The Vikings on Film: Essays on Depictions of the Nordic Middle Ages

By Hughes, Shaun F. D. | Arthuriana, April 1, 2012 | Go to article overview

The Vikings on Film: Essays on Depictions of the Nordic Middle Ages


Hughes, Shaun F. D., Arthuriana


KEVIN J. HARTY, ed. The Vikings on Film: Essays on Depictions of the Nordic Middle Ages. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2011. Pp. viii, 228. ISBN: 978-0-7864-6044-1. $38.00

Kevin J. Harty is well known to readers of this journal. His King Arthur on Film: New Essays on Arthurian Cinema (1999) was reviewed in Arthuriana 10.1, 137-39 and the second edition of his Cinema Arthuriana: Twenty Essays (2000) was reviewed in 13.2 (Summer 2003), 114-16. He also coined the phrase 'the "reel" Middle Ages,' which has gained some currency as a convenient way to refer to cinematic representations set in Medieval Europe. The current volume is in the same vein. However, this time the focus is on films which purportedly deal with the Viking incursions into Europe, c. 800-c. 1200, including those films in which Vikings are characters in a fantasy or science-fiction plot. It consists of an introduction by Harty followed by fourteen essays, concluding with a filmography on 'The Vikings on Film' (193-214).

The anthology begins, as is appropriate, with a challenging and sophisticated analysis by Kathleen Coyne Kelly of The Vikings (1958), directed by Richard Fleischer and starring Kirk Douglas, Tony Curtis, and Janet Leigh. In my mind this is still the best film on the Vikings, despite its faults, and it serves as the template against which any number of Viking films can be compared and found wanting. Fleischer and Douglas (whose production company was involved in the film) had a commendable desire to produce an 'authentic' depiction of the Viking period and went to extraordinary lengths to achieve this. Nevertheless, they were involved in a Hollywood action film, not a documentary; that is, they were involved in creating a fantasy world to be consumed as entertainment with the goal of making money for the backers of the enterprise. Various incidents were invented for the film such as a fidelity test in which the mistress of Einar (Kirk Douglas), played by the German actress Almut Berg, is pinned to a board by her braids to be proven innocent if her (drunken) husband can cut her loose by throwing an axe at twenty paces. Other set pieces such as the game of running along the oars are attested to in the medieval sources. The script, based on the novel The Viking (1952) by Edison Marshall, also works remarkably well, focused as it is on the two half-brothers who do not know they are related and who are rivals for the same woman, Morgana (Janet Leigh), a Welsh princess captured on the high seas on her way to her nuptials with the current king of Northumbria, the usurper Aella. Kelly also has an interesting discussion of the casual violence in the film which still retains its powers to shock after more than half a century. Eric (Tony Curtis), the son of the Viking chieftain Ragnar (Ernest Borgnine), Einar's father, as the result of his rape of the queen of Northumbria, has been sent by his mother overseas to safety from king Aella, but is captured by Ragnar en route. He is now a slave, but he and Einar get under each other's skin, which culminates in Eric's setting his falcon on Einar who loses one of his eyes and is scarred on his face (his father thinks this is highly amusing). Kelly discusses the consequences of this limited vision on Einar's behavior but fails to note that this also makes the one-eyed Einar a type of Óðin. Later in the film, king Aella cuts off one of Eric's hands as punishment for having given his sword to Ragnar so that he can die with honor as he is pushed into a pit filled with wolves. Eric is now a Týr figure (the Norse god who lost his hand in the mouth of the wolf, Fenrir) and this gives the final duel between the two half-brothers an almost mythical quality. Violence of this magnitude on screen was not permitted by the Production Code Association (PCA), the industry watchdog. Films were seen by the industry as wholesome family entertainment, and it was the job of the PCA to ensure that such was the case. Kelly provides many fascinating details of the exchanges between Fleischer and the censor, Geoffrey Shurlock, the president of the PCA, and the compromises which ensued-one of them being the deletion of an episode where Einar was to bathe with six naked maidens in a barrel of beer, a scene that maybe never was intended in the first place.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Vikings on Film: Essays on Depictions of the Nordic Middle Ages
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.