The Norseman (1978) Needed a Six Million Dollar Budget

Sometimes, you seriously have to wonder what Hollywood is thinking when it comes to some of the decisions production companies make. From odd casting choices to non-existent scripts, there are bad movies and then there are bad movies. Sometimes, a movie is so bad, it comes full circle and ends up being entertaining in a way I’m sure the film makers never intended. If you’ve ever seen Manos, The Hands of Fate, then you know exactly what I’m talking about. Case in point, 1978’s The Norseman.

Norseman 1From the opening credits, the movie would seem to be legitimate…at least to some point. The legendary producer Samuel Z. Arkoff, the man behind some 141 classics including Invasion of the Saucer Men and The Last Man on Earth, is listed as “presenting” the movie. However, IMDB does not list this movie amongst his credits. He was still active through the mid-80s, so the only reason I can come up with is that it was in name only or he asked to be removed. Which, considering some of the movies he did, would certainly be telling of how truly bad this flick is. The cast alone is enough to make your head spin. Lee Majors headlines the cast as Prince Thorvald, who is leading a group of Vikings to the New World in search of his father, King Eurich, played by Mel Ferrer (War and Peace, The Longest Day). Ferrer is virtually unrecognizable here, wearing a long white beard and wig that makes him look like a brother to Saruman from The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings trilogies. Cornel Wilde stars as Ragnar, second-in-command to Prince Thorvald. Wilde was once one of the sexiest men in Hollywood. However, by 1978, acting gigs were scarce and, after three years of no film work, you wonder what he had to think as he muddled his way through this mess. Other familiar faces include Jack Elam as the wizard Death Dreamer, football star Deacon Jones as a black Viking (yes, don’t even ask) and surfer boy Denny Miller playing what was probably the most realistic looking Viking on the ship, which isn’t saying much. I’m sure many will also recognize actress Kathleen Freeman as the old woman. I’m sure you have no clue by her name but you’ll know her face from one of the 282 film and TV appearances she made from 1948 until 2001, when she died at the age of 82.Norseman 2

So just what is this movie about? Well, the Vikings have landed in the New World and immediately confronted a group of savage Iroquois warriors. The warriors capture King Eurich and killed almost all of his men, in addition to brutally blinding them. Christopher Connelly plays the Iroquois leader, Rolf, in true scene-chewing bad guy fashion. The lovely Susie Coelho plays femme fatale Winetta, who is repulsed by her Iroquois brothers and tries to make Eurich as comfortable as possible during his captivity. This part of the story is told via flashblacks while the rest of the movie is fleshed out by narration from Eric, the younger son of King Eurich and brother to Prince Thorvald. Young Eric was played by Chuck Pierce Jr., son of director Charles Pierce (The Legend of Boggy Creek, The Town That Dreaded Sundown) while the narration was done by Jesse Pearson (Bye Bye Birdie). The majority of the movie deals with the Vikings attacking the Iroquois and vice versa before Thorvald ultimately finds and saves his father with some help from Winetta. But don’t expect any epic confrontations here.

There are so many factual errors that it almost isn’t worth mentioning them all. Suffice to say, the Vikings are anything but accurate, the script is relatively boring and the acting is sub-par at best. Lee Majors is sporting that funky late 70s mustache he wore during the fourth season of The Six Million Dollar Man, when this movie was obviously filmed. Now Majors is certainly never going to earn an Academy Award for his acting. However, I always find him entertaining in his TV work but he just appears to be sleepwalking his way through this movie. Add to that, he looks more like a Roman than a Viking. The best part is the original music from Jaime Mendoza-Nava, who makes it sound so much more epic than it has any right to be.

So, do I recommend this movie? Absolutely, if for no other reason than to see just how bad it truly is. For me, it did that full circle and moved into the “so bad it’s good” category. It’s currently only available on a 1983, out-of-print VHS, which is how I watched it. But, believe it or not, those wonderful people over at Shout! Factory are putting it out on DVD as a double feature with The Barbarians. Meanwhile, you can check it out on YouTube (with a very poor picture) while you wait for what I hope to be a widescreen DVD presentation in August 2013.

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