Shipwrecked Viking Rolfe (Richard Widmark) is rescued by monks. At the monastery, he learns about the legendary giant golden bell called the “Mother of Voices”. At least, that’s the story he tells in the marketplace.
He is taken by soldiers to Moorish king Aly Mansuh (Sidney Poitier) who wants to find the bell but Rolfe manages to escape by diving out an open window into the sea.
Apparently, he then swims all the way back to Scandinavia, returning home just as his old shipbuilder father, Krok (Oskar Homolka) is about to sell King Harald (Clifford Evans) a funeral ship. Harald cheats Krok out of his ship and gives him just two gold coins.
Rolfe steals the ship and kidnaps Harald’s daughter to ensure Krok’s safety, taking the King’s skipper Sven (Edward Judd) hostage for good measure. Rolfe and his bold Viking crew set off to find the golden bell.
Unfortunately, a storm beaches Rolfe’s ship and crew – he doesn’t have much luck with ships, considering he’s a Viking and everything – and they find themselves fighting for their lives against Mansuh’s warriors. Hopelessly outnumbered after repeated attacks, Rolfe orders his men to surrender to the Moors and they are imprisoned.
When they refuse to divulge the whereabouts of the legendary bell, Mansuh threatens to have Rolfe ride down the “Mare of Steel”, an implausible but visually spectacular torture device shaped like a giant scimitar with a horse’s head and a razor-sharp, cutting edge.
Mansuh demonstrates both the brutality of the Mare and the blind obedience of his men when his wife, Ylva (Jeanne Moody), chooses one of their own soldiers to demonstrate the lethal nature of his huge torture device. The victim is sent sliding down it and is sliced in two.
Our heroes eventually sail to the Pillars of Hercules but find only a domed chapel housing a small bronze bell. Frustrated, Rolfe throws the hanging bell against a wall, and the resounding cacophony reveals that the chapel dome itself is the disguised Mother of Voices.
After a misadventure topples 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.
King Harald and his men have since conquered the city, though, and a climactic battle ensues, ending when the bell falls over and crushes Aly Mansuh. The Moors are defeated and the Vikings victorious.
Yes, it’s historically inaccurate, but the colour photography is beautiful, the sets and costumes are excellent, the locations are visually stunning, there are no deep messages or angst-ridden characters – just men who enjoy fighting, drinking, laughing and wenching. and fighting.
Oh . . . and a 300-ton bell that floats (!)