The Long Ships (1964)

Vikings journey to North Africa in search for mythical gold in this exciting adventure film starring Richard Widmark. Sony/Columbia R1 USA.

The Film

In 1958 two very sucessful films were released - The Vikings with Kirk Douglas was a rousing adventure film that quickly inspired various imitators in Europe, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958) was an equally enjoyable adventure film set in the Arabic splendor of the Middle East. British based producer Irving Allen quickly saw the potential to merge these two themes into a single movie:

Somewhere in the Middle East, a storyteller is talking in a village square, telling the tale of the Mother of Voices, a legendary bell, three men high, made from half of the gold in the world. He is brought before the ruler of the area, Prince Aly Mansuh (Sidney Poitier) where he reveals himself to be a Viking named Rolfe (Richard Widmark) - but when the Prince probes him for information on this famous bell, he denies any knowledge and escapes through a window. Meanwhile in Scandiavia, a small Viking village has completed construction on King Harald's funeral ship but are shocked when the king reveals that he will pay only a pittance for it, because the village owed him so much tribute. When Rolfe arrives back in the village that evening, he and his brother steal the boat, and the king's daughter, to go and find the bell again - but soon come into conflict with Price Mansuh...

The Long Ships is credited to the classic Viking novel by Swedish writer Frans G. Bengtsson, but apart from the title and a couple of character's names, the screenplay bears absolutely no link to the story - a pity considering its potential to make a very good film. Fortunately the invented story is good and avoids the typical 'Vikings versus Britain' storyline, instead putting the Norsemen down into Moorish territory (where they did actually travel, both in trade and war). The film does stop short of going for all out mythology, and there are no monsters or sea creatures here, but the adventure elements are played up well, with lots of Arabian atmosphere, from Palaces to Hareems. The tone of the story is generally light, and at one point does descend to Carry on Viking levels with a scene in the Hareem that is amusing, but becomes rather drawn out. At the other end of the scale a rather incredible torture device is wheeled out at one point, but to keep the film with a family safe rating we never actually get to see how it works. Characterisation is not up to much, but fortunately the pacing is strong throughout and there is rarely a dull moment in the two hour runtime, building up to a good conclusion.

Jack Cardiff who gave The Vikings its beautiful cinematography is on hand to direct here, doing a solid job, with some effective model work and very well shot battle scenes that help to give the film an epic feel - although it never quite looks as stunning as its more famous predecessor. The movie was largely shot in Jugoslavia, which at the time was being heavily used by German film studios, and manages to really look the part of both Scandiavia and the Middle East. The most damaging aspect of the production is the soundtrack, from composer Dusan Radic, which seems to consist of a single piece of upbeat patriotic music that is used over-and-over again, often in dramatic action scenes where tense music would have been far more appropriate. Sadly it is noticable enough to annoy even a casual viewer.

The Long Ships boasts some rather unexpected casting. Richard Widmark was a big Hollywood name at the time, thanks to his roles in a variety of classic Film Noir and Westerns but had never done anything like this film. Fortunately once you get over the shock of seeing Widmark here, he does actually put on a good show, and although certainly no Kirk Douglas or Cameron Mitchell, he suits his part well - it is a pity though that, although co-produced in Jugoslavia by Avala Film who also worked on CCC's Karl May adventure films, their frequent star Lex Barker was not given the lead role here, one that would really have suited him.

Second billed Sidney Poitier was more at home playing victims of racial oppression and never looks very comfortable here, playing an evil dictator. A frequent American Western star, but best known for his leading role in West Side Story (1961), Russ Tamblyn plays Orm well, but his curious outfit makes him look more like an extra from a 1970s dystopia movie. An interesting mix of British character actors fill many of the minor roles, including Clifford Evans (Curse of the Werewolf (1961)) as Viking King Harald, with Lionel Jeffries (The Scarlet Blade (1963)) rather embarrasingly blacked up as one of the Prince's servants, and Edward Judd (Island of Terror (1966)) as the trecharous Sven.

Although more Sinbad than The Vikings, and bearing absolutely no relation to its source book, The Long Ships remains a very enjoyable and well produced family adventure film, let down only by a poor performance from Sidney Poitier and some terrible scoring. Recommended to fans of classic adventure movies.

In Brief

Anyone famous in it? Richard Widmark - best known for his wide selection of Classic Westerns, including Cheyenne Autumn (1964)
Sidney Poitier - one of the most reactionary actors of the era, best known for In the Heat of the Night (1967)
Directed by anyone interesting? Jack Cardiff - the occasional director who was better known as a cinematographer where he worked on The Vikings (1958), Conan the Destroyer (1984) and the true classic A Matter of Life and Death (1946),
Any violence/gore? Some violence and deaths, but mild and obviously self-censored for the family markets.
Any sex? None.
Who is it for?
Fans of classic adventure movies should certainly enjoy this, as should Richard Widmark fans.


Visuals Original Aspect Ratio - 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. Colour
The print is decent, with good colours and minimal damage, but some softness and noticable grain throughout.
Audio Original English mono track, sounds fine, some occasional hiss.
Subtitles English, Korean, French and Japanese.
Extras The disc contains:
  • Original theatrical trailer.
  • Bonus trailers for The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad (1958) and The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1974).
Region Region 1 (USA, North America) - NTSC
Other regions? Not available elsewhere. (Due for release in the UK from DDHE in late 2007 - this will probably be a cut print, see notes below).
Cuts? Believed to be fully uncut. The print used is English language.
The British video release is cut by 13 seconds of some vicious horse-falls, these are shown in full here.



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All text in this review written by Timothy Young - 1st August 2007.
Text from this review not to be used without authorization.

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