haldar.
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