The Long Ships is my favorite Viking movie. Sure, lots of people prefer The Vikings, with Kirk Douglas, directed by the recently deceased Richard Fleischer, and it’s probably a much better movie. It’s certainly more serious, and that might explain why I like The Long Ships, which is anything but serious. Someone should have explained that to Sidney Poitier, though. It’s as if he’s acting in a different movie from everyone else. Oscar Homolka hams it up outrageously, and Richard Widmark is clearly having a wonderful time. It’s all he can do not to wink at the camera. Russ Tamblyn is pretty bad, but he gets to make a couple of nice athletic moves. Rosanna Schiaffino has a couple of great lines, especially when she questions Poitier: “How long must I endure your abstinence from pleasure?” (When she says that, we realize that Poitier is completely nuts. And it’s no wonder he seems grumpy. Not that his grumpiness couldn’t be a result of the terrible wig he’s wearing.) Ms. Schiaffino also gets to run down a street, waving her arms and yelling, “The long sheeps! Beware the long sheeps!”
The plot of the movie, such as it is, concerns the search for “The Mother of Voices,” a giant bell made of solid gold. I love the opening scenes where the story of the bell is told. Both the telling and the shots used are just about perfect. And speaking of the shots, this is a beautiful movie, filmed in Technicolor and something called Technirama. But I digress. Poitier believes that Widmark knows the whereabouts of the bell, and this leads to complications, including The Mare of Steel, which is a giant curved blade in the shape of a horse’s head. Riding The Mare of Steel is, of course, fatal, not to mention painful. I mean, look at the way you’d land on it.
The funniest scene in the movie occurs when the Viking crew breaks into Poitier’s harem. Pure slapstick. The battle scenes are also good, with none of the quick cutting that ruins that kind of scene in current movies. Sure, we see the same thing two or three times from different angles and aren’t supposed to notice. Who cares?
One of the screenwriters was Berkely Mather. When you have time, you might enjoy reading his novel The Gold of Malabar. I did, long ago.
But what I really enjoyed was the novel The Long Ships by Frans Bengtsson. You’ll be shocked to hear that it’s hardly anything at all like the movie. But it’s wonderful. I read it over 40 years ago, and I can still remember the last line. Not that it’s all that great, but it was affecting to me because of all that had gone before. Check it out.