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.
Action / Adventure / History
Action / Adventure / History
Einar and Eric are two Viking half-brothers. The former is a great warrior whilst the other is an ex-slave, but neither knows the true identity of the other. When the throne of Northumbria in Britain becomes free for the taking, the two brothers compete against one another for the prize, but they have very different motives - both involving the princess Morgana, however.
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