Monday, October 14, 2019

The Long Ships

I'm working my way through the movies that TCM ran for Sidney Poitier's turn as Star of the Month back in September. This time out, the entry is The Long Ships.

The actual star here is Richard Widmark, playing Rolfe, the captain of a Viking ship raiding somewhere in the Mediterranean in an opening sequence. The ship gets destroyed in the fog on some shoals, and Rolfe is the only survivor. There's then a non-live-action sequence talking about Rolfe's rescue by some monks who brought him back to health. They were also looking for gold to make a giant bell, which when it is finally cast and rung makes a thunderous sound.

Cut to some Moorish city. Rolfe is in the town square, eking out a living telling fabulous stories, notably the story of that bell, which by now is a legend since nobody really quite knows what happened to that bell if it even existed. But the legend is well known, because the ruler of that town is interested:

Sidney Poitier plays Aly Mansuh, burdened by a desire for that bell and by one of the most horrendous hairdos known to man. He's wanted that bell, and when he hears about Rolfe the storyteller, he puts two and two together to determine that Rolfe must know where the bell is. So he brings in Rolfe, threatening to torture Rolfe if he doesn't reveal where the bell is. Rolfe jumps out a window, and escapes.

Somehow, he makes it back to his home fjord, washing ashore and finding that his family has all sorts of problems. Rolfe would like another boat to go find that bell, but the last boat nearly bankrupted his family, including his father Krok (Oskar Homolka) and brother Orm (Russ Tamblyn). They're making a ship for the king that will be the king's funeral ship, but they're so indebted that the king gives them a measly two gold pieces, saying that's all that's left for them after paying off their debts.

Rolfe gets the idea we all have, which is to steal the king's boat and sail off in search of the bell. To ensure their safety, they kidnap the king's daughter Gerda (Beba Lončar). But it's not going to be easy, and unsurprisingly the boat crashes again, very near where Aly Mansuh is. So he finds Rolfe again. How are the Vikings going to get out of this one?

The Long Ships is one of those sit back and relax movies. There's nothing in this one that would be considered high art, but it entertains. To be honest, some of the entertainment value comes from the misfires, including some terrible dialog as well as that horrendous wig Poitier has to wear. There's also no semblance of historical reality, and don't even think about continuity.

Jack Cardiff directed, which is part of the reason the movie looks nice visually, he having been noted as a cinematographer for the color movies of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. He's also helped by some nice locations; watch the opening credits and you'll see enough foreign names to figure out this was an international co-production filmed in Yugoslavia, which wasn't as closed a Communist society as the rest of the Eastern Bloc.

The Long Ships is available on DVD.

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