I could hardly believe it! 1958! I was seven years old when I first saw The Vikings! It was at the Palace Theater, a beautiful ex-vaudeville house, with a balcony, and gargoyles. An extraordinary place to view a first run film. Kirk Douglas, Tony Curtis, Janet Leigh and Ernest Borgnine...all looking young and spry and very attractive! Well, except for Borgnine...who looks...rather Borgninish!
I recall being mesmerized by the film. I remember running home, and asking my mother to make me a Viking costume. One for my brother too. And the neighboring kids...they got into the act too. My role was the Kirk Douglas part. Prince Einar, dashing, handsome, a skilled warrior, heir to the chief of the Viking tribe. My brother got the Tony Curtis part, dashing, handsome, child of the union of Einar's father and the English queen. We didn't worry about the story...except for the fighting part. The other kids? We got to beat them in hand-to-hand combat. It was a boy's dream!
When I noticed The Vikings had been released to DVD, I bought it immediately! And rushed home to watch it. A sort of Saturday matinee...perfect. My mother dropped in and watched with me, and we shared memories of the film as we watched. It still holds up. The performances are a bit over the top, but hey! it's Kirk Douglas, Tony Curtis and ERNEST BORGNINE so, what did you expect. Their scenery chewing, and posing fits right into the 9th century setting. And Janet Leigh makes a beautiful kidnapped princess who inflames the desires of both the stars.
Kirk Douglas loses an eye, and Tony Curtis has a hand lopped off along the way. They are blissfully unaware that they share the same father, and their interest in the princess means that only one will survive. It's the one who manages to hold on to the most body parts!
The Vikings was directed with flair by Richard Fleischer who attempted to create an honest portrayal of a unique and little-known society. He had two longboats constructed from original drawings, and it is stirring to watch them as they sail through the fjord. A special feature of the DVD is a "Making of..." documentary with interviews with Fleischer.
The film itself is based on a novel by Edison Marshall. I recall seeing it around the house. It was a standard historical pot-boiler, and made the leap to the screen easily.
Fleischer and his cast have not created a historical document, but they have given us a film which is fun to watch, gives us a glimpse of history, and features some glorious footage of "the land of the ice and snow" as well as a memorable score by Mario Nascimbene. Suspend belief for a couple of hours, and enjoy The Vikings; it's a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon out of the humidity... even 40 years later.
[ David Kidney ]