Saturday, December 2, 2023

The Viking Queen (1967)

The Viking Queen, Hammer, Carita, poster

Part of The Hammer-Amicus Blogathon 

 During the Roman Invasion of Britain, a dying tribal King (Wilfrid Lawson) churns his oldest daughter, Beatrice, (Adrienne Corri) and instead nominates the more level headed Salina (Carita) to become the new Queen in order to live peacefully side by side with the Romans under Governor Justinian (Don Murray).
 Beatrice is under the influence of war hungry Druid Priest Maelgan (Donald Houston) while Justinian’s Second-in-Command Octavian (Andrew Keir) also schemes to take over his Governor’s role. 
Unaware of the schemings from both sides, Justinian and Salina quickly - very VERY quickly - fall in love and plan to marry, yet face obstacles from each of their camps. 
When Justinian is on an away mission to quench a distant rebellion organised by some dissatisfied local traders, Octavian seeks power, burns down the Queen’s village and rapes her younger sister Talia (Nicola Pagett). 
Chaos ensues and Salina leads her tribe in a brutal rebellion against the oppressors. 
Will love conquer all in the end? 
Don’t hold your breath for that. 

The Viking Queen, Hammer, Carita, poster
 Now, I am not a historian so can only assume that all the details in this production were meticulously researched and that there is a reason why this film is called The Viking Queen without a single Viking in sight and why the ancient pagan Briton Druids worshipped Zeus and not their local Gods, but I can clearly see that the true star of this Hammer production was the luscious Irish countryside. 
Just like the later Braveheart, this is yet another example where the freedom fight in another part of the British Isles was transferred to be filmed in Ireland. 
 And as much as I always enjoy seeing the familiar backdrop of Black Park, The Viking Queen delights with views of Powerscourt Waterfall, Loch Tay, Wicklow Gap, Sally Gap and Kilruddery Estate. Local Ardmore Studios were also used rather than Elstree that at the time was becoming the new home studio following Hammer’s time in Bray. 

 The Viking Queen does have a dreadful reputation and maybe I am getting soft in the head but it ain’t really all that bad. 
 Is it worth a full re-evaluation? 
Probably not. 
But it is a suitably entertaining little time waster with some surprisingly sadistic flogging scenes, hints of rape, fairly large scale battle sequences (with Irish soldiers as extras) and sufficient enough tittilation (including a wet T-Shirt scene after a convenient fall into a river) that I was again suitably entertained when I rewatched this production. 
The Viking Queen, Hammer, Carita, lobby card

 A lot of the negative comments about this film are aimed at Carita, the main star, but for a complete unknown with practically zero experience she seems to have thrown herself wholeheartedly into this and whatever she may have lacked in acting nous she sure made up by convincingly steering a chariot and just looking appropriately glamorous whenever the occasion called for it. 
IMDb lists The Viking Queen as her only film role but according to Marcus Hearn’s Hammer Glamour book she does appear to have also had a role in the Lemmy Caution film Lemmy pour les dames (1962).
 Hammer introduced her to the world as their Finnish discovery in June 1966 in Les Ambassadeurs in London. It was hoped that her pinup appeal would guarantee a follow up success similar to their other pseudo-historical dramas such as She with Ursula Andress or One Million Years B.C. with Julie Ege
Co-Producer Twentieth Century Fox paid the newcomer $5000 in comparison to $75.000 to the more established Don Murray who was still primarily only known from his part in Bus Stop with Marilyn Monroe eleven years prior. 
And yet Murray with his American accent and leaden performance is arguably the weakest aspect of this production. He was also noticeably older than the female lead and there is no real chemistry between the two of them, yet we are led to believe that he had so much charisma that a simple tumble into a river makes her fall truly madly deeply in love with her country’s oppressor. 
The Viking Queen, Hammer, Carita

 The charm about this movie is that all the supporting stars play even their most ridiculous lines with deadly earnest, thereby giving an enjoyable gravitas to a slice of cinematic hokum. 
Donald Houston as Maelgan is an utter delight to watch whether he demands some virgin sacrifice under a full moon surrounded by Stonehenge style standing stones or pleads Salina “before the sacred mistletoe and the golden sickle” to lead her people wisely. 
Next to him Adrienne Corri as Salina’s older sister, obsessed with hatred against the Romans and upset about having to abdicate the title that was supposed to have been hers to her younger sibling. 
Patrick Troughton is a revelation not because he joins in with an over the top performance but because in contrast to many of his other roles he actually does not display any eccentricities but instead comes across as a very masculine and heroic advisor. 
Every film automatically gets better with Andrew Keir in it and his Octavian is a tough as nails by-the-book Roman leader who does not allow for any allowances or leniency towards the people he had invaded and despises his Governor for the soft touch he repeatedly displays. 

 Directed by Don Chaffey, who had already helmed One Million Years B.C. for Hammer and would also be responsible for Creatures the World Forgot a couple of years later, The Viking Queen looks well but suffers from being a bit of a mess with regards to its message. 
Though Maelgan and Beatrice (just like Octavian on the other side) are generally being portrayed as scheming manipulators, when all is said and done given the way the Romans pillage their village when their soft-hearted Governor is absent, they are actually being proven right in their predictions. 
Justinian’s tax tribunal in which he makes seemingly fair but at the same time also totally random ad hoc decisions is quite a bit of a head scratcher and though the ending is surprisingly bleak and downbeat, it also feels incredibly rushed. 
The Viking Queen, Hammer, Carita, lobbby card

 Still, I can’t hate a film where ancient pagan Amazons wear makeup that is as groovy as in this production. 
It certainly may not be one of Hammer’s greatest but this Boadicea-in-disguise is a fast paced slice of humbug that is more than worth a watch. 
 That head-to-toe black-faced slave girl, however…. 
Yeah, not sure about this one. 


Realweegiemidget Reviews said...

This sounds great fun, and what an eclectic cast - sounds one of Hammer's craziest movies. Adding this to my to watch list thanks to your fabulously witty review. Thanks for adding this.

John L. Harmon said...

Good review! I wasn't sure if the Viking Queen would be up my alley, but then you mentioned a very different performance from Patrick troughton! Watching my favorite classic Doctor not being eccentric could be fascinating!

Holger Haase said...

Thanks for the kind comments. Watching Troughton in this film really was a revelation as this is the first time I saw in a role that made me think he could indeed have made a really good rugged leading man.

tom j jones said...

At least it doesn't encourage you to take sides - in different ways, both sides are completely evil bastards. It's one of those films (and Hammer was one studio that made a few) where you do wonder: who exactly is this aimed at?

Some very good actors giving it their all (Troughton was offered Doctor Who while he was filming this). There's certainly a lot of incident. The final battle is quite impressive for a cast-of-dozens 'epic' - it certainly doesn't glamourise war or violence, that's for sure. Not sure I could recommend it to someone who had never seen a Hammer film before, or any low-budget British 60s movie before, but it has its moments.

Holger Haase said...

Totally agree: Definitely not a first time Hammer watch but sufficiently entertaining and much better than its reputation.

Brian Schuck said...

I haven't seen this one in ages, but I vaguely recall the scene of Carita driving a chariot, wind in her hair. I realize that these productions often put Americans in lead roles for greater box office appeal in the U.S., but Don Murray?! That is some serious miscasting. Still, the supporting cast is impressive: Keir, Corri, MacGinnis, Troughton. Worthy of a rewatch? Maybe...

MichaelWDenney said...

Nice review. Sounds a bit of a mess, but I watched Corman's The Saga of the Viking Women and Their Voyage to the Waters of the Great Sea Serpent so I'd be up for a viewing of The Viking Queen.

Holger Haase said...

Yes, Don Murray is definitely miscast here.

And, yes, "a bit of a mess" is quite apt... but it's definitely not the giant mess that this film is usually always portrayed to be.