YEAH, I SAT THROUGH IT AGAIN: THE NORSEMAN (1978)

Lee Majors runs with his sword unsheathed. Lee Majors marches with his sword unsheathed. Lee Majors orders his men around with his sword unsheathed. Lee Majors leaps over the foliage of Vineland with his sword unsheathed. Yes, Lee Majors is the titular Viking in The Norseman, and while he brandishes his unsheathed sword through much of this picture, he only swings it in the manner it was meant about a half dozen times through several badly choreographed battle sequences and raids on the Indian villages of North America. Because he is a mighty warrior of fine fighting stock, by the end of these battles and raids, Majors' Norseman defeats and kills a whopping grand total of three of these Indians, including, and most gratuitously (though mostly unseen and unbloody), the cleaving of the back and skull of a tremendously corpulent Indian who could have been more easily waylaid with the well-aimed tossing of a Big Mac in the opposite direction. And fittingly, because he was still bionic via his television alter-ego in those days, Lee Majors does much of this running, killing, cleaving, leaping and raiding in slow motion. (I believe that the film's 90-minute running time could have been blessedly pared down to about 65 minutes if they just knocked things up to their normal speed.)

We are in the less-than-capable appendages of Mr. Charles B. Pierce here, progenitor of the Boggy
Creek series (at least, the first two), and whether he meant it or not, Pierce seems oddly reluctant to let his then-hugely popular star (and executive producer) remain on screen for very long in any scene that isn't slo-mo. As the only Norseman not wearing a helmet with the traditional horns protruding, Majors' character not only wears a different helmet (with a nautical shape and an eagle perched on its top), but he also wears in battle what the other Vikings refer to as "the sacred mask". This mask gives Majors the look of Zorro the Nordic Invader, a look which is aided along even further by a full-on cheesy 70's mustache. The truth is, the mustache does most of the acting for Majors, as neither his dialogue nor his actions impart Majors with very much personality or much to do at all in the film, except for the moving about in slo-mo. This depth-lacking quality extends to the whole cast, too -- though it would seem that the main characters of the piece were the invading Vikings with whom we spend most of the running time hanging around, except for some introductory narration detailing the past of each character, we never really get to know any of them. And poor footballer Deacon Jones, who is probably the swarthiest Viking to ever pull a longoar, never even gets a backstory as to why he is even with the Vikings in the first place, but does get one to explain how he cut out the tongue out of one of his chubby compatriots. That's OK, fellow pigskinner Fred Biletnikoff's character doesn't even get a name; in the credits, he is merely listed as "Norseman". So, I wonder... is the film secretly about Fred's nondescript barely-in-the-frame character, but to get Majors' involved they convinced the big star that he had the title role instead?

Most shocking is the involvement of actual thespians in the production: Mel Ferrer and ex-swashbuckler Cornel Wilde, who give their sorry curse-the-fates roles all that they can, and you can practically see the yearning for freedom in Wilde's searching eyes with his every stilted line. (Ferrer has to search internally for such escape; his character, whom we get to know better than even Majors' Norseman, has been blinded by the Indians, though he is spared the ludicrous makeup job that his fellow captors sport.) Troupers, true troupers... I hope they got paid well. And for a film without a shred of intentional comic relief, thankfully there is a "wizard" aboard the Norse craft in the hooded form of the goggle-eyed Jack Elam, who seems to be playing it as straight as he possibly can, being all shadowy and dark-visioned... but he's Jack Elam. He can't help if he brings a smile to even the most bored viewer. The fact that he has a trained hawk that can rip the eyes out of its victims helps immeasurably, too.

Now for the confession: I was, like much of my generation, a huge Six Million Dollar Man fanatic in the 70's; thus by proxy, I was a Lee Majors fan, too. As a result, not only did I see this film in the theatres (though as the back-end of a double feature), it was also one of the first films that I ever saw on HBO back in the day. Not that I am possessed of any great desire to torture myself, but every once in a while I find it interesting to revisit the films and shows of my youth to see how they hold up against my adult psyche (which is admittedly no more adult than that of Peter Pan himself). When I saw that this film was available for free on Flix On Demand, my instant reaction was to leap upon it and give it a critical measure with more modern eyes, but there was one major problem involved in doing so: I was under no illusion that this film was ever any good. Even back then, I was fully aware of what a piece of shit The Norseman was, and that opinion hasn't changed 25 years down the road. A snooze then still holds up to be a snooze now. Not that I would block anyone's peek at the film for a good night's goofing -- there is much to recommend such a campy viewing. Just don't say I didn't warn you. (As for unsheathing your sword -- it's not that type of film, unless Jack Elam does it for ya...)

Comments

ak_hepcat said…
Poor Rolph. He was a true norseman.

And really, let's slap young eric.
Rik Tod said…
He was no Bjorn or Sven, but who is?

And "Young Eric" (for that is how he is listed in the credits) not only needed to be slapped, but he needed to be bionically slapped with the Norseman's mechanical right arm, so that Young Eric's head would snap off, and then would rotate through the air in slow motion where it would be caught by Jack Elam's hawk and carried off over the horizon.

Not that I disliked the kid or anything...

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