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Film / The Long Ships

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The Long Ships is a 1964 British–Yugoslav adventure film shot in Technirama and directed by Jack Cardiff, who was the cinematographer of The Vikings. The picture is very loosely based on Frans G. Bengtsson's novel The Long Ships, as it retains little more than the title of the English translation and the Moorish setting.

The plot is set in the 10th century and concerns several parties in search of a fabled immense golden bell that was cast in the Byzantine Empire then hidden somewhere.

Moorish sultan Al Mansuh (Sidney Poitier) is convinced that the bell exists. Having collected all the legendary material about it that he can, he plans to mount an expedition to search for it. When a shipwrecked Norseman, Rolfe (Richard Widmark), repeats the story of the bell in the marketplace, and hints that he knows its location, he is seized by Mansuh's men and brought in for questioning. Rolfe insists that he does not know more than the legend itself and that the bell is most likely only a myth. He manages to escape by jumping through a window before the questioning continues under torture, and makes his way back to Scandinavia.


Once he's back in Scandinavia, Rolfe gathers a crew, kidnaps his king's daughter and "borrows" his king's funeral long ship and returns in Moorish territory to find the bell before Al Mansuh.

The film provides examples of:

  • Bond One-Liner: After the heavy golden bell has ruined any chance of smoothly being moved around by rolling down the cliff all the way to the ship.
    Rolfe: Well, that was the quick way to get it down...
  • The Chief's Daughter: King Harald's maiden daughter Gerda is kidnapped to be sacrificed onboard the long ship in order to sway the bad luck of navigating on a funeral ship. It turns out Rolfe sacrifices a goat and not her.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: Al Mansuh's execution contraption called the "Mare of Steel", a huge curved blade with the form of a horse tail. Unlucky victims are forced to climb and ride down on their exposed bellies, hands tied, splaying them open at its base and impaling them on a bed of two foot steel spikes at the end of it.
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  • Gold and White Are Divine: The golden bell was cast and decorated by Byzantine monks.
  • Hell Is That Noise: The golden bell is nicknamed "The Mother of Voices" because its ringing sound is truly deafening for anyone who stays too close.
  • Hero Stole My Bike: Rolfe steals king Harald's funeral long ship to return to North Africa in search of the golden bell.
  • Hidden in Plain Sight: After getting to the Pillars of Hercules, Rolfe and Al Mansuh find only a domed chapel with a hanging small bronze bell where the Viking was certain he had heard the Mother of Voices was. Frustrated, Rolfe throws the small bell against the dome, and the resounding (and deafening) ringing sound reveals that the dome itself is the disguised Mother of Voices.
  • Historical Domain Character: Harald "Bluetooth" Gormsson, who was King of Denmark and Norway in Real Life.
  • Hollywood Density: The golden bell is easily towed behind the Vikings' boat. No raft, no pontoons, just a solid gold bell floating effortlessly behind an oar-driven ship. Calculating the displacement, however, it might actually be possible if the bell had the right measurements and thickness.
  • Olympic Swimmer: Apparently, Rolfe managed to somehow swim all the way from the Atlantic coast of North Africa to Scandinavia...


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