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"The Vikings" cinematography


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#1 James Steven Beverly

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Posted 12 August 2007 - 12:56 AM

In my mini movie marathon last night I saw "The Vikings" having not seen it sense I was a kid. I was watching it on the projection screen and was blown away by the beauty of the cinematography in this film. I found it utterly gorgeous and was wondering how they managed to achieve this way back in 1958. Who was this cinematographer on this piece and what else did he do that is of particular note. Also where was this filmed? Although the story (along with Kirk Douglas' dye job) left a lot to be desired but as with almost ANY film they were in, Kirk Douglas, Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh were incredible, Ernest Borgnine gives a terrific performance which makes this film well worth watching. With a few re-writes, this would be a great re-make given our current fascination with sword and sorcery films nowadays. B)
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#2 Adam Frisch FSF

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Posted 12 August 2007 - 03:27 AM

I agree. It's cheesily good. A lot of it was shot in Norway, but I think most of it was done in Ireland.
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#3 Dan Salzmann

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Posted 12 August 2007 - 05:15 AM

Tony Curtis' Brooklyn accent really makes it extraordinarily great!
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#4 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 12 August 2007 - 06:21 AM

Jack Cardiff did the photography
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#5 Christian Appelt

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Posted 12 August 2007 - 09:26 AM

Ah, one of my personal favourites from the 1950s! :) Why is this such a great movie?

1. Cinematography. Jack Cardiff photographed THE RED SHOES and BLACK NARCISSUS, so here's a guy who knows about color. And VIKINGs was filmed in Technirama 8-perf with a 1.5 squeeze lens, the large neg was used to produce Technicolor matrices for standard 2x squeeze 'scope prints. Technicolor 35mm prints of THE VIKINGS were extremely sharp.

2. Cast. Borgnine (born 1917) plays Kirk Douglas' (born 1916) father, Tony Curtis is better than in most of his period pictures, and Janet Leigh, what can I say...

... (quote) "I cannot row, my dress is to tight!" :)

3. Great action sequences. Look at the attack on the castle and the final swordfight, all done on great locations without any CGI or back projection stuff. To me, it's much more fun than watching the new CGI epics with shakycam and superfast cutting, only pretending excitement.

They did have some trouble with weather, and the movie was finished on the Bavaria Studio sound stages at Munich, if you look close enough, you will spot some (not very good) painted backdrops in some scenes. The only thing I do not like about VIKINGS is the fog stuff done with heavy diffusion filters, to me it doesn't fit the rest of the movie's photographic style.

BTW, the burning arrow ritual at the end of the movie was not meant to be done that way, in the film you see a single archer shooting at the sail, then the other arrows start to fly. They were supposed to go off all at once, but one of the archers had a nervous thumb and so they shot it anyway - I assume they had no backup boat to burn down... ;)

Jack Cardiff directed THE LONG SHIPS a few years later, which has some fun moments but is a very uneven film. If you ever catch it, watch for the shots duplicating some VIKING footage, like the guy who blows the large horn...
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#6 James Steven Beverly

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Posted 12 August 2007 - 10:40 AM

... (quote) "I cannot row, my dress is to tight!" :)


Number 4 would be Tony Curtis' solution to that problem. :D

watch for the shots duplicating some VIKING footage, like the guy who blows the large horn...


Yeah! Exactly what kind of animal was that horn off of! :blink:
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#7 James Steven Beverly

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Posted 13 August 2007 - 12:05 AM

Ah, one of my personal favourites from the 1950s! :) Why is this such a great movie?

1. Cinematography. Jack Cardiff photographed THE RED SHOES and BLACK NARCISSUS, so here's a guy who knows about color. And VIKINGs was filmed in Technirama 8-perf with a 1.5 squeeze lens, the large neg was used to produce Technicolor matrices for standard 2x squeeze 'scope prints. Technicolor 35mm prints of THE VIKINGS were extremely sharp.

Good Lord, no wonder the cinematography was so phenomenally beautiful even panned and scanned.
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#8 Christian Appelt

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Posted 13 August 2007 - 08:10 AM

Few people know the film did have an alternative happy ending: ;)

Posted Image

BTW, Jack Cardiff used Technirama again for THE LONG SHIPS, but the difficult circumstances of this production did not allow for the beautiful simplicity of THE VIKINGS.
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#9 Christian Appelt

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Posted 13 August 2007 - 08:31 AM

PS: If you liked VIKINGS cinematography, take a look at THE WAR LORD, directed in 1965 by Franklin Schaffner starring Charlton Heston. Not a truly great film, but good action sequences and breathtaking deep focus anamorphic photography from SPARTACUS DP Russell Metty. There are some strange blue screen shots at the beginning (production/retake problems?) and another not too sucessful attempt to create fog by filters, but definitely worth viewing (used to be available on R1 DVD from Good Times Video).
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#10 Ignacio Aguilar

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Posted 13 August 2007 - 10:19 AM

"The War Lord" is a great little film IMHO. Don't forget it gave Schaffner the chance to direct "Planet of the Apes". Rosemary's Forsyth looks great on this film and Metty's use of cicloramas to simulate sunsets still are very atmospheric.
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#11 Christian Appelt

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Posted 13 August 2007 - 03:27 PM

I just looked into the DVD and did some captures - not very good quality (non-anamorphic NTSC), but they give an impression of Russell Metty's approach. It call to memory his work for Douglas Sirk (WRITTEN ON THE WIND) and Stanley Kubrick (SPARTACUS, especially the "studio exteriors"):

Posted Image
© Universal Pictures/GoodTimes Home Video

Posted Image
© Universal Pictures/GoodTimes Home Video

Posted Image
© Universal Pictures/GoodTimes Home Video

Posted Image
© Universal Pictures/GoodTimes Home Video

That mixture of realistic locations and almost theatrical sets makes it a bit uneven, but as the script and most characters are a bit off-balance anyway, it doesn't distract me at all. Here is a good text on the movie:

Eccentric Cinema: The War Lord

More on Russell Metty:

Russell Metty Bio
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#12 Leo Anthony Vale

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Posted 13 August 2007 - 04:11 PM

They did have some trouble with weather, and the movie was finished on the Bavaria Studio sound stages at Munich, if you look close enough, you will spot some (not very good) painted backdrops in some scenes. The only thing I do not like about VIKINGS is the fog stuff done with heavy diffusion filters, to me it doesn't fit the rest of the movie's photographic style.

BTW, the burning arrow ritual at the end of the movie was not meant to be done that way, in the film you see a single archer shooting at the sail, then the other arrows start to fly. They were supposed to go off all at once, but one of the archers had a nervous thumb and so they shot it anyway - I assume they had no backup boat to burn down... ;)


Actually they were losing the light. By the time they would have set up for a second take, the sun would have set.

The castle is in Brittany. The hawk scene was shot in germany because that's where the hawkers were. Falcons, which you can get anywhere, don't look vicious enough. Heck, their tear drop/torpedo shape is down right cute.

I thought the diffusion in the fog was good.

One thing I really loved is the three shades of blue in the duel at the castle between KD and TC; the sky, the sea and Janet Leigh's dress. But one bothersome detail in that scene is that the cuff on TC's string mail is frayed.

Any new 35mm US prints are derived from an old 4 perf I/P.
MGM ordered a new 35mm print for M.Scorsese's collection when I was at WRS. I had to inspect the I/P and set it up for printing. We made a new I/N and print.

Incidentally Technirama used a 50mm Leitz Summicron, 75mm and 100mm Cooke Speed Panchros and a 135mm Canon. Since Series II came out in 1958, Cookes are "Series one", yet Technicolor deemed them of equal quality to the Leitz.
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#13 Christian Appelt

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Posted 13 August 2007 - 04:49 PM

Yes, the duel scene on top of the castle's tower looks marvelous. And not without danger for the actors, if I recall the set photos from the DVD. I love the pan with the camera looking down when they carry Einar's body away at the end of the scene.

Some years ago I chose THE VIKINGS when I had to find a movie for the last show of our local Ultra Panavision ex-MGM theatre. 70mm was not an option any more because of defects in vertical masking mechanism, and the 35mm IB 1.57x our 4-track mag print of AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS had been killed by vinegar syndrome. Unfortunately, I could not get an existing VIKINGS IB print from a private collector in time, so we had to screen a rerelease print from the 1970s that was printed on Agfa stock looking very pale and not really sharp. :(

Did you have a chance to look at the original horizontal negative back then? The DVD release has some cloudy artifacts and scratches running horizontal, is it possible that these were printed to the 4-perf interpositive initially?

Edited by Christian Appelt, 13 August 2007 - 04:54 PM.

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#14 James Steven Beverly

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Posted 14 August 2007 - 12:39 AM

I just looked into the DVD and did some captures - not very good quality (non-anamorphic NTSC), but they give an impression of Russell Metty's approach. It call to memory his work for Douglas Sirk (WRITTEN ON THE WIND) and Stanley Kubrick (SPARTACUS, especially the "studio exteriors"):

Posted Image
© Universal Pictures/GoodTimes Home Video

Posted Image
© Universal Pictures/GoodTimes Home Video

Posted Image
© Universal Pictures/GoodTimes Home Video

Posted Image
© Universal Pictures/GoodTimes Home Video

That mixture of realistic locations and almost theatrical sets makes it a bit uneven, but as the script and most characters are a bit off-balance anyway, it doesn't distract me at all. Here is a good text on the movie:

Eccentric Cinema: The War Lord

More on Russell Metty:

Russell Metty Bio


This looks good too! I love the lighting. I don't know if I ever saw it before, if I did, it was probably on an old B&W TV panned and scanned when I was a kid. I'll have to check it ouyt real soon.
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#15 Leo Anthony Vale

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Posted 14 August 2007 - 01:23 PM

Did you have a chance to look at the original horizontal negative back then? The DVD release has some cloudy artifacts and scratches running horizontal, is it possible that these were printed to the 4-perf interpositive initially?


We didn't have the OCN. I think it's in England probably at TC London.
There was a piece of newer replacement footage in it which looked different than the rest, thus a lot more recent.
All of the 5253 dupe footage I came across had a bright yellow mask. Was never able to find out if that was the original color or if it faded to yellow. Picture wise it was more prone to fading than OCN.

Funny though we had the A&B roll OCN to "Sayonara" which was listed in the MGM data base as an I/N
& the OCN of 'Vera Cruz' was in the MGM data base as a print(!).
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#16 A. Whitehouse

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Posted 14 August 2007 - 06:07 PM

Why aren't there more Viking movies? It seems like fertile ground for stories...
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