The Long Ships (film)

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The Long Ships
The long shipsposter.JPG
Original cinema poster
Directed by Jack Cardiff
Produced by Irving Allen
Screenplay by Beverley Cross
Berkely Mather
Based on The Long Ships 
by Frans G. Bengtsson
Starring Richard Widmark
Sidney Poitier
Russ Tamblyn
Narrated by Edward Judd
Music by Dušan Radić
Cinematography Christopher Challis
Edited by Geoffrey Foot
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release dates
  • 3 March 1964 (1964-03-03) (UK)
Running time
126 min.
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Box office est. $1,930,000 (US/ Canada)[1]

The Long Ships is a 1964 British-Yugoslavian adventure film shot in Technirama directed by Jack Cardiff and stars Richard Widmark, Sidney Poitier, and Russ Tamblyn.[2]


The film was very loosely based on the Swedish novel The Long Ships by Frans G. Bengtsson (1941-1945),[2] retaining little more than the title (of the English translation) and the Moorish settings of Orm's first voyage. Although the protagonist is named Rolfe, the film was released in Sweden with the title Röde Orm och de långa skeppen (Red Orm and the Long Ships), in a further attempt to exploit the popularity of the novel. It was also intended to capitalise on the success of recent Viking and Moorish dramas such as The Vikings (1958) and El Cid (1961), and was later followed by Alfred the Great (1969).


The story centres on an immense golden bell named The Mother of Voices, which may or may not exist. Moorish king Aly Mansuh (Sidney Poitier) is convinced that it does. Having collected all the legendary material about it that he can, he plans to mount an expedition to search for it. When the shipwrecked Norseman, Rolfe (Richard Widmark), repeats the story of the bell in the marketplace, and hints that he knows its location, he is seized by Mansuh's men and brought in for questioning. Rolfe insists that he does not know and that the bell is only a myth. He manages to escape before the questioning continues under torture.

Managing to return home, Rolfe reveals to his father that he did indeed hear the bell pealing on the night his ship was wrecked in Africa. However, Rolfe's father has been made destitute after spending a fortune building a funeral ship for the Danish king, Harold Bluetooth, who then refuses to reimburse him citing an outstanding debt. Rationalising that the ship does not yet belong to Harold (since he is still living), Rolfe and his brother steal not only the ship, but kidnap a number of inebriated Vikings to serve as its crew. In order to prevent Harold from killing his father in revenge for the theft, he also takes the king's daughter as a hostage. Harold declares that he will summon every longship he can find and rescue her. After prolonged difficulties at sea, the ship is damaged in a maelstrom. The Norse are cast ashore in Mansuh's country. Captured by the Moors, the Norse are condemned to execution but Mansuh's favourite wife Aminah (Rosanna Schiaffino) convinces her husband to use them and their longship to retrieve the bell.

Arriving at the Pillars of Hercules, Rolfe and Mansuh find only a domed chapel with a small bronze bell where the Viking was certain he had heard The Mother of Voices. Frustrated, Rolfe throws the hanging bell against a wall and the resounding cacophony reveals that the chapel dome is the disguised Mother of Voices. After a costly misadventure moving the Mother of Voices from its clifftop down to the sea, the expedition finally returns to the Moorish city, Aly Mansuh triumphantly riding through the streets with the bell in tow. As the group reaches Mansuh's palace, Aminah suddenly cries aloud that "The Long Ships came in the night" and is immediately shot down by a spear. A group of Vikings come leaping out from behind the silent townspeople. These Norsemen are King Harold's men, out to rescue the princess, and the climactic battle ensues. It ends when the bell falls over and crushes Aly Mansuh. The Moors are defeated and the Vikings victorious. The film ends as Rolfe tells King Harold about the "three crowns of the Saxon kings."




  • Maurice Binder filmed a pre-credit prologue resembling a mosaic explaining the background of the bell.
  • The Viking village built in Montenegro for the film set was left standing and was a local tourist attraction.[3]
  • Because Poitier was playing a Moor, publicity for the film included the slogan, "Sidney Poitier in his first non-Negro role!"
  • Speaking of the film later Poitier said, "To say it was disastrous is a compliment."[4]


  1. ^ "Big Rental Pictures of 1964", Variety, 6 January 1965 p 39. Please note this figure is rentals accruing to distributors not total gross.
  2. ^ a b Thompson, Howard (June 25, 1964). "The Long Ships (1963) Screen: 'The Long Ships':Widmark and Poitier in Viking Adventure". The New York Times. 
  3. ^ p. 156 Baxter, John Hollywood in the Sixties Tantivy Press, 1972
  4. ^ Elijah Kinch Spector in his Half Mandrill, Half Mandella blog

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