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Film / The Vikings

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The Vikings is a 1958 historical adventure movie directed by Richard Fleischer, filmed in Technicolor, produced by and starring Kirk Douglas, and based on the novel The Viking by Edison Marshall, itself loosely inspired by the legendary sagas of Ragnar Lodbrok and His Sons set during The Viking Age. The narrator at the beginning of the film is none other than Orson Welles.

In the 9th Century, a Viking raid on Northern England sees the King of Northumbria slain and his wife Enid brutally raped by the Viking chief Ragnar (Ernest Borgnine). As Enid's cousin Aella (Frank Thring) takes the throne, she discovers that she is pregnant with the true heir and arranges for him to be smuggled away for his own protection.

Years later, Lord Egbert (James Donald), an English Lord who has betrayed Aella to the Vikings, is locked up by the Northumbrian King, but escapes and is brought up to Denmark. There he meets Ragnar's ruthless son Einar (Kirk Douglas), and a slave with a mysterious past named Eric (Tony Curtis). The Englishman conspires with Ragnar to kidnap the Welsh Princess Morgana (Janet Leigh), who is pledged to Aella, and she is brought to Long Sound, Ragnar's domain on the Skagerrak, by Einar, who quickly desires her for himself, but has some serious competition from Eric.


Not to be confused with the Vikings TV series, which also borrows a lot to the Ragnar Lodbrok and His Sons sagas but is a more recent and tonally different epic set in the Viking times.

This movie provides examples of:

  • Action Dress Rip: Sort of. Eric funnily rips the back of Morgana's tightened bodice so she can be at ease to row.
  • Adapted Out:
    • Ivar the Boneless, Halfdan, Ubbe and many others are omitted. Unless you're of the opinion that Einar is a Composite Character of all of them, however.
    • On the item side of things, Ogier/Eric's Hook Hand he receives after the loss of his left hand is omitted completely, Eric's stump is wrapped in fur instead.
    • On the plot side of things, Sandpiper's origins as the Cornish Briton Murray of the Moors, the raids in the Mediterranean, and Ogier's running of the gauntlet where he vow to see Ragnar and Hasting as bloody corpes, become a great chief and make Egbert a king in his own country are all removed.
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  • Adaptational Alternate Ending: In the novel, Ogier and Morgana set sail for the west to search for Avalon where they might live in peace. The film implies Eric and Morgana stay in England to become king and queen of Northumbria.
  • Adaptational Timespan Change: The main bulk novel took place over the course of nine years. The film's main plot (20 years after Aella's crowning) takes place over weeks.
  • Adaptational Wimp: In the film, Aella goes running from Eric whereas in the novel upon being captured by Ogier he actually fought him to the death.
  • Adaptation Dye-Job:
    • Hasting was a reddish-blond, Einar on the other hand is just straight up blond! This happened yet again in the Comic-Book Adaptation where he went from reddish-blond to brown haired.
    • Morgana had black hair in the novel as opposed to the golden hair of the film. The dye-job was maintained for the comic.
    • Ogier had yellow hair in contrast to the dark hair of Eric. The dye-job was undone for the comic with the character once again being golden haired.
    • Ragnar's hair in the novel is a reddish-brown that is greying. In the film it is just greying brown. In the comic, it is just red.
  • Adaptation Name Change: Eric was Ogier the Dane in the book and Einar One-Eye was called Hasting Maidenface. Kitala was known as Kitti and Bridget was known as Bertha, they regained their original names in the Comic-Book Adaptation. Also Aella's predecessor Edwin was name Osberht, as he was in history.
  • Age Lift: In the film Aella has been ruling Northumbria for twenty years. In the novel, Aella was twenty-three when Ogier first returned to Northumbria and since that clearly isn't a three year old being crowned king in the film, Aella has been aged up.
  • All There in the Manual: The location of Long Sound is stated in the novel to be on the Skagerrak and all the inhabitants are referred to as Danes, with a few exceptions, thus do we learn that Long Sound is specifically in Denmark.
  • Anachronism Stew / Artistic License – History:
    • The castle Fort La Latte was built in the early 14th century and fortified during the late 17th century by Sebastien Le Prestre de Vauban. 9th century castles didn't look like this.
    • The uniforms and shields of Aella's soldiers were worn during the 12th-13th centuries, not the 9th century.
    • Morgana is brought to Aella on a cog ship. Cogs didn't exist in the 9th century.
    • Einar compares Ragnar's yelling to "a moose giving birth to a hedgehog." In Eurasia moose are called "elk" with "moose" being the North American term for the species. In contrast to this mistake, the original novel correctly makes reference to "elk" as wildlife in Ragnar's domain rather than "moose."
  • An Axe to Grind: Most of the Vikings fight with axes.
  • Arranged Marriage: Aella has arranged a marriage with Morgana so he can become king of Wales in addition to Northumbria.
  • Art Imitates Art: The opening credits were made in the style of The Bayeux Tapestry, even borrowing some panels to it (the shipbuilders, mainly).
  • Bald of Evil: Both sides are Grey-and-Gray Morality per se, but Aella is easily the most cruel character (perhaps only equalled by Einar), and he's bald.
  • Battering Ram: A massive tree trunk is used by the Vikings to destroy Aella's castle's first drawbridge. It is also used as a bridge.
  • Battlecry / Big Word Shout: ODIN!!!
  • Beard of Barbarism / Badass Beard: Einar (Kirk Douglas) is the only Viking to not sport one. It doesn't make him any less badass.
    • It does earn him some ridicule from his father.
    Ragnar: This is Einar, my only son in wedlock. He's so vain of his beauty he wont let a man's beard hide it! He scrapes his face all day like an Englishman!
    Einar: Hail Ragnar! And hail Ragnar's beard!
  • Boarding Party: Morgana is shipped to Aella on a cog. Egbert provides that information to the Vikings and they decide to attack the ship to take her as hostage, with Einar leading the party.
  • The Bully: Einar bullies Eric at the beginning.
  • The Casanova: Einar. He's about to bed a married blonde girl in his very first scene. Ragnar is one as well as he confirms Einar to be his only son in wedlock meaning he has numerous illegitimate sons.
  • Child by Rape: Eric is Enid's son. She gave birth to him following her rape by Ragnar.
  • Climbing Climax: The duel at the top of the dungeon.
  • Comic-Book Adaptation: Courtesy of Dell and turned out to be an adaptation of the original Edison Marshall novel but with Ogier being named Eric and Hasting being named Einar and the reveal being changed from Eric being Ragnar's bastard son to the lost son of the old Northumbrian dynasty that Ragnar had killed. As a result it ends up being Truer to the Text than the movie it was supposed to be adapting.
  • Composite Character:
    • Eric has the role of Ogier the Dane but the name of Ragnar's cousin from the original novel.
    • In the original novel Egbert didn't tell Ragnar of Morgana but a woman of his household name Meera.
    • Ragnar wasn't the King of the Norsemen in the novel. That was King Horik of the Danes to whom Ragnar was viceroy and Ragnar's cousin King Harald of Norway. Thus by extension instead of being either specifically Danes or Norwegians, the Norsemen are generic Vikings.
    • Edwin is a combination of Osberht, Aella's predecessor as King of Northumbria, and the Earl of York, Enid's husband.
  • Cool Boat: The Vikings' longships, which are decorated with dragons or sea serpents as figureheads.
  • Covers Always Lie: On the poster used on this very page, Einar and Eric are shown with the outfits they wear in the final battle, but they look just fine, without their respective handicaps. By the time of the final battle, Einar is one-eyed and Eric has only one hand left.
  • Death by Adaptation:
    • Ragnar didn't kill Enid's husband, the Earl of York, in the book. It was the reason he was still alive that Ogier had to be sent away otherwise he would have killed the reminder of Ragnar's rape of his wife.
    • Enid was still alive by the time of Ogier's return to Northumbria. In the film, she is long since dead by the time Eric has returned.
  • Death Cry Echo: Einar's "ODIIIIIIIIINN!!!", with an actual echo to boot.
  • Demoted to Extra:
    • Bjorn Ironside has less of a role than he did in the Marshall novel.
    • A bizarre version involving an item but the Holy Sword Requiter, wasn't anything connected to royalty in the original novel. It was just a half-rusted sword with no pommel that got stuck in its sheath when Aella tried to use it at one point. This might sound like an example of Ascended Extra for an item but in the film itself the sword appears only once. In the original Marshall novel, Requiter is the sword granted to Ragnar to ensure his place in Valhalla, is wielded by Aella during the Great Danish Army's invasion of England and ultimately won by Ogier (Eric in the film) in a duel between him and Aella. He claims the sword and ultimately uses it against Hasting (Einar in the film.) All the roles Requiter filled such as being Ragnar or Eric's weapon is undertaken by random, unnamed swords.
  • Dirty Coward: Aella and his right-hand-man try to do a runner when the Vikings storm his castle.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Aella chops off Eric's left hand as a punishment for giving his sword to Ragnar.
  • Duel to the Death: Between Einar and Eric at the end.
  • Due to the Dead: Eric orders a proper Viking Funeral for Einar at the end.
  • Eyepatch of Power: Einar sports one after Eric's falcon blinded him on one of his eyes.
  • Eye Scream: Eric orders his falcon to attack Einar, taking out one of his eyes.
  • Fed To The Beasts: The wolf dogs pit is Aella's favourite method of execution when he wants to dispose of his enemies.
  • Final Battle: Einar, Eric, Egbert and the Vikings gather for an assault against Aella's castle in the climax.
  • Foe-Tossing Charge: Some Vikings shout "ODIN!" and charge a pack of Aella's soldiers from a mound inside the castle.
  • Girl in the Tower: Morgana (Janet Leigh) is praying in the dungeon's chapel during the siege.
  • Give Me a Sword: Both in the form of a Last Request. And both are adressed to Eric, by his father and then by his brother.
    • Ragnar, as he wants to prepare himself for the afterlife (which means dying sword in hand) before being thrown into Aella's wolfdogs' pit. Aella denies him this right but Eric gives him his sword.
    • Einar, once he has been stabbed by Eric. He doesn't say it directly but begs Eric for it in silence as he is dying.
  • Good Shepherd: Father Godwin. The first thing he does in the film is helping Enid to hide her baby away from Aella.
  • Gory Discretion Shot:
    • Aella's wolfdogs tearing Ragnar apart.
    • Aella chopping Eric's hand off.
  • Grey-and-Gray Morality: Aella is as cruel as a tyrant can be, and his enemies are Vikings who Rape, Pillage, and Burn for a living.
  • Handicapped Badass:
    • Einar loses his left eye early on, yet he's still a very good shot with throwing axes as "Odin's Test" demonstrates, and during the Final Battle he kicks much ass and puts himself at high risk to open the second drawbridge on his own — even leading the charge unarmed and shouting once said drawbridge is open.
    • Eric has learned to fight without his left hand and is practically unstoppable in the climatic battle, making good use of his stump.
  • Hero Antagonist: Einar is Eric's antagonist, but he's still technically one of the heroes.
  • A Hero Is Born: Eric is shown as a baby sometime after his birth and before Queen Enid's death. That's when he's given the jewel stone of the hilt of the Requiter sword so he'll be identified as the true heir to the throne of Northumbria. He's the closest the film has to a heroic figure.
  • Heroic Bastard: Eric. He's a Child by Rape but he's the closest character the movie has to a true hero.
  • Historical Domain Character:
    • Aella of Northumbria
    • Ragnar (Ernest Borgnine) is no one else but Ragnar Lothbrok himself.
    • Egbert is Ecgbehrt I, who succeeded Aella as a puppet King of Northumbria courtesy of the Vikings. This is more apparent in the novel where the Vikings are stated to have plans to make him their puppet King in Northumbria.
    • Bjorn is Bjorn Ironside, called "Bjorn Ironsides" in the novel.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Aella is thrown into his own wolfdogs' pit.
  • Hollywood History: As per the Anachronism Stew / Artistic License – History and Horny Vikings entries.
  • Hollywood Tactics: Real Life Vikings avoided storming heavily fortified castles, unlike those of the film. They preferred raiding churches, monasteries and settlements that had little protection, although here it's justified, since it's a Roaring Rampage of Revenge for the death of their chief.
  • Horny Vikings: While there are little to no horned helmets, every other Viking-related cliché is played completely straight.
  • I Have You Now, My Pretty / And Now You Must Marry Me: How Einar treats Morgana.
  • Just Desserts: Aella is fed to his own wolf dogs by Eric.
  • Kick the Dog: Aella chopping Eric's left hand off.
  • The Kingslayer: Ragnar kills the King of Northumbria (Queen Enid's husband) right at the beginning of the film during a raid.
  • Knife-Throwing Act: In one of the most famous scenes in the film, the Vikings subject a woman accused of adultery to "Odin's test". This consists of using thrown axes to cut the woman's braids while she puts her head through the hollow centre of a large target. All the braids getting cut without she being hurt means she is cleared of the charge. If one of the axes hits her and kills her, she's guilty. If her husband misses three times, he'll be drowned, according to Ragnar.
  • Lady-in-Waiting: Bridget (played by Dandy Nichols), the lady who accompanies Morgana.
  • Large Ham: Just about any Viking who shouts "ODIN!". Ernest Borgnine takes the cake as Ragnar.
  • Made a Slave: Eric grew up as a slave at the Viking village.
  • The Middle Ages: The movie is set in the 9th century, during The Low Middle Ages.
  • Murder the Hypotenuse: Einar tries to kill Eric in the final duel in order to keep Morgana for himself. It doesn't end well for him.
  • Noble Bird of Prey: The Vikings enjoy hunting with trained falcons.
  • Not Afraid to Die: The Vikings, Ragnar and Einar in particular. The only thing they're afraid of is dying without a sword in their hand.
  • Ominous Fog: The Vikings fear fog, they can't navigate through it and think it can lead them to the "Poisoned Sea".
  • The Only One Allowed to Defeat You: Einar wants to kill Eric personally after Egbert has him saved from drowning.
  • Orphan's Plot Trinket: Eric wears a necklace with the jewel stone of the hilt of the Requiter holy sword. His mother put it around his neck before smuggling him away when he was a baby, to identify him as the heir of the throne of Northumbria.
  • Parental Abandonment: Eric was brought to the Viking village on his mother's orders for his safety.
  • Prepare to Die: Einar to Eric, before they embark for the final siege.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: In the novel, Ragnar was thrown into a flooded Roman tower and fought to the death with eels, rays and sea snakes. In the film this is changed to wolves since the scene from the book would be hard to put on film.
  • Proud Warrior Race: The Vikings, naturally. Dying without a sword in their hands is not a good option for them.
  • Race Lift:
    • Kitti was a Laplander (Sami), Kitala is Norse apparently.
    • Sandpiper was Cornish and hailed from the moors of Cornwall. Apparently, he has been made a literal Moor in this film. In the Comic-Book Adaptation, Sandpiper is once more of European descent but with his backstory being Adapted Out it is left ambiguous if he even is Cornish.
    • Bertha was a Saxon from the borders of Rhodri's kingdom, Bridget is apparently a Scottish woman based on the fact that the name is Gaelic. With the Comic-Book Adaptation having reverted her name to Bertha, it is not unlikely she was reverted back to Saxon as well.
  • Rain of Arrows: Per 50's Hollywood epics standards.
  • Rape Discretion Shot: There is a cut right as Ragnar grabs a screaming Enid after brutally killing her husband.
  • Rape, Pillage, and Burn: The Vikings' thing, naturally. It happens right at the beginning of the film.
  • Related in the Adaptation: There is a number of inversions.
    • In the novel, Bjorn is an older paternal half-brother of Hasting/Einar along with Ivar the Boneless, Ragnar's firstborn son. There is no relation stated between Bjorn, Ragnar and Einar.
    • In the novel, Enid was Aella's mother. In the film Aella is the cousin of Enid's husband. Thus by extension, Aella is not Ogier/Eric's maternal half-brother.
  • Rightful King Returns: Eric, at the end. He's the only heir of Nortumbria left after he fed Aella to his own dogs, and also possibly rules over the Vikings now that Einar is dead.
  • The Rivals: Einar and Eric. They have always hated each other, and they end up rivals over the love (or in Einar's case, "possession") of Morgana.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: The siege can be considered as one because of Ragnar's death. And Eric's rampage to reach Aella counts too.
  • Scenery Porn: The Mauranger fjord in Norway and the French castle Fort La Latte in North-East Brittany make most of the outdoor shots.
  • Screaming Warriors: The Vikings shout "ODIN!" when throwing themselves in the battle.
  • Secret Legacy: Eric has one: the throne of Northumbria.
  • Seers: Kitala, the Vikings' old runes reader.
  • Sibling Rivalry: Einar and Eric, unknowingly to them until the very last moment.
  • The Siege: The Final Battle is one, with the Vikings besieging Aella's castle.
  • Slave Collar: Eric wears one until he's freed by Egbert.
  • The Speechless: Sandpiper is mute.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Eric and Morgana. Eric is a Viking who has just been freed from slavery and Morgana is the princess of Wales. And she is betrothed to Aella.
  • Storming the Castle: The Vikings' assault on Aella's castle.
  • Superstitious Sailors: The Vikings avoid foggy parts of the sea, calling them "Poisoned Sea". They think it's supernatural and will lead them to the Limbo, but a more pragmatic and logical reason is that they can get lost and crash on reef. Until they are in possession of a proto-compass, they can't plan any large scale invasion of England because the English would be able to stop them on the non-foggy maritime roads they know very well.
  • The Time of Myths: The Vikings believe in Odin and the "Poisoned Sea". For some reason, it seems like Valkyries ("Odin's daughters") can be heard singing in the sky as Eric is about to drown — Kitala thinks they brought the wind that lowers the tide, preventing Eric from dying.
  • Tyrant Takes the Helm: Aella takes the throne after Edwin's death.
  • The Usurper: Aella. He's of royal blood but not the true heir.
  • Viking Funeral: Probably the Trope Codifier in movies. Einar's funeral longship is set on fire at the end of the film.
  • Villain Has a Point: Early on, Aella accuses Egbert - one of his nobles and a political rival - of being in league with the Vikings and has him imprisoned (with a view to murdering him). It turns out Egbert really has been selling Northumbria out to the Vikings and he continues to do so after he flees Britain.
  • Warrior Heaven: The Vikings believe in the Valhalla, and thus vow to die sword in hand to have a chance to get there.
  • Warrior Prince: Einar, Viking chief Ragnar's son, personally leads the party to capture Morgana.
  • Wrecked Weapon: Einar breaks Eric's sword in their final duel and suddenly hesitates to deliver a fatal blow, recognizing the fact that Eric is his brother. Eric takes this opportunity to stab Einar with his broken sword.
  • You Got Spunk: Einar and Morgana. Einar doesn't mind being spat on and even encourages her to bite and scratch him.
    Einar: If I can't have your love, I'll take your hate!


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