For some reason, director Richard Fleischer’s The Vikings (1958) is remembered as one of the bloodiest movies in cinema history; odd - because aside from Kirk Douglas getting his eye pecked out by a hawk (which is rather gruesome even by today’s standards) there’s hardly any bloodshed on the screen. Yes, there are the prerequisite epic battles, but these are shot through the glamour and gauzy allure of spectacle pre-Braveheart, more with an affinity for the swashbuckler than anticipated guts and gruesome carnage.
Douglas stars as Einar, an "I'm too sexy for my breast-plate" pin-up of a Viking who is the pride of his father, Ragnar (Ernest Borgnine). Ragnar envisions a conquest of England as victory for his people. The Vikings carouse and carry on in their slovenly barbaric ways with Einar content to be every bar maid and town wench’s delight.
But the plan goes hopelessly awry when Einar’s face is deliberately disfigured by slave Eric's (Tony Curtis) pet hawk. Soon to be liberated, Eric is defending the captive British Princess Morgana (Janet Leigh) from Einar’s smutty grasp. Eric and Morgana escape. Ragnar, in hot pursuit, is captured and executed by the Brits and Einar vows death and bloody revenge till the bitter end.
With all this back story, one would expect the plot to be rather vibrant and thrilling, but actually it’s fairly leaden and uninspiring. Fleischer’s direction is nimble enough, but the battle sequences are no where near the scope or staging of sequences from say, Ben-Hur (1959) or even Spartacus (1960).
MGM gives us a rather handsome anamorphic DVD. Colors are rich and vibrant. The travelogue footage of the Fiords is surreal and gorgeous. Black levels are solid. Only occasionally does the film element suffer from slight fading. Age related artifacts are kept to a bare minimum. There is no edge enhancement, pixelization or shimmering of fine details.
The audio is MONO and occasionally exhibits a muffled characteristic. Extras include a featurette with the director, Fleischer that is remarkably useful and engaging - if too short. It's not a great film but it is a fairly wonderful looking transfer. And hey, any film with Kirk Douglas is never all bad.
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)