Longships and Kinships
Before I watched "The Vikings" I had for some reason thought it was an epic, one of those movies which pass the 3 hour barrier. I don't know why, maybe because it has that look of one of those big historical epics, but at just under 2 hours "The Vikings" is most definitely not one of those bum numbing movies which revel in huge set pieces with thousands of extras. Yet "The Vikings" still feels like it is an epic, it has some stunning action, amazing locations, a relatively small but impressive cast and a story which has all the elements which usually go into making much longer movies. And whilst "The Vikings" is now over half a century old it is still an impressive movie which has more going for it than some of todays big budget movies.
20 years after Viking King Ragnar (Ernest Borgnine - The Last Command) invaded Northumbria, killing the King and raping the Queen, his son Eric (Tony Curtis - The Rawhide Years) who he doesn't know exists is a slave in his village. And Eric does not see eye to with Ragnar's legitimate son Einar (Kirk Douglas - Gunfight at the O.K. Corral) who as a brave and handsome warrior does what he likes including dishing out beatings on Eric. But when Einar returns from a raid on Britain where he captures Princess Morgana (Janet Leigh) they become rivals for her affections, totally unaware that whilst they are willing to kill each other they are in fact brothers.
After an opening history lesson which basically tells us how Britain was divided into kingdoms and the Vikings were intent on conquering the country "The Vikings" quickly delivers what to expect with a violent opening battle which sees Ragnar, a Viking King, kill the King of Northumbria and rape the queen. Don't worry it's not that graphic but in that brief scene it establishes something about the Viking men and how they lived, by the sword with little respect for women. Anyway this opening scene is important as the Queen has a son, Eric, who is sent to Italy for his own safety as the new King Aella would most certainly have him murdered.
That is but the opening and we then jump 20 years where Ragnar has a son Einar, a handsome young man, fearless in battle and a lover of women and a good time. And by coincidence the Queen's son Eric is a slave in Ragnar's town with no one knowing that he is in fact Ragnar's son, not even Eric. What follows is the conflict between Eric and Einar who don't see eye to eye and when Einar kidnaps King Auella's wife to be Princess Morgana they also become love rivals.
It is a good storyline and you are constantly wondering when they will learn the truth especially as they are such enemies. But the storyline is just part of the reason why "The Vikings" is so entertaining and if you get to the basics it is one authentic looking movie. The costumes look right, no flattering garments to make an actor look better and the weapons look just as authentic as is the way they are used in fighting, fights where when people get hit they go down and stay down, well as a rule. Throw in the wonderful Norwegian location and we have a movie which grabs you visually from beginning to end.
But then there is the acting and whilst yes we have a strong American cast which features Kirk Douglas, Tony Curtis, Ernest Borgnine and Janet Leigh none of which try and deliver anything but their native accent, they all deliver strong performances. Ernest Borgnine delivers the barbaric aspect of King Ragnar, a man who is full on and who enjoys his food, women and murdering people. And with Kirk Douglas playing his son Einar we have more of the same but with more swagger and enthusiasm fitting a son, which is kind or ironic considering that Douglas is just older than Borgnine. Throw into the mix some real aggression from Tony Curtis as Eric and we have 3 alpha males and that aspect of male rivalry and aggression continuously manifests itself. And then there is Janet Leigh who in fairness is playing quite a weak character in Morgana, a typical beautiful/ love interest but Leigh makes the most of her moments of drama be it resisting Einar's advances or when she learns that Eric and Einar are brothers.
What this all boils down to is that "The Vikings" is still a brilliant movie despite being over 50 years old. It has everything you expect from an epic from thrilling action to decent storyline, with great locations, costumes and acting thrown in as well. But at under 2 hours it is not the bum numbing experience of some of the great movies, which is a good thing because it means that "The Vikings" moves at a great pace.