Einar, brutal son of Ragnar and future heir to his throne tangles with Eric, a wily slave, for the hand of a beautiful English maiden.
Rugged pillaging in the offering.
Unknown to both men, warrior Einar and disgraced slave Eric, are in fact half-brothers. As the kingdom of Northumbria becomes ripe for the taking, both men, with a fancy for Princess Morganna, are heading for the revelation right in amongst their bitter rivalry.
Kirk Douglas (Einar) and Tony Curtis (Eric) would both re-team for Spartacus two years after this sword and sandal swasher had hit the screens in 1958. That Spartacus is considerably a better film all told is a given, but The Vikings stands up well as an entertaining precursor to that Thracien slave classic. Based on the novel of the same name written by Edison Marshall, The Vikings makes up for what it lacks in authenticity with sheer gusto enhanced sword swishing adventure. These Vikings may not totally convince as mead swigging, women chasing, pillagers of England, yet running along side Mario Nascimbene's terrific score and Jack Cardiff's excellent photography (the Norway location scenes are breath taking), it doesn't take much for the discerning genre fan to get swept away in it all.
Douglas and Curtis give it a good blast, while Janet Leigh as Morganna perks her breasts out and actually becomes believable as a lady lusted after by two rough and ready ruffians. However, The Vikings doesn't sit up in the top echelons of swords and sandals pictures, something which irked both Douglas and director Richard Fleischer and caused them to hold each other responsible during the following years. With bad weather, injuries to actors and even a strike by Norwegian oarsmen to contend with, it was a far from easy shoot. Casting those issues aside, one tends to think that Douglas' ire was warranted, for Fleischer was clearly the wrong choice for the piece. He chooses to go for a more genial, almost comic book approach, which sadly loses what earthy grit and grime feel the film needed once Orson Welles' splendid opening narration had set things up for a bodice ripping sword slashing epic.
The director isn't found lacking with his action sequences though. With the likes of Fantastic Voyage, 20000 Leagues Under The Sea & 10 Rillington Place on his CV, he clearly was a director of worth. Here he impresses with his construction of the kinetic sword fights, while the attack on Nothumberland Castle (really it's Brittany, France, with Cardiff's camera working the oracle) is brilliantly staged and pumps the pulse rate considerably. Pic is often violent and features some genre moments never to be forgotten (Einar losing his eye, Ragnar and the Wolf Pit, The Running the Oars tradition), while it's also pleasing to find a director overseeing some attentive research that opens up the craftsman side of the Viking hoards.
So all in all it's a fine and entertaining genre picture that's arguably more fun than dramatic gold, a film that was a fave of many who got lost in its charms all those years ago. The flaws and minor frustrations are obvious when one revisits with older and wiser eyes, but regardless one should crack open the mead and enjoy the sheer grizzled guts of it all. 8/10
Bavaria Film, Brynaprod S.A., Curtleigh Productions by Richard Fleischer, Calder Willingham, Dale Wasserman, Edison Marshall.
Stars: Kirk Douglas, Tony Curtis, Ernest Borgnine, Janet Leigh.
Genres: Action, Adventure, History
Keywords: based on novel or book norway falcon ship scandinavia viking epic slave northumberland wolves 9th century
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