Friday, September 30, 2011

#420. The Vikings (1958) - The Films of Kirk Douglas

Directed By: Richard Fleischer

Starring: Kirk Douglas, Tony Curtis, Ernest Borgnine

Tag line: "Mightiest Of Men... Mightiest Of Spectacles... Mightiest Of Motion Pictures!"

Trivia:  Ernest Borgnine plays the father of Kirk Douglas. In real life Borgnine is one and a half months younger than Douglas.

Despite the fact he was a month younger than Kirk Douglas, Ernest Borgnine played his father in Richard Fleischer’s 1958 action epic, The Vikings

As unusual as this might sound, it proved a stroke of casting genius. Borgnine is entirely convincing in the role of Viking Chieftain Ragnar, swaggering through The Vikings with both a marauder’s stature and a penchant for bloodshed, traits he shares with just about every other character in this exciting, entertaining film. 

Set in the Dark Ages, when raiders from the North were terrorizing all of Europe, The Vikings weaves a tale of two men who have more in common than they realize. 

Einar (Kirk Douglas), a Viking prince, has captured Morgana (Janet Leigh), a Welsh Princess betrothed to be married to the English King, Aella (Frank Thring). Over time, Einar becomes infatuated with Morgana, and makes his own plans to marry her. But she, in turn, has fallen in love with Eric (Tony Curtis), a hot-blooded slave who has made an enemy of Einar, insulting the Prince on several occasions. 

What neither Eric nor Einar realize is that they are half-brothers, each the son of the Viking chieftain Ragnar (Borgnine). Driven by their mutual love for Morgana and a deep hatred for one another, Eric and Einar prepare for their inevitable showdown, and to the victor will go the spoils. 

The ultimate goal of director Fleischer and star Kirk Douglas (who also served as the film’s producer) was to make The Vikings as realistic a motion picture as possible. Portions of the movie were shot on location in the Fjords of Norway, and Fleischer spent a considerable amount of time at a Viking museum in Oslo, researching - among other things - the design of the magnificent ships that appear throughout the film. 

But this realism would extend beyond mere settings and props, influencing the movie's characters as well. As Einar, Kirk Douglas is splendidly arrogant and physically intimidating, a Viking warrior in every respect; drinking heavily, carousing with women, and living for the thrill of battle. It is Einar who leads the expedition to capture Morgana, and upon boarding her ship shows no mercy whatsoever, slaughtering the Princess’s escorts in quick and brutal fashion. Once triumphant, Einar brags that he’s decided to keep Morgana as his own, ignoring his father’s wishes that a ransom be demanded from the English King for her safe return. 

The role of Einar was certainly not a glamorous one, nor was it very sympathetic, yet Douglas delivers a performance that is bursting with gusto and personality. This, coupled with the movie’s painstakingly accurate portrayal of a Viking society, succeeds in carrying us back to the Dark Ages, which, if The Vikings is to be believed, was a grim, brutal period of mankind's history.

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