* The Vikings on Film: Essays on Depictions of the Nordic Middle Ages. Ed. Kevin J. Harty. Jefferson: McFarland & Co., 2011. Pp. 236.
This collection of fourteen essays is the first scholarly anthology to examine cinematic representations and re-imaginings of the Vikings and their exploits. The book's editor, Kevin J. Harty, an English professor and Arthurian expert at La Salle University, has previously published extensively on the "the reel Middle Ages"--a term he coined. The project is partly inspired by Andrew Wawn's 2000 study The Vikings and the Victorians: Inventing the Old North in Nineteenth-century Britain. That work explored the term "Viking" as masking a wildly elastic variety of different constructions of Vikingism which were far more reflective of Victorian attitudes about race, nationhood, gender, and class than they were historically accurate evocations of the Viking age. Representations of the Vikings on film and television over the past century likewise more tellingly mirror the cultural and commercial horizons of their filmmakers, financiers, and target audiences than they do anything else.
As Harty's introduction points out, film representations of the Vikings are nearly as old as the medium itself, and a spate of Anglo/American early silent short films emerged in the early twentieth century. The first known Viking film is Great Britain's The Viking's Bride (1907), followed by the American studio Vitagraph's The Viking's Daughter, the Story of Ancient Norsemen (1908) and The Last of the Saxons (1910), both directed by James Stuart Blackton. Thomas Edison's company produced The Viking Queen in 1914. As far as we know, prints of these one and two-reel silent films have most probably perished, victims of neglect and the notoriously vulnerable nitrate stock they were shot on.
The book's first essay focuses on the 1958 classic Hollywood epic The Vikings, an iconic popular work that still remains the most widely-known Viking film over a half century later. A color photo of producer-star Kirk Douglas as the maimed, one-eyed warrior Einar graces the book's cover. The Vikings was a product of Hollywood's wide-screen "sword-and-sandal" cycle of the 1950s and early 1960s. Directed by Richard Fleischer, it featured an all-star cast led by Douglas, Tony Curtis, Ernest Borgnine, and Janet Leigh. Jack Cardiff's super-saturated Technicolor cinematography (with location shooting in western Norway and …