The Long Ships (1964)


(director: Jack Cardiff; screenwriters: from the novel “The Long Ships by Frans Bengtsson/Beverley Cross/Berkely Mather; cinematographer: Christopher Challis; editor: Geoffrey Foot; music: Dusan Radic; cast: Richard Widmark (Rolfe), Sidney Poitier (Aly Mansuh), Russ Tamblyn (Orm), Rosanna Schiaffino (Aminah), Oskar Homolka (Krok), Edward Judd (Sven), Lionel Jeffries (Aziz), Beba Loncar (Gerda), Clifford Evans (King Harald), Gordon Jackson (Vahlin), Colin Blakely (Rhykka), David Lodge (Olla), Henry Oscar (auctioneer); Runtime: 124; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Irving Allen; Columbia; 1964-UK/Yugoslavia)
“Treats history as if it were a tale fit for a romper room.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Inspired by the success of The Vikings (1958) starring Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis, producer Irving Allen (from the Matt Helm series) used Swedish writer Frans Bengtsson’s well-researched novel The Long Ships and dumbed it down for his own costume action-adventure film that’s set during the middle-ages. It’s about the rivalry between a Norse adventurer, Rolfe (Richard Widmark), and a Moorish sheik, Aly Mansuh (Sidney Poitier), over a golden treasure called the Golden Bell of St James–the great bell made of pure gold that contains half the gold in the world and is three times the size of a man. The bell was fashioned from gold looted by the Crusaders in Byzantium.

Director Jack Cardiff (“The Lion”/”Young Cassidy”/”Sons And Lovers”), who was the cinematographer on The Vikings, can’t do much with the messy script handed him by Beverley Cross and Berkely Mather except keep it stilted and oddly amusing. Though it’s beautifully shot along the coast of Yugoslavia, so at least it makes for a good watch. If you take pleasure in watching a bad film that treats history as if it were a tale fit for a romper room, then try sucking on this one for awhile. The noisy film drags on for seemingly an eternity as it covers battles, double-crosses, sea-storms, floggings and safe cinema sex.

Rolfe is a Viking, the son of shipbuilder Krok (Oskar Homolka), who is shipwrecked in a storm and cared for by monks. From the monks’ mural collections Rolfe learns about the “Mother of Voices” – a gigantic bell cast from gold that the monks have collected from around the world. As Rolfe acts as narrator to his adventure, we next follow him wandering the land for money to get a new ship to find the bell. He’s captured and made a prisoner by the Moor sheik Aly Mansuh, who also wishes to locate the fabled bell. Rolfe refuses to tell the Moor what he knows of the treasure and escapes his imprisonment. The Viking eventually reunites with his younger brother Orm (Russ Tamblyn), and they get a crew together and commandeer the burial boat Krok built for King Harald (Clifford Evans). They kidnap Harald’s daughter Princess Gerda (Beba Loncar) so the King won’t follow them. But the Vikings are soon captured by Aly Mansuh and Gerda gets tossed into his harem. When Rolfe faces death on an elaborate killing device called the “Mare of Steel,” King Harald and his men raid the palace of Aly Mansuh and his wife Aminah (Rosanna Schiaffino) and overtake the stronghold killing the rulers. Everything gets squared away with Harald possessing the bell and forgiving Rolfe for his misdeeds, as a wonderfully awful epic comes to its fitful conclusion.

There was dissension on the set, as Widmark hated the script and played it as camp while Poitier hated his dialogue and played it seriously. The result was a hodge-podge, a shallow and poorly executed film.