Pillaging rarely looked like so much fun as in this period adventure tale with Kirk Douglas & Tony Curtis giving battle as friend & foe against dastardly Brits while vying for the affections of Janet Leigh.* Richard Fleischer keeps the action moving and manages to untangle a tricky narrative structure that needs three or four prologues before we get to the main story. (The opening is extra nifty, a limited-animation lecture from the UPA studio, that sketches out a potted Viking history intoned by Orson Welles. And don’t skip the end credits, done in the same spirited manner.) As Papa Viking, Ernest Borgnine isn’t the most convincing fellow on screen, but he throws himself into the stunts & swordplay with gusto. And though Fleischer makes the action look unusually scary with a death-defying castle-keep duel for Tony & Kirk and some terrifying trained hawks in full attack mode, the film never loses its strong comic edge which has the advantage of keeping Kirk from taking things (including himself) too seriously.
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: *Generating plenty o’ heat, Leigh & Curtis easily disprove the old Hollywood canard about real-life married couples lacking on-screen sexual chemistry.
DOUBLE-BILL: Lenser Jack Cardiff not only brought his A game to the film, but enjoyed the experience enough to direct a close-follow up, THE LONG SHIPS/’64, with Richard Widmark, Sidney Poitier and a tone that ups the ante from this film’s comic edge to near goofy.