(director: Richard Fleischer; screenwriters: from the novel The Viking by Edison Marshall/Dale Wasserman/Calder Willingham; cinematographer: Jack Cardiff; editor: Elmo Williams; music: Mario Nascimbene; cast: Kirk Douglas (Einar), Tony Curtis (Eric), Ernest Borgnine (Ragnar), Janet Leigh (Morgana), James Donald (Lord Egbert), Father Godwin (Alexander Knox), Edric Connor (Sandpiper), Frank Thring (Aella), Orson Welles (narrator); Runtime: 116; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Jerry Bresler; United Artists; 1958)

“Directed with brawn over brain by Richard Fleischer.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A lavish costume adventure, shot on location in Norway, and directed with brawn over brains by Richard Fleischer (“20,000 Leagues Under the Sea”/”Violent Saturday”/”Barabbas”). It was inspired by the novel The Viking by Edison Marshall. It’s given a bit of class as Orson Welles handles the opening narration. The thrills come from the eighth and ninth century European Vikings from the North, who are lionized as they plunder the English seacoast and ravish their women. These Vikings talk about dying happy with a sword in their hand and entering Valhalla. They all act like blood thirsty barbarians who are entertained by drunken feasts, throwing one vic into a wolf pit and another into a pool of crabs, and rejoicing over life-threatening ax-throwing games to determine if a woman is faithful.

The film opens in Northumbria during a Viking raid and the death of an English king. The widowed queen has been raped by the hairy Viking chief Ragnar (Ernest Borgnine) and secretly gives birth to a young baby he sired. The baby boy is exiled for his own safety by mom and Father Godwin, and is raised by monks in Italy rather than inheriting his rightful kingdom-otherwise his evil stepfather, the new king, would have killed him. His identity is known by an amulet he wears around his neck, that attests to his royal bloodline. The rightful king 20 years later turns out to be a surly slave named Eric (Tony Curtis), captured during one of the Viking raids, who pisses off his master Einar (Kirk Douglas) by turning a hawk on him that takes out one of his eyes (sort of connecting the warrior dude with his one-eyed god Odin). Eric defies all odds by staying alive while bound in a crab pool. We also discover that Einar’s rowdy father is none other than Ragnar. The two don’t know that they’re half brothers, and predictably when they discover their true relationship they will still do battle in the climax.

The vulgar, drunken Ragnar has the pic’s best scene when he defiantly throws himself into a pit of predatory wolves when captured by the wicked English monarch Aella (Frank Thring). Since Ragnar doesn’t have a Viking funeral, Einar vows to avenge his death. It all leads to a sword duel to the death between the vain warrior Einar and his illegitimate slave brother Eric, as they both want captured Welsh princess Morgana (Janet Leigh) for themselves. She’s engaged to Aella and held for ransom by Ragnar, until Einar decides he wants her for himself. But Eric upsets his plans, as he frees her to save her honor and show his love for her.

The confusing story that absurdly tries to make the Vikings heroic without emphasizing their virtues (shipbuilding) but their vices (pillaging and rowdy behavior), with atrocious superstar hammy acting, never becoming more than a series of bloody incidents, and the writers Dale Wasserman and Calder Willingham never getting around to clearing it up or saying anything about these one-dimensional Vikings that smells of anything but a foul odor coming from Hollywood. This is despite an effort to do some legitimate historical research about the Vikings and their Norse culture. Unfortunately, it’s merely a mindless colorful spectacle that proved popular at the box office and is the type of jejune action-packed epic blockbuster that blazed the trail for the kind of film that regularly gets shown in our mall theaters nowadays and is critic-proof. Ugh!!!