• Vikings, The

    Released By: Kino Lorber
    Released On: March 8, 2016
    Director: Richard Fleischer
    Cast: Kirk Douglas, Tony Curtis, Janet Leigh, Ernest Borgnine, Alexander Knox
    Year: 1958
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    The Movie:

    Ah, vikings, those rambunctious ransackers from the north, their shouts of "Valhalla!" and "Odin!" striking fear into the hearts of their enemies. Bloodthirsty, cold-hearted heathens, according to some...sensitive, misunderstood teddy bears according to others. The Vikings from Richard Fleischer's 1958 film? They fit into the former group. Led by original party animal Ragnar (Ernest Borgnine), the warriors from Team Norway sail across seas in frightening ships to terrorize the English.

    On one such visit to Old Blighty, Ragnar and his crew lay waste to the current monarchy during their pillaging and plundering when they slaughter Edwin, the King of England. To celebrate, Ragnar decides to leave a parting gift in Edwin's wife, the lovely Queen Enid. Largely kept as a secret between her and the Bishops, the child is adorned with the pommel stone from the King's sword, and sent away to Italy to live anonymously in a monastery to avoid the wrath of the newly-crowned King Aella; who is so displeased by the rumours of a blood heir to the throne that he rains on his own declaration of marriage to the Welsh Lady Morgana (Janet Leigh) to denounce his cousin Egbert (snicker) as a traitor for daring to speak of the rumour. Fortunately for Egbert, he actually IS really a traitor who has been secretly supplying the vikings with maps to various English castles. With the help of his Norwegian allies, Egbert gains passage on a dragon-like ship and heads to the fjords before the King can have him beheaded.

    When the ship sets ground on the shore of the chartered Scandinavian land, Egbert is introduced to Einar (Kirk Douglas) son of Ragnar; a man who has nothing but foul words for the English and a lusty affection for booze and hawks. While poorly demonstrating the skills of his hunting bird, Einar is shown up by a slave named Eric, who has his own feisty hunting hawk and a striking pommel stone hung around his neck. Not one to let the unintentional insult slide, Einar attacks Eric, losing an eye to the hawk in the process. To save face, Ragnar orders the death of Eric, but is admonished by a clairvoyant; that Odin most certainly curse whomever kills the slave. No problem, says Ragnar, ordering Eric to be placed in the tide pool to be drowned and eaten by crabs. But when Eric is spared drowning by a fierce wind that drives the tide out, Odin is deemed to have interceded, and the slave is given to Egbert.

    Now more or less free, Eric helps Egbert to kidnap the Lady Morgana, who will surely fetch a sizable ransom...and make a mighty-fine plaything for the one-eyed Einar. Unfortunately for everyone concerned, Morgana is not forthcoming with the affectionate charms for Einar, nor the kicking, screaming, and hair-pulling that the randy viking is looking for. Instead she falls for Eric, who decides that a good plan of action is to spirit her back to England to ask the King if she can break her marriage pledge. He's got Ragnar and Einar to the left of him, and a very angry King to the right, and if Eric's plan doesn't work out, he'll be stuck in the middle of a bunch of angry pit animals that will devour him alive.

    Fairly authentic in its telling, Fleicher's THE VIKINGS is a mammoth exercise in film-making that has stood the test of time for many reasons. Despite the fact that parts of it now come off as a little "Holy Grail" (not that there's anything wrong with Monty Python, of course), the attention to detail in the massive viking ships and other props is impressive, and filming in Norway, taking advantage of the beautiful scenery doesn't hurt, either. A stellar cast rounds the film out nicely, with Borgnine and Douglas playing father/son tyrants off of each other quite nicely, juxtaposed with Tony Curtis' subdued take on Eric. Janet Leigh is great here as well, stunning in costume, and equal parts vicious and quietly terrified. When the action hits, it's fierce, with swords, arrows, and brutality as the vikings mow down their opponents with vigour...and simultaneously take on casualties...a pioneer in the battles that would be waged on-screen in future films.

    The film's strengths can also be its flaws, however; Fleischer's attempts to show the vikings in all of their partying glory can get tiresome. There's a LOT of fist-waving, shouting, ale-chugging and rowing (and rowing and rowing), and a whack of scenes featuring actors standing around looking magnificent. The battles, particularly the final battle in the film are brutally epic, but also brutal is the lead-up the battle, with endless rowing (and rowing and rowing) and marching (and marching and marching). To this end, THE VIKINGS is probably a little longer than it really needs to be, probably by about 20 minutes. But that's really a minor argument in an otherwise truly terrific film.


    Kino brings THE VIKINGS to Blu-ray in a 2.35:1 AVC-encoded transfer that looks pretty awesome. Night scenes retain their clarity, colours are lush and vibrant, and there's a healthy amount of grain present, with a minimal amount of dirt and debris. Some scenes appear a little softer than others, but for a film over a half-century old, the transfer is fantastic.

    Audio (English) is handled by a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track that is probably not going to blow minds, but takes care of the dialogue, effects, and score nicely. Balance is good, as is range, and although some of the speech gets a little harsh here and there, it's problem free.

    English Subtitles are also available.

    First up in the extra features is A Tale Of Norway (28:16), a lengthy look at the making of THE VIKINGS told by Fleischer with the aid of numerous still photographs taken during production. It's not a slide show, though, interspersed with clips from the film, anecdotes from the filming, descriptions of the ships and locations, and focusing on Fleischer and Douglas' (Producer) need for authenticity and the need to make as realistic a film as possible. It's dry, but if you wanted to know if those are real Viking horses...you'll find out.

    Also included are trailers for The Vikings, The Devils Disciple, Taras Bulba, Marty, and Mr. Majestyk.

    The Final Word:

    If Vikings and/or classic films are your thing, Kino's THE VIKINGS will be right up your alley.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!

    Comments 2 Comments
    1. Lalala76's Avatar
      Lalala76 -
      Great review.

      Always loved this film and it does look good in HD.
    1. Mark Tolch's Avatar
      Mark Tolch -
      Thanks, and it really does!