Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Friday Night Late Movie: Kirk and Tony Fight Over Janet in "The Vikings"

Two years before they appeared in Spartacus, Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis teamed for this colorful 1958 costume epic about the Norsemen.

Kirk stars as Einor, son of Viking leader Ernest Borgnine, who leads continuous raids against the bickering British nobles. Tony, as a slave whose secret past is quickly revealed, plays Kirk’s despised enemy. He and Kirk spend much of the film vying for the affections of the lovely kidnapped Princess Morgana (Janet Leigh).

Certainly, The Vikings lacks the emotional depth of the superior Spartacus. One problem is that it’s hard to like the Vikings—they’re portrayed, probably accurately, as chauvinist pigs devoted to plundering and drinking ale. Still, there’s an underlying sense of honor to the proceedings and the action scenes are superbly staged. The violence, though, must have been considered shocking in the late 1950s--especially when a hawk attacks Kirk and when Tony is brutally punished for helping an enemy. By the way, in the scene in which the Vikings ran across the tops of their ship’s oars, Kirk Douglas refused to use a double...and fared better than the stunt men.

In terms of craftsmanship, The Vikings is first-rate in all departments. Famed cinematographer Jack Cardiff (Black Narcissus) lensed the Norwegian locales in brilliant color. Italian film composer Mario Nascimbene's score, especially the “welcome home” call on a Viking horn, may stick in your head for several days.

Director Richard Fleischer teamed with Kirk four years earlier in Disney's lavish 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Fleischer would work with Curtis again in 1968's The Boston Strangler.

Tony and Janet, who were married when they made The Vikings, also co-starred in The Perfect Furlough that same year. The couple appeared in five films together: the two already mentioned, plus Houdini (1953), The Black Shield of Falworth (1954), and Who Was That Lady? (with Dean Martin).

 No, it's not a Ricola commercial. A Viking plays
a catchy tune to signal the arrival of ships.


  1. Rick, it was interesting to read about Jack Cardiff being the cinematographer. I saw the gorgeous photos at the top and bottom of your article and truly enjoyed them (as well as your Ricolo comment!) Cardiff has been the lensman for two of my favorite pictures: "A Matter of Life and Death" and "Black Narcissus."

    This is a great cast. Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis were excellent in "Spartacus" and it is always a treat to see the lovely Janet Leigh.

    Thank you for your excellent article, Rick!

  2. Great review, Rick. I haven't seen this, but I'll check it out when I can. I'll probably root for Kirk, who I much prefer over Tony. But, of course, I'll be mostly interested in Janet Leigh!

  3. Toto, Jack also shot, The Red Shoes, and The African Queen among others.

  4. Rick, I have not seen this movie.. You are too funny. "No, it's not a Ricola commercial". :)

  5. J.M. Harrison wrote about both this and 'The Perfect Furlough' in his latest book on movies, "Pass the Popcorn, Please". Had some interesting tidbits on both.