In memory of Tony Curtis, whose obnoxious New York accent pissed off snobs and critics everywhere, I bring you one of Hollywood’s best sword and sandal epics: THE VIKINGS!
Played for pulp, starring Kirk Douglas as a brutish warrior and Tony Curtis as his secret half brother, both sons of the rapacious Ragnar, played by none other than Ernest Borgnine. It’s one of those melodramatic sagas, so let me lay out the plot for you: Ragnar was raiding the English coast one day, when he slew the king of Northumbria and raped his queen. When the king’s slovenly brother took the crown, the queen learned she was with child, and fled to exile, since kings have a nasty habit of chopping up babies who are the rightful heir, and all that. Her son Eric grows up to be Tony Curtis, Bronx accent and all, but he is enslaved by the Vikings. Ragnar’s other son is the prodigal Einar, the paragon of all things Viking, the eye patched and ripped Kirk Douglas, who’s always got a throwing axe in one hand and a flagon in the other.
One of the most memorable scenes is when the one-eyed Einar plays a drunken axe-throwing game, trying to cut the locks off a slave girl’s hair. While the Vikings are portrayed as cartoonish brutes, they certainly don’t play down the pillaging and brutality too much. The Britons want revenge, and eventually Ragnar is captured and thrown into a pit of ravenous wolves. But his unknowing son throws him a sword, so he may die like a Viking and go to Valhalla. This puts Tony Curtis on the British shit list, so he flees, and eventually teams up with Einar, as they both want to kill a bunch of Englishmen and get their grubby mitts on Princess Morgana, played by the lovely Janet Leigh. Curtis and Leigh were married in real life, so you can guess that Kirk doesn’t get to show her his other little one-eyed Viking. But not for lack of trying!
The movie has many fun battle sequences, campy though some are. I love any movie where Ernest Borgnine gets to put on that maniacal smile of his and galumph around with a sword, guzzling ale and cackling with glee. As I am one of the great apes, barely shorn, I cannot empathize with Kirk and Tony, who even in their prime, I could use as weights in my gym. So I like seeing a big burly brute like myself get to cavort on screen, even if he ends up as wolf chow. The dialogue is peppered with delightful purple prose, like “Love and hate are two horns on the same goat,” and “Look how he glares at me… If he wasn’t fathered by the black ram in the full of the moon my name is not Ragnar!”
So sure, this is far from historically accurate, and is cheesy in a way only old Hollywood could make it, but it’s still a lot of fun to see Kirk, Tony, Ernest and Janet in a costume epic with bloody battles, campy drinking games, and bawdy dialogue. In memoriam to the great Tony Curtis, watch THE VIKINGS! Thanks to my pal Keith over at Coolness is Timeless for posting the youtube clip.
© 2010 Tommy Salami