Tuesday, March 22, 2016
THE VIKINGS On Blu-ray
I was very excited when I first heard that Kino was going to release THE VIKINGS (1958) on Blu-ray through their Studio Classics line. I hadn't seen THE VIKINGS in a while--for some reason this movie is rarely shown on television--and seeing it in HD widescreen was a treat.
THE VIKINGS is pure rip-roaring old-fashioned action adventure, featuring stunning actual locations, magnificent production design, and a legendary big-name cast. There's the overused phrase, "They don't make 'em like this anymore". In the case of THE VIKINGS, however, that phrase fits....because if someone did try to remake this movie, it would be a half-hour longer, it would have a desaturated color scheme, it would showcase lesser performers and greater violence, and it would be nowhere near as entertaining or memorable.
Star Kirk Douglas produced the film as well, and he went all out to make it a lasting cinematic spectacle. Much of the picture was filmed in Norway, and authentic replica Viking ships were built. According to an interview with director Richard Fleischer (which is included as an extra on this Blu-ray), the cast & crew went to great pains to make THE VIKINGS the most accurate movie ever made on the subject. I don't know how many Norsemen looked like Kirk Douglas or Tony Curtis, and I doubt that any women in the Middle Ages were as sublimely fetching as Janet Leigh, but this film gives you the impression of an ancient and faraway place and time. One of the major things I love about watching movies is that they have the ability to transport you to places you could never see or experience on your own. THE VIKINGS certainly does that.
The movie doesn't sugarcoat the Viking way of life--it begins with a raid that includes murder and rape--but it doesn't rub your face in it either. The characters in this story may be a bit over the top, but.....what do you expect from this type of tale? When you have Ernest Borgnine as a Viking chieftain, do you want subtle underplaying from him? (I sure don't.) We get to see not just Viking raids, but a Viking attack on an English castle, and a knock-down drag-out sword duel between Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis. (By the way, the relationship the characters of Douglas and Curtis have with each other in this film is kind of the flip side of the actors' roles in SPARTACUS.)
When it comes to intense acting, Leonardo DiCaprio has nothing on Kirk Douglas. Douglas shined brightly during the decade of the Fifties--it's amazing how many great movies he appeared in and how many great performances he gave in this time period. Since Douglas was the film's producer as well, he certainly had a major reason to give it his all--but even with that one has to acknowledge how powerfully impressive he is. For most of the movie Douglas' character is facially disfigured--how many other leading men would allow that to happen to them? Check out the scene where Douglas performs "The running of the oars"--he volunteered to do that, and if he had been injured, the production would have been in big trouble. But...he did it and he pulled it off, and it serves as proof that Kirk Douglas was a true major Hollywood Movie Star.
What stands out on this Blu-ray more than anything else is the sumptuous color cinematography by Jack Cardiff. Presented in 2.35:1 HD widescreen, Cardiff's work is at times jaw-dropping, with many "pause the disc and look at that" shot set-ups. Unlike the big-budget movies of today, the color is embraced, and used to enhance the look of the story.
Richard Fleischer doesn't get a lot of positive critical attention for his directorial career, but he should. Fleischer may not have had a certain "style", and he may not be known for a particular genre, but his credit list is filled with standout titles (go on IMDB and check for yourself). Fleischer wasn't a certain type of director....he was a great director, period, and THE VIKINGS is an example of that. The main extra on this Blu-ray, from 2002, has Fleischer discussing the making of the film, while various behind-the-scenes photos from the production are shown. It's a fascinating talk, and one wishes it had been longer.
I absolutely loved this Blu-ray of THE VIKINGS. This is the type of feature that could easily wind up being campy or corny--but when it is done right, with high-end talent on both sides of the camera, the result is a prime entertainment experience. Thanks to Kino for giving this film the proper presentation that it deserves.