I flinched when I read Michael Fleming‘s 12.13 story about Mel Gibson‘s forthcoming Viking movie with Leonardo DiCaprio and a script by William Monahan. We know what this will be. What big-league director is more drawn to gougings, disembowelments and beheadings than Gibson? The man is insane.
Fleming says the story “will be as unsparing as Gibson’s Braveheart, The Passion of the Christ and Apocalypto.” And we’re all going to pay $12 each to sit through more throat-slicings, testicle-crushings, skull-splittings and so on. Terrific.
This makes me sound unadventurous and reclusive, I realize, but I’d much rather spend $20 or $25 on a special-edition Bluray of Richard Fleischer‘s The Vikings (1958) than sit through Gibson’s gore-fest. The 51 year-old Kirk Douglas-Tony Curtis version is unabashedly broad and cheesy and sometimes ridiculous. But there are undercurrents in that film that really work. Here’s how I put in in the wake of Fleischer’s death in ’06:
“Fleischer’s peak was The Vikings — the 1958 historical action epic that was mostly dominated by producer-star Kirk Douglas, but was (and still is) notable for two dramatic elements that still work today.
“One is what seems to happen inside the male Viking characters (particularly Douglas and dad Ernest Borgnine) whenever Odin, the Nordic God, is mentioned. We hear a haunting, siren-like Odin theme on the soundtrack, and these rough blustery types suddenly stop their loutish behavior and seem to almost retreat into a childlike emotional place…a place that’s all about awe and fear (of death, God, judgment). This happens maybe three or four times in this big, unsophisticated popcorn movie (which nonetheless feels far sturdier and more classically composed than a typical big-budget popcorn actioner made today), and each time it does The Vikings suddenly has a spirit.
“The other thing that still works is the film’s refusal to make much of the fact that Douglas and costar Tony Curtis, mortal enemies throughout the film, are in fact brothers, having both been half-sired by Borgnine. Costar Janet Leigh begs Douglas to consider this ten minutes from the finale, and Douglas angrily brushes her off. But when his sword is raised above a defenseless Curtis at the very end and he’s about to strike, Douglas suddenly hesitates…and we know why. 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 has ever delivered.
“Douglas wasn’t very respectful of Fleischer’s authority during the making of The Vikings, and for all I know Fleischer didn’t have that much to do with this final scene…but he probably did, and he deserves our respect for it.”
Here‘s the last chapter of The Vikings. The post-magic-hour lighting during the funeral scene with the torches and flaming arrows is very nice.