April 8th, 2019


An Erik of Errors

The conflict between the English and the Vikings is the product of a wicked Scotsman in 1961's Erik the Conqueror (Gil Invasori). Sort of a remake of the 1958 American film The Vikings, this one's directed by Mario Bava with lots of colourful lighting and some really beautiful outdoor shots. The story becomes oddly diluted by a thematic fixation on siblings. But I'm not sure if I consider that a problem because there's something intriguing about how it dislocates motive.

The movie begins with a massacre overseen by the Scottish knight Rutford (Andrea Checchi), who was under orders from the English king to negotiate peacefully with the Viking King Harald. Instead, Rutford razes the village and his comrade murders the English King so that the Queen (Francoise Christophe) is forced to secretly take an orphaned Viking boy as heir to the English throne.

I love this shot so much--it looks like a natural sunset with just a little red light from the left.

Anyway, it all sort of makes sense. The baby has a tattoo on his chest that's the same as a boy who grows up among the Vikings. Time elapses and one boy becomes the Viking warrior Eron (Cameron Mitchell) and the other becomes Erik, the Duke of Helford (Giorgio Ardisson). Adding another layer to the sibling mix-up drama, there are a pair of Viking Vestal Virgins (the old triple V) played by the Kessler sisters, Ellen and Alice, who each fall in love with one of the brothers. We're almost in A Comedy of Errors territory.

Except it's never played for comedy, though there is a tragic misunderstanding when Eric mistakes one sister for the other and almost gets killed. Both of the brothers are established as being honourable men who prefer to show their opponents mercy. Eron is more or less positioned as the villain at times but this is undercut again and again. Even in the climax Bava frustrates any attempt for the plot to lock down into standard form--he has Erik rescue the Kessler sister his brother's in love with rather than the one he likes who's back at the camp trying to comfort a wounded Eron.

I guess he's the Erik of the title but he never conquerors anything and seems to spend most of the movie trying to escape captivity and trying to untangle confusing pieces of information. Giorgio Ardisson gives an appropriately passive performance. Mitchell is more fiery and seems more focused in his passion which makes his moments of confusion and change of motive captivating.

I'm pretty sure the whole thing was shot in Italy but I love the castle used for the climax. All of the coloured lighting in the many cave interiors was a bit much for me but Bava's passion for colour makes for some visually arresting outdoor shots, most of the outdoor scenes improbably taking place at sunrise as a result. Erik the Conqueror is available on Amazon Prime.

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