Kirk Douglas leads ‘The Vikings’ on Prime Video

Set in the Middle Ages, when the Vikings pillaged the English coast, the Hollywood Technicolor adventure The Vikings (1958) is a barbarian fantasy played out against a magnificent canvas.

Kirk Douglas stars as the lusty Viking Prince Einar, the “only son in wedlock” of King Ragnar (a cackling, wild-eyed Ernest Borgnine) and Tony Curtis as his defiant slave Eric, who is in reality the long-lost heir to the British throne.

Douglas is too old for the boy prince role and Curtis is unconvincing as an action hero but makes the prettiest slave boy in the movies. Their combined star power, however, overcomes their miscasting. With jagged scars down his face and a milky white blind eye that almost glows in his skull, Douglas has a rowdy time as he kidnaps a Welsh Princess (Janet Leigh) betrothed to the King of England and battles the defiant Eric who rescues her from the Viking clutches and sneaks her back to England with the help of a primitive compass.

It’s pure Hollywood hokum. The Vikings are reduced to pagan cartoon barbarians who make sport of terrorizing women and take pride in the torture and murder—the fact that Janet Leigh’s character lives in constant threat of sexual assault makes for uneasy viewing when the film plays it as some kind of “Taming of a Shrew” situation.



But it is spectacular hokum. The great cinematographer Jack Cardiff turns his Norway locations into a lush Valhalla on Earth and journeyman director Richard Fleischer, faced with an absurd story, goes for the gusto in brawling Viking parties, furious sieges, and clanging broadsword battles. The sexual politics are barbaric to say the least, and borderline jawdropping as the film walks a fine line between playing the sexual threat for lusty humor and making it a genuine danger, but it is colorful, energetic, and hearty, with star power to burn.

The splashy, brawny medieval adventure was an enormous hit and launched a wave of Viking movies that took off in the 1960s, some perhaps smarter but none as much fun. And the Viking culture recently celebrated a small screen revival with the hit cable adventure Vikings and the British historical series The Last Kingdom reaching back to the history of the Norsemen.

Also on Blu-ray and DVD and on SVOD through Amazon Video and/or other services. Availability may vary by service.
The Vikings [Blu-ray]
The Vikings [DVD]

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The Blu-ray and DVD includes filmmaker commentary and five featurettes. The Blu-ray also includes a bonus featurette, deleted scenes, and a deleted song performance.

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Sean Axmaker is a Seattle film critic and writer. He writes the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website, and his work appears at RogerEbert.com, Turner Classic Movies online, The Film Noir Foundation, and Parallax View.

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