Cinerama: The Long Ships

Posted: September 12, 2009 in Cinerama

The Long Ships

By Mike Derderian

In ancient times some coastal and seafaring tribes used to send the bodies of their deceased kings in burning boats to the middle of the sea. Nowadays, pagan patriotic freedom-fighter soldiers burn the bodies of the dead claiming that it is an act of hygiene. It seems mass graves are out of trend especially with the United Nations’ vigilant eye, wouldn’t you agree?

I once read that some man feared his carcass would be torn limb to limb by his enemies after they kill him. The mother of the man calmed his worries by saying, “does the sheep fear mutilation after its slaughter?”

Yes it was a rhetorical question, my dear reader, because everyone knows that after slitting the poor little sheep’s throat, its cadaver is turned into shesh kabab (barbeque), minced meat stuffed inside dough-like balls and boiled in a caldron of its own milk. The scorched morose-looking head is then placed over a serving dish full of rice. The grin alone would stop anyone from enjoying the meal.

So should we really care if our bodies are torn and mutilated after our death? Technically, no, we shouldn’t. A dead man wouldn’t mind being mutilated since his body is soon to be consumed by the larva of maggots and flesh eating worms when its six feet under.

But what would infuriate a dead Arab more is the state of indifference our Arab nation is going through. The crimes inflicted upon us are far more painful and outrageous than the dismemberment of our dead and to allow a Yankee crusader, who is falsely driven by the “Lord’s word” to wreak havoc and destruction on the countries of our brethren is a sin God shall never forgive. I hope Allah the Almighty shan’t, because when Judgment Day arrives we all will account for our sins and George’s sheet is anything but white.

Some need to worry more on how they are going to die and who will they be when they die; not what will happen to their decaying bodies post mortem.

In Jack Cardiff’s 1963 The Long Ships starring Richard Widmark, Sidney Poitier, Russ Tamblyn, Beba Loncae and Rossanna Schiaffino, death can be quite painful especially after a short ride on the Mare of Steel.

Now, this could be the stupidest movie you will ever watch, especially with the adventurous musical theme that pops up every ten minutes every time a climactic scene takes place, but you can still watch it and survive. I myself enjoyed watching it until I saw the finale. No need to worry here because I never give away finales.

The plot is bland, storyline quite expectable, performances good, Rossanna Schiaffino is simply the best thing in the entire movie but it was good to see Widmark in a non-bad guy role. As for the visual effects I can imagine the man holding the bucket of water and pouring it on the actors during the whirl pool scene.

Rolfe (Widmark), a Viking sailor and adventurer, returns home after losing his father’s ship. When his father hears the news from his younger son Orm (Russ Tamblyn) he decides to denounce Rolfe, who brought him nothing but financial ruin. In an attempt to recapture his father’s attention and bliss Rolfe tells him about the bell, which is called according to the legend “The Mother of Voices” and is made of pure gold.

In The Long Ships Widmark displays his comic and humorous side; a side audiences aren’t familiar with. The tough looking actor always portrayed characters that had a chip on their shoulder or were dark and villainous but in this 126 minute Viking caper his character is quite likable.

Reading Sidney Poitier’s name in the end title was a shocker to me because I couldn’t believe that this African-American talented actor played the role of the villainous Aly Mansuh, an Othello-like Moorish prince with a Little Richard hairdo. Poitier was quite professional in tackling the character—it wasn’t exactly an Oscar wining role but he certainly nailed the I-hate-the-bastard-mark and with bastard I’m referring to Mansuh. You will really hate the bagger because Poitier even in the funniest of ways was bone marrow convincing.

It seems that Mansuh (Poitier) is also interested in having the golden bell for himself with the help of his cunning wife Aminah (Schiaffino), even though she appears to be plotting against him with Rolfe.

Rolfe’s brief platonic encounter with Aminah at the harem can easily be listed among the ten steamiest encounters in cinema history that did not result to anything—the scene was reeking with the sexual charisma between Widmark and Schiaffino. Schiaffino’s portrayal was simply enigmatic and was powerfully sexual without being sleazy. She proved that one man’s weak woman can be another man’s strong woman.

The unfathomed romance between Orm (Tamblyn) and Gerda (Loncar), the daughter of king Harald, whom they kidnapped after stealing his funeral ship, could have become a pivotal element in the plot but was sidestepped for no apparent reason.

The visual effects are tacky, the scenery are nothing spectacular, and the bell’s miraculous floating on water scene is quite flawed but the acting manages to hold the film quite well despite of Mansuh’s bad cheap lounge singer hairdo.

At best The Long Ships can be dubbed as a misfired adventure movie about big sweaty men—the Vikings—bonding and joining hands to fight the “evil” Moors.

Must-see-scenes: The Mare of Steel execution ceremony, during which one of Mansuh’s poor soldiers is handpicked by Aminah to demonstrate to Rolfe how the death machine works; Rolfe’s razor-sharp tongue and cheek answers to Mansuh and when Rolfe discovers the secret whereabouts of the golden bell.

P.S:  The Mare of Steel is a death machine upon which condemned prisoners are sent to their death after sliding down a curved blade on their bellies before being impaled on steel spikes. This is one ride you want to pass.

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