Produced in the late 1950s by Kirk Douglas via his recently established production company, The Vikings is one those full-blooded, vividly colourful epics that Hollywood did so well. Based on a novel released earlier in the decade by Edison Marshall, it’s a tale of pillaging, warring brothers and desire that gave Douglas the chance to play a real anti-hero. Inspired by the same legends of Norse warrior Ragnar Lodbrook as the History Channel’s current hit Vikings, it tells of Ragnar visiting England (to pillage, of course) and unbeknownst to him leaving behind a son who might just be the heir to the throne.
Some decades later that son, Eric (Curtis) is now a slave in the camp of Ragnar (oh, ignore that contrivance, it’s a luxury the film earns) where his dad’s legitimate son, Einar (Douglas) is just itching to go a-pillaging to England himself. Without knowing who the other actually is, Eric and Einar come to blows, with Janet Leigh’s English princess Morgana the ‘prize’ each covets. It’s a great example of the epic movie, moving along quickly, not too long, well written with some ambition and acted with passion by a talented cast. We’ll give a special shout out to Douglas, commanding as the proud, lustful Einar, and Frank Thring as the devious English king Aella.
This Eureka release presents the film in broadly acceptable style. The print is hardly a pristine one, but you’ll rarely notice as The Vikings comes from the time of Technicolor and Jack Cardiff’s photography pops throughout, aided by beautiful European locations (mostly Norway). Despite the occasional minor damage evident, it’s frequently sharp and as good as it’s going to get for now. Fleischer’s direction is solid and he even allows himself a flourish here and there, most notably in the castle-set conclusion.
While there’s not a lot on offer, the extras are also solid, comprised mainly of a 30-plus minute interview with film historian Sheldon Hall which provides context and analysis, as well as an archival making-of presented by Fleischer himself that’s full of on-set photos and the director’s reminiscing about what went into putting the movie together. It comes with a booklet on the film (not available at review) and the trailer as well. Overall, while the presentation certainly won’t blow you away, it’s a worthy package for fans of the film.
In these days of anti-hero protagonists too, it’s an example of the above average writing in this more complex than usual film here that although Douglas is the nominal antagonist, Curtis’ 'hero' is an unmitigated swine who cuts a swathe of destruction through the lives of all around him. Highly recommended.
THE VIKINGS / CERT: PG / DIRECTOR: RICHARD FLEISCHER / SCREENPLAY: CALDER WILLINGHAM / STARRING: KIRK DOUGLAS, TONY CURTIS, JANET LEIGH, ERNEST BORGNINE / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW