The Vikings kicked off the boom of Viking films in the late ’50s and early ’60s, and even spawned an unofficial remake by Mario Bava Erik The Conqueror. Kirk Douglas originated the project as a starring vehicle with his own production company, Bryna Productions. However, the executives demanded an additional star, hence the appearance of Tony Curtis playing his half-brother.
The film has a fairly convoluted plot. A Viking prince, Einar (Douglas), has a rivalry with the slave—who is unbeknownst to him his half-brother Eric (Tony Curtis). Their conflict starts when Eric’s hawk savagely destroys Einar’s eye, and continues when they eventually fall in love with the same princess, Morgana (Janet Lee). However, they soon have a mutual enemy, so can the rivals manage to unite and fight?
The film was directed by Richard Fleischer, who was one of the greatest “directors for hire” Hollywood ever produced. The French critics who came up with the auteur theory would call directors like Fleischer “Metteur en scène.” Despite never quite putting a distinctive stamp on his films, Fleischer created an extraordinary solid body of work, stretching right into the mid ’70s, when the quality of the films he made started to slip. Fleischer was hired for The Vikings after working with Douglas on his excellent version of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea for Disney four years earlier.
However, the film never quite works for me, despite the obvious talent in front of and behind the screen, it was even shot by Jack Cardiff, who worked on many of the key Powell and Pressburger films! The script is the main problem—it was a bit of a Frankenstein script made up of a few different drafts, and as a result the plot isn’t as satisfying as it should be. The ending is also fairly anti-climactic given what goes before and its stunning location. However, the performances are fun, the action direction is fantastic, and it has an interesting take on the Vikings. There’s lots of rape and pillaging, and an entertaining way to find out if your wife cheated on you, which involves an axe. It’s not the best Viking film ever—that prize goes to Nicholas Winding Refn’s metaphysical Valhalla Rising, which has so little in common with your standard Viking film that it’s barely worth mentioning in the same breath.
The disc includes an appreciation by Sheldon Hall, and an older featurette with Fleischer discussing his experiences while making the film. The release is rounded off with a trailer and a booklet with the words of Fleischer.