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March 10, 2016

The Vikings

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Richard Fleischer - 1958
KL Studio Classics BD Region A

I had to remind myself that I wrote about the DVD almost ten years ago. And maybe it's me, but his film that launched a dozen or so movies about Vikings has aged quite nicely. Dismissed by Bosley Crowthers in his New York Times review, "But there is plenty of action and the scenery occasionally is superb-just like a lot of Westerns. It's strictly a Norse opera, in two words." It may be because of the emphasis on action that The Vikings turned out to be one of the big hits of 1958.

I've not read the source novel by Edison Marshall, but it struck me this time that someone with a more thorough knowledge of symbolism might make something of mutilation of the two main characters, half-brothers played by Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis. Neither men is aware of their relationship in the course of the story. Douglas loses his left eye, attacked by the hunting falcon belonging to Curtis. Curtis has his left hand lopped off by an English king, his punishment for making sure the Viking king dies a Viking death. Curtis is unaware that he is the son of the Viking king, and a relative to the English king, as well as heir to the throne of Northumbria. Without putting to fine a point on it, underneath the epic exterior is a discussion of masculinity, power, class and sexuality.

The best reason for the blu-ray upgrade is the cinematography by Jack Cardiff. Yes, there are lots many gorgeous shots in and around the fjords of Norway. There is one visually wonderful moment when the henchmen of the evil Northumbrian king, played by purse lipped Frank Thring, are sent to kill a traitor, a scene with deep shadows and illumination by torchlight. There is a later scene of Viking ships lost in fog, virtual silhouettes in a blue-gray haze.

The film plays up the strengths of the stars, Kirk Douglas is both charming and caddish, Tony Curtis eager to prove himself, while Ernest Borgnine is boisterousness personified. Has Janet Leigh looked more beautiful than in The Vikings? Leigh is seen in form-fitting bodices, one of which is subject of a mildly suggestive moment in a film that is in part about women as property or the subject of sexual desire.

The blu-ray comes with a half hour featurette, from the earlier DVD release, with Fleischer discussing the making of The Vikings. Snapshots were taken of the stars in the small ship that was home for cast and crew. We also see the tower constructed for an overhead shot looking down the side of a fjord, as well as the huge VistaVision camera used for filming. This is the kind of movie that's best enjoyed on the largest screen possible.

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Posted by peter at March 10, 2016 02:24 PM