Friday, January 13, 2012

The Vikings (1958)

Sometimes, I just have to go back to the tried and true. Sometimes, I get sick of seeing movies new-to-me, and I want something comforting and familiar. So, I re-watched The Vikings last night, for the umpteenth time. This film is one of those films on which I grew up. Although, I do actually remember a time before I saw it. When we were young and there weren’t VCRs or DVDs yet, we’d have to wait for the network stations to decide to air something, and we could wait months to see something. My mom would intrigue us by telling us how cool certain movies were and what we had to look forward to when it finally did air. For The Vikings, she would always tell us about her favorite part, when Kirk Douglas climbs up the tower in the end battle and swings feet-first right through the stained glass window at the top.

This movie is directed by Richard Fleisher, who directs my number one movie of all time, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Harper Goff, who designed the Nautilus in 20,000 worked with Fleisher again on The Vikings to help recreate the Viking ships, villages, etc. and, once again, he does a spectacular job. There’s a lovely little retrospective extra on the DVD of Fleisher talking about his memories of making this movie, of the two years it took, the research they did, the location work, his funny memories, and a lot of great still photos of the actors during the shoot. Wish there were more DVD extras like this, to add that cool insight and bits of trivia! Here's two of my favorite pics from the retrospective.

Anyway, I love this movie for a jillion and one reasons. This is the type of movie I grew up. Westerns, war movies, and period action adventures. There’s a lot of violence in this movie, but except for one scene, you don’t actually see much blood at all. I love that about older films. You don’t need the gore to get the point across. I absolutely cringe at one point in this movie even though you don’t see a thing. You don’t need to! When will modern filmmakers get it back in their heads that letting your audience fill in the blanks themselves is a hundred times more effective then showing it outright. Even still, this is undeniably a violent and movie and so definitely not for everybody. But then, hello, Vikings! Not the most peace-loving of people. Life was short, harsh, brutal, but also full of passion and beauty.

This is my favorite Tony Curtis movie, and my favorite Tony Curtis look. I love him with his beard. He’s an amazingly good-looking man anyway, but I just love him like this, less pretty and more straight handsome, all edgy and full of raw anger. He and Kirk Douglas play off each other so well, and I love their sword fight at the end, particularly as it takes place at the top of this tower, partly on these very steep steps. I've seen this movie how many times? And I still worry every single time that one of them is going to slip and fall.

This is also my second favorite Kirk Douglas film, right behind 20,000. His character isn't a nice man at all, but he fits right into the world the movie depicts and provides the perfect antagonist and foil for Tony Curtis. And The Vikings is also my favorite Ernest Borgnine role. He just makes a perfect Viking leader, with that great boisterous laugh of his. I love Janet Leigh in this movie as well and wanted to be her when I was little. She is so pretty as Morgana!

This is also the film in which I fell in love with James Donald. He’s one of those stalwart British actors who slips into good movies and makes them better. This was the first film I saw him in, and I quite fancied him. His character of Lord Egbert is intriguing. He allies with the Vikings, which technically makes him a traitor to England, but he does it only because King Aella is such a ratfink. He looks out for himself, but he’s not a coward either. He looks for ways to come out ahead personally, but at the same time, he’s got broader scope. I’m also an absolute sucker (probably since the first time I saw Mario sing “Vittoria!” in Tosca) for patriotic characters who quite loudly, noblely, and very inadvisedly, seal their guilt by decrying the evil of their captors in front of their captors. Good way to get yourself killed. Also a good way to make me love you forever. Egbert gets in such a moment when he’s hauled off to the dungeons: “Lies will not sustain a tyrant!” Mwah-hah-hah. He has some of my other favorite moments in the movie, such as when Ragnar (Ernest Borgnine) gives him a friendly clap on the back and nearly sends him flying. Egbert’s expression is priceless. I also love the casual, confused way he says, “Oh, I see,” when Ragnar explains a Viking custom to him. Makes me laugh every time. My only complaint is that I don’t know what happens to his character in the final battle! Does he live? Does he die? Alas, no such answers are forthcoming. I like to assume he made it, of course, and gave his devious, but faithful support to the new, true king.

I love the on location scenery in this film. The fjords are gorgeous, and I really do love ships… if it floats and is elegant and dangerous, I’m probably in love with it. My breath catches and my heart soars whenever I see a beautiful ship, and I absolutely adore these sleek dragon-headed Viking ships. I think if the movie was nothing but shots of the ships sailing around, I'd probably be quite happy. Yeah, I think I really did want to run away to sea all my life and just never fully realized it.

My favorite part of this film is the running of the oars scene. As the successful Viking ship comes in to dock, the rowers hold their oars out and the rest of the crew run along them. The scene makes me grin and grin.


Hamlette (Rachel) said...

Another must-see for me! That shot of Tony Curtis would've convinced me to see it all on its own, but you've mentioned this so often, and your fuller description here is so cool, now I HAVE to see it.

DKoren said...

I think you'd like it. Tony Curtis... mmmmm. You know he's Laura's favorite actor, but this is not her favorite look or role. We're completely opposite on that. She much prefers him clean cut and in a lighter movie, but you know me, and I truly love him as the sword-fighting action hero, with the beard. This is not one of her favorite movies -- far too dark for her -- though she really loves the ending. It's got a couple of our favorite lines of dialogue at the end, ones we use all the time in real life.

DKoren said...

You know, I was reading my post back later thinking what a lousy job I do writing about movies. I write about the weirdest things, never really actually describing plots or things, just rattling on abut things I like... sigh.

Laura said...

I loved this post, and it's intriguing exactly because you "rattle on." It really caught my attention! I recorded this when TCM showed films in honor of Curtis but have never seen it.

I can relate to what you write about growing up with this film, because for me THE BLACK SHIELD OF FALWORTH played a similar role. I saw that thing so many times! I believe it was on KHJ Ch. 9 if I remember correctly (grin). I got the DVD for my kids who got a kick out of Tony running around in tights. :)

As for that pic you shared of Tony...oh *my*! Verrrrry nice!

Best wishes,

Anonymous said...

A great write up. Just three months ago, Nov.2011, I got to take a photo with Earnest Borgnine at a convention. When I approached him on the photo plateform, when it was my turn, I said, "Hail Ragnar." He he said back, "Yes, Ragnar."

There is a photo of James Donald being thrown off the castle by Kirk Douglas. Remember Ragnar tells him, "my son will kill you someday." That scene was to take place just before Douglas calls down to Tony Curtis for the final fight. If you watch the movie with that in mind, you can see Janet Leigh reaction to it. I imagine it was cut because they wanted to keep Douglas' character a little more sympathetic when he dies. I imagine that Egbert confirmed Janet Leigh's idea that Tony Curtis was Inar's brother, so Douglas threw him of the castle. If you google photo search 'The vikings kirk douglas' you will see that shot of Douglas throwing Egbert off the castle.

Anonymous said...

You'll find that Douglas/Donald 'off the castle wall' shot here:

I'm Paul Kyriazi on facebook, too.

DKoren said...

Whoa!! I've never seen that pic before, Paul! Thanks! I guess that answers the "what happens to Lord Egbert" question! Although that makes me sad, because I wanted him to live... but yeah, Einar never did like him, so I could see that happening. I need to put the movie on again to watch that moment. Trippy! Thanks for filling in that hole!

Thanks also for the link to your website. I've just started checking it out!

Anonymous said...

I want Einar to burst into the room, sling me over his shoulder and carry me off on his horse...Wonderful performance!!!

DKoren said...

Mmmm, yes indeed! :-D

Anonymous said...

I've seen the still in a lobby card set of a terrified faced Egbert getting thrown off the tower keep by Einar. I would have loved seeing the confrontation! It was so edited out of the final film, It damned near ruined the perfect Viking movie!

Hardraada said...

I would say you write the most interesting reviews imaginable. The fact that you focus on little things that make the movie LIVE for you makes your reviews fascinating. I love movies; always have. Some of my favorites aren't great movies, but they have one or two little things that make them stand out in my mind and kindle a love for them. For example, from a film you were not overly fond of, Guy Stockwell's expression during the wound burning in The Warlord. Good lord! What a powerful bit of acting. (Though anything with both Charlton Heston and Richard Boone is going to be on my favorite's list anyway. I would have paid to watch the two of them reading phone books!)

Anyway, my point is that you should not denigrate your reviews; they are superb!

DKoren said...

Hi Hardraada! Thanks for stopping by, and thank you for the compliment. I'm glad you've been enjoying reading my reviews. Also -- nice to know there's another Richard Boone fan out there. :-D

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