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A Blu-Ray release of Richard Fleischer’s 1958 movie The Vikings has finally arrived to the UK, courtesy of Eureka Classics – how does it fare nearly 60 years on? Not too bad. It’s not a great movie – held back by bland writing and thin characterization – but there’s enough action and spectacle to make it worth your while.
The Vikings stars cinematic legend Kirk Douglas as Einar, son of Viking chieftain Ragnar (Ernest Borgnine, who is actually younger than Douglas). He and Eric (Tony Curtis), a slave who unbeknownst to both of them is actually the bastard son of Ragnar and an English queen, compete for the affection of princess Morgana (Janet Leigh) after she is kidnapped by the Vikings.
Douglas’ Einar is technically the movie’s antagonist. Vulgar and abusive, his understanding of love is as one-sided as you can get. Much like his father, who in one scene lovingly reminiscences about the time he raped Einar’s mother, Einar gets off on the idea of Morgana resisting him and is actually disappointed when she eventually concedes.
In short, Einar is a certified asshole, but he’s also undeniably the movie’s biggest draw and most memorable personality. Douglas is great in the role and the facial scars the character has for most of the movie are quite something. Even the hawk helmet he dons every once in a while, while utterly ridiculous, makes an impression.
Eric, on the other hand, is as dull a lead as you can get. Curtis shouldn’t take the blame for this, as he’s pretty much-given nothing to work with. This is a textbook case of the villain overshadowing the hero in every possible way.
Yet, amazingly, Morgana has it even worse. At least Eric has some agency and gets to be in a few fight scenes. Morgana is just there to be a plot device for the two men to fight over. Einar doesn’t care about her feelings and would happily rape her, whereas Eric settles for them having zero chemistry.
Even though Eric and Morgana are supposed to be the “true love” pairing, the most notable interaction between them is when Eric very rudely forces Morgana to row on a boat. As such, when Morgana rejects Einar’s advances towards the end by saying she loves Eric, it rings about as true as the movie’s historical accuracy.
The Vikings doesn’t go full horn helmets, but otherwise leans heavily on familiar, silly tropes. Vikings yell “ODIN” at the top of their lungs at seemingly every available opportunity and the movie’s opening scene has them gleefully raping and pillaging. To balance the scales, the movie makes the English out to be jerks as well, at least to an extent – chucking people into a pit full of hungry wolves doesn’t exactly cast them in best light.
When it comes to action and sheer spectacle, The Vikings certainly delivers. There’s an impressive scale to the production, with some neat Viking ships and massive, sprawling battles. It’s a colorful, often quite beautiful movie that works best when characters aren’t talking.
Standout moments include Einar jumping from oar to oar while other Vikings haplessly fall into the water as well as a key part of the climactic final battle that sees Einar climbing a wall by hanging on to thrown axes.
The Vikings is dumb fun that often feels appropriately epic. It’s not a movie you watch for the story, or the dialogue and certainly not for the laughably bad romance. You watch it if you’re in the mood for some decent swashbuckling entertainment – or possibly if you’re big Kirk Douglas fan. Either way, you’ll probably get a kick out of it.
The Vikings was released on Blu-Ray in the UK under Eureka Classics on 16 October, 2017.