“The other thing that still works in The Vikings‘ favor is the film’s refusal to dramatically amplify the fact that Kirk Douglas‘s Einar and Tony Curtis‘s Eric, mortal enemies throughout the film, are in fact brothers, having both been sired by Ernest Borgnine‘s Ragnar.
“Ten minutes from the conclusion Janet Leigh‘s Princess Morgana begs Douglas to consider this fraternity, and he angrily brushes her off. But when his sword is raised above a defenseless Curtis at the very end, Douglas hesitates. And then Curtis stabs Douglas in the stomach with a shard of a broken sword, and Douglas is finished.
“The way he leans back, screams ‘Odin!’ and then rolls over dead is pretty hammy, but that earlier moment of hesitation is spellbinding — one of the most touching pieces of acting Douglas ever delivered.
“I’m not trying to build The Vikings up beyond what it was — a primitive sex-and-swordfight film for Eisenhower-era Eloi. But it did invest in that submerged through-line of ‘brothers not realizing they’re brothers while despising each other’, and the subtlety does pay off.” — originally posted on 3.27.06, on the occasion of Richard Fleischer‘s passing.