The Long Ships (1964)



Director:    Jack Cardiff.

Starring:     Richard Widmark (Rolfe),  Sidney Poitier (Aly Mansuh),  Russ Tamblyn (Orm),  Rosanna Schiaffino (Aminah),  Oskar Homolka (Krok),  Edward Judd (Sven),  Lionel Jeffries (Aziz),  Beba Loncar (Gerda), Clifford Evans (King Harald),  Gordon Jackson (Vahlin),  Colin Blakely (Rhykka),  David Lodge (Olla),  Henry Oscar (Auctioneer),  Paul Stassino (Raschild),  Jeanne Moody (Ylva).

Vikings against the Moors in search of a huge pure gold bell


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

A fierce storm blows. Rolfe yells: "Get that sail rigged!" It is of little use. Rolfe loses his ship and his shipmates. He is the only survivor. The monks took him in and nursed him never asking him his name or his country. Perhaps they were too busy getting the gold with which to construct a golden bell. They succeed in making the golden bell.

Rolfe tells the story of the golden bell to men in the Middle East. While collecting money from his listeners he is arrested.

Aly Mansuhís wife, Aminah, comes to tell him not to make the voyage across the sea. She is afraid he wonít make it. Aly says Allah will lead him to the treasures of Islam. He is looking for the bell of pure gold. It was stolen by the Christian armies when they plundered their way across their cities to the dishonor and humiliation of their ancestors. Somewhere in a Christian land he will find the bell.

Alyís guards enter to say they have captured a man talking about the golden bell. Aly says to take him to the tower. Rolfe is taken to the tower. Aly comes up and Rolfe tries to tell him that he knows only about the legend of the golden bell, not of its whereabouts. He is a Norseman, not a Circassian. He was shipwrecked and is now simply trying to get back to his home.

Aly doesnít believe him and starts to have him tortured. Rolfe tells him he will tell him everything that he knows. He starts to tell his full story, but then runs in order  to escape. He has to fight off a number of guards before he can get clear enough to jump out a window into the sea below.

A Viking ship returns to port. The villagers all come out to greet it. The head man, Lord Harald, talks to Krok about the incoming ship. Krok says itís the best ship the village ever built and it is a shame it is just to be used as a funeral ship. The ship could sail to the end of the world. Lord Harald says that Krok wishes he was already dead and on the funeral ship. Krok denies this.

Lord Harald asks Captain Sven how was the ship. Sven says it is the best ship he has ever handled. Lord Harald tells him to prepare for the voyage home. The head man then turns and shouts: "I, Harald, king of Norseland, take this ship!" Krok is all smiles and the villagers shout with glee.

The Vikings have a grand celebration and many are drunk and fighting. Lord Harald is disappointed with their behavior. He says there were real men in his days of long ships and tall men. A young Viking named Orm just stands and watches the mayhem.

The party runs out of ale. Rhykka is found and told about the crisis. He tells them to bring out the reserve barrels of ale. Krok demands more ale, but the man who owns the barrels will not release them until they are paid for. Krok comes over and gives the owner his own badge of kingdom which is worth 100 times the value of the barrels. He can keep it until Lord Harald pays Krok.

Rolfe is the elder son of Krok, while Orm is the younger son. Krok tells Harald that Rolfe is plundering the towns and villages along the coasts of Barbary. Harald pays Krok for the ship: two pieces of gold. The king deducted the two years of tribute owed to him. Krok canít believe it. He is so floored that he starts laughing very heartedly. Orm is very upset and leaves the celebration. A blonde woman, named Ylva, who loves him chases after him. He tells her he just came out to get some air not filled with a stench of treachery.  He tells Ylva to go away because heís not fit company right now. She tells him that she will make him forget the ruin of his father and even the daughter of the king. Orm sees what appears to be a shipwrecked man. Orm has Ylva help him get the man indoors.

Orm finally realizes that he has saved his missing brother Rolfe. He wants to know from Rolfe what happened to his ship and his crew. The ship has gone where all ships go, says Rolfe. Orm becomes very irritated and says: "That ship cost father the tribute money he owed the king. Youíve ruined him." But Orm is not half as mad as their father. He starts throwing things at Rolfe when he learns about the lost ship and crew. Dad says heís an old, ruined man because of Rolfe.

His father even becomes madder when Rolfe tells him the reason he came back was for another ship and another crew. Rolfe tells his dad to please listen to him. Remember that dark-skinned Egyptian Jasmin who used to sing for him? Yes. She would tell him and Orm about the story of the golden bell cast long ago by the monks of Byzantium. Well, he says, heís found the bell. Dad doesnít believe his son. Rolfe says he has even seen the golden bell. He saw it in Moorish Barbary.

Rolfe tells dad that he will use the funeral ship. But, says dad, it belongs to King Harald. Orm joins in with Rolfe, saying that King Harald cheated him out of the ship. It still belongs to him. Dad says that King Harald will hang him. Rolfe says no he wonít because they are going to take a hostage. They will take Gerda, the King's daughter.

Orm is given the job of kidnapping Gerda. Krokís men take over the funeral ship. Orm runs to the ship with Gerda slung over his right shoulder. He puts her in the hold. Rolfe lights fire to the huge haystacks and yells: "Fire!" Rolfe then runs to the ship and they shove off. The other Vikings try to follow them in smaller ships, but Rolfe made sure that all the remaining oars were broken. King Harald says to his men: "Gather all my long ships! Make ready to sail!"

Aboard ship a couple of men, one of them Sven, try to mutiny saying Rolfe has tricked them and he is a traitor. Rolfe , Orm and another man silence the two would-be mutineers. Sven says the ship is cursed and it can only be cleansed of the curse by the sacrifice of a young maiden. So Rolfe knocks the girl out, stabs her with his sword and then pushes her body into the sea. Orm tells his brother that he is finished with him. Rolfe tells him to come with him. He shows Orm that Gerda is in the hold. Orm jumps down to see Gerda and removes the gag over her mouth. She shouts and Rolfe has to shut her up. She would put all three of them in danger.

The ship goes into thick fog and the men start to panic saying itís the end of the world for them. Then they see the girl still alive and try to kill Rolfe for tricking them. But the ship is suddenly tossed dramatically freeing Rolfe from their clutches. The sound of the tolling of the golden bell is then heard. Rolfe says they have found the bell! But now the storm starts to completely destroy the ship. It finally runs aground on the shore.

In the morning Rolfe, still aboard the ship, wakes up. They are somewhere on the Moorish coast. He and his aide start waking all the others. Orm wakes Gerda.

Sven and some of his friends threaten to kill Rolfe. But suddenly one of the mutineers is hit by an arrow. Rolfe tells everyone to get down. The Moors attack on horseback. The Vikings form a defensive line in front of the ship. They throw three volleys of javelins and axes at the attackers. The Moors retreat, but regroup and charge again. This time itís hand to hand fighting. The Vikings outlast the Moors and they retreat.

Orm alerts Rolfe about the reflections of light in the distance. They are coming again. But this time there are hundreds of them. So Rolfe says: "No defense!" The men donít like this, so Rolfe has to knock one of them down. They throw down their weapons.

The Vikings are tied up and forced to walk while being whipped. Rolfe sees Aly Mansuh ride up and says to himself: "Oh, no!" Aly says to him: "Welcome again, Norseman." The Vikings are brought into the castle. The people gather to jeer at them.

Rolfe is once again taken to the tower. Aly says Rolfe's men will be sold as slaves. Rolfe is lashed so he will tell the "truth". But he says he was blown very far off course and doesnít really know where the bell is. Aly stops the lashing. He goes to see his wife. He tells his wife to prepare the blond girl and bring her to him. He wants to find out what she knows. Aminah gets very jealous and Aly has to reassure her. His wife wants to torture Greda, but Aly tells her to leave it to him. He says again: "Go and prepare her!"

They promise the Vikings riches if they will tell them where the golden bell is. A Moor comes and takes Rolfe out of the jail cell. The guys left behind decide to escape. They trip the guard and kill him. They take the keys and open the lock.

Rolfe is brought to Aminah. She wants him to tell her where the Pillars of Hercules are in order to get the Golden Bell. (This information was obtained through torture of one of the other Vikings.) Aminah says she and her husband need Rolfeís expert seamanship. She says: "We are invincible in this desert. On the high seas we are as children." He tells her that he would consider it if they would let him repair his own ship and give him his crew. Rolfe wants to know why should her husband leave this problem to her? Aminah says: "Because tonight he is occupied."

Dressed in a harem girlís outfit, Gerda is brought to Aly. Aly says she is so beautiful that he can readily believe she is the daughter of a king. Meanwhile, Orm and another Viking have made their way into the palace. From one of the harem girls Orm learns where Gerda is. He rushes down the passageway and bursts in on Aly and Gerda. He has a sword fight with Aly and does very well, until a large group of guards rush into the room. The fight is over.

The other Vikings find their way into the harem and start grabbing the women. The women do what they can to fight them off. The guards finally rush in. They start dragging the Vikings out. Some of the Vikings jump out of the windows to get away.

Aly rushes in to see if Aminah is with the barbarian Rolfe. He starts to question her, but he has to rush away. After he leaves, she speaks with the hiding Rolfe. Aly comes back and Rolfe has to jump out of a window again. But this time he is caught quickly. Aly tells him: "You shall pay for this. You shall ride the mare of steel."

Aly will provide a demonstration. He tells Aminah to pick out one of his guards to ride the mare of steel. Reluctantly, she picks a man out. The man is forced to ride down a long bannister like object with a very sharp, upturned point at the end. The guinea pig rides and dies.

Itís Rolfeís turn. Rolfe yells to Aly that he needs him as a navigator. Aly says he doesnít need him. Sven has volunteered to lead his crew. Rolfe is shocked and Orm is really angry with Sven. Orm speaks up that they either go with Rolfe to the Viking ship, or they all die together. Aly has to relent. But he will keep Gerda as a hostage.

The men begin work on the repair of the Viking ship. The ship is repaired and sets sail with Sven at the helm. Rolfe speaks to him about the King Haraldís plans. He plans to take Rolfe back to King Harald for him to decide what to do with Rolfe. Meanwhile, King Harald and his Viking ships are still looking for Rolfe.

Rolfe comes aloft to shout directions in the coming maelstrom. He guides them through the rocks. He waits for the right moment and shouts "Now!" The men start rowing hard. The ship is tossed around and the Moors are a bit afraid (along with the Vikings). Rolfe brings them through safely. He sees a huge cliff ahead and shouts there it is. There seems to be some sort of temple on top of the cliffs.

The ship docks and the men jump out. They start climbing the rocks. Aly is in front of everyone. He is the first on top. But the small temple looks like itís in ruins. Aly goes inside and then comes out. Rolfe rushes in. He sees a small bell. He gets disgusted and thrusts it at the wall. By doing this he finds out that the whole dome of the building is the bell. He rushes up the outside of the temple and begins knocking away the outside walls. The bell is finally revealed. Trying to move the bell downhill, it gets loose and starts rolling down the cliffs and falls into the sea.

Rolfe and his men raise the bell. They place it on a raft and drag the raft behind the Viking ship. They row the ship all the way back to Alyís place. What now will be the fate of the Vikings? They are still held in chains and walked back to the palace.

While walking Rolfe notices that it is much too quiet and the Moor guards are not armed.. The reasons for this is that King Harald has taken Alyís palace. Alyís wife runs to him to warn him of the "long ships" but she is killed by Sven. Aly runs to his wife. She dies in his arms.

A fight breaks out between the Vikings and the Moors. Rolfe fights with Aly. The Vikings steal the golden bell, but it falls onto the street. The bells rolls onto Aly who is then mortally wounded. He says to Rolfe: "Well Viking. My goal has been accomplished. We have found the bell."

King Harald forgives Rolfe. Rolfe then starts telling the King another "fairy tale" about a great treasure.


The movie is o.k., but nothing special.  and there is no real history here.  The story is o.k. as it goes, but again it's not historical.  What actual historical events are discussed?  Good question.  In fact, are there any really good Viking movies?  Richard Widmark was very good as Rolfe, who was a very clam leader.  Sidney Poitier it too nice to be bad enough for the bad guy Aly Mansuh,  

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


Historical Background:


See The Vikings (1958).


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