17 June 2004 | Lupercali
They say you shouldn't re-visit things you dug when you were a kid, because you'll be disappointed. I remember being blown away by 'The Long Ships' on b/w TV when I was about 8, and I knew that the film wasn't going to live up to my memories - but it could have been a lot, lot worse.
'The Long Ships' was made at the tail end of the historical togas and sandals epics of the fifties and early sixties, and it doesn't take itself anywhere near as seriously as 'Ben Hur', 'El Cid' or 'The Egyptian'. It's basically a good old adventure yarn, and it's still actually a load of fun, even if it gets a bit bogged down in the middle.
Richard Widmark is a Viking (only slightly more ridiculously than his nemesis Sidney Poitier as a Moor) who is shipwrecked and thinks he has found the location of the fabled 'Mother of Voices' - a gigantic golden bell as tall as 'three tall men', made by monks somewhereorother. In his efforts to capture it he and his crew constantly run up against Poitier who has similar designs. All of this leads to some rather improbably rapid voyages from one end of Europe to the other, apparently accomplished overnight - but the film makers obviously didn't give a lot of priority to plausibility, and neither should the viewer.
Widmark plays his hero more like Indiana Jones than Ben Hur. There is a good deal of comedy, and a couple of scenes even feel like they belong in a 'Carry On' movie (particularly the scene where the Vikings bust into the Harem, which might have been offensive if it wasn't so deliberately slapstick).
Sure, it's an adventure drama, but if you're expecting the sort of grave, Biblical epic which had been popular for most of the previous decade, look somewhere else. 'The Long Ships' is a good old-fashioned adventure yarn, and as such is still pretty good fun; at least as much as modern equivalents like 'The Mummy'. I'm giving it a strong 6.0.