Vikings, The (1958)

The Vikings (1958), directed by Richard Fleischer.

It's hard living just a boat trip away from the Vikings. They murder and pillage with berzerker abandon. Life is particularly cruel for female victims.

At home the Northmen get along pretty well with each other. Most of the camera time is spent in drunken feasting and loud carousing with poor table manners. Despite their depredations our sympathies are supposed to be with them, rather than with the Northumbrian English who bear the brunt of their overseas ravishing.

This is the dynastic tale of a Viking prince and a slave who -- unknown to each other -- are half-brothers, this due to King Ragnar's rape of a Saxon queen. So: Tony Curtis might have a claim to two kingdoms, should he survive. Both he and fierce brother Kirk Douglas are obsessed with the same princess, and both cannot be made happy.

A violent film, with rape and sexual menace, a man's eye ripped out by a hawk, execution by sea crabs, execution by being dropped into a pit of starving wolves, and Tony Curtis having his hand chopped off -- didn't that also happen to him in Taras Bulba (1962)? None of this is very explicit.

It was intended to be especially realistic in clothes, buildings and boats, etc. That was probably more impressive at the time; we've grown accustomed to detailed historical reenactments since. The quick castle siege at the end is pretty impressive and the climatic swordfight on the roof of the castle is a vertiginous panorama which must have been stunning on the big screen. The actors did their own fighting. Me? No way.

Janet Leigh, as always, has a face and figure that might have been lovingly designed by a gifted illustrator. Another of the films -- like Houdini (1953) -- she and Curtis made while married.

Also with Ernest Borgnine, hearty as King Ragnar. He's supposed to be Kirk Douglas's father, but is actually a couple of months younger.

Frank Thring made a career playing wicked costume potentates: Ben Hur (1959), El Cid (1961), King of Kings (1961).

Photographed by Jack Cardiff.

Kirk Douglas also produced.

Loosely remade as Erik the Conqueror (1961) by Mario Bava.

Available on a Kino Blu-ray. In a making-of narrated by the director, he says: