The Viking (1928)


In pre-Columbian times, Vikings enslave an English aristocrat, Lord Alwin (LeRoy Mason, My Pal Trigger), and take him to Norway. Alwin becomes the protegé of well-respected Viking Leif Ericsson (Donald Crisp, How Green is My Valley). Later, Alwin and Leif compete for the affections of a Viking damsel, Helga (Pauline Starke, Intolerance), as they embark on a dangerous journey across the Atlantic.

Reaction & Thoughts:

The Viking made film history as the first feature-length Technicolor movie released with a soundtrack. The film has no dialogue, but it does have music and sound effects. The Viking is an experimental movie that happens to be a lot of fun.

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer distributed The Viking, but it was produced independently by Herbert T. Kalmus, co-inventor of the Technicolor process. Kalmus made the movie mostly to promote his invention. After the process was patented, Kalmus decided to sell it to film studios. It took a little while, but a few movie moguls eventually embraced the new technique (e.g. David O. Selznick, Gone with the Wind).

In 1928, Technicolor was still a work in progress, so don’t expect anything remotely close to Gone with the Wind or The Wizard of Oz. That being said, early Technicolor’s rich palette of color is eye-candy. Since I’ve always found modern color cinematography rather dull-looking, I loved how intense primary colors are here.

Director Roy William Neill (Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man and Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon) allows the cinematography to speak for itself. The Viking looks almost as if you are watching a series of moving baroque paintings.

It’s obvious that director Neill was fully aware of the film’s importance and occasionally resorted to using color as a mere gimmick. There is a particularly clever (but totally unnecessary) moment where a character is killed and blood drips from the knife — the blood is effectively (over)highlighted.

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

The Viking is a great curiosity, a must for avid cinephiles. The movie itself is very entertaining, with surprising moments of ugly violence and a clever ending. It would make for a fun double-feature with Richard Fleischer’s The Vikings and/or Nicolas Winding Refn’s Valhalla Rising (2009). Color, 90 minutes, Not Rated.

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