The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

Spaghetti Western tastes better on Iceland

with 15 comments

Why is it that a classical spaghetti western gets so much better if you move it to a new environment?

Swap the desert for a desolate Icelandic landscape, trade the guns for casting knives and let the tough guys ride ponies instead of traditional horses and suddenly it feels fresh, cool and interesting to watch. Don’t ask me why. Vikings are simply more badass than cowboys.

When the Raven Flies became hugely popular in Sweden when it was launched in 1984. Curiously enough it wasn’t as well received on Iceland as far as I understand it from internet resources. But that’s life, isn’t it? Your own people are always the ones who are hardest to convince.

Recently I’ve found myself mentioning this movie a lot to people, encouraging them to watch it for one reason or another. But since it’s been so many years since I watched it I started to worry a bit. My recollections weren’t all that clear anymore. What if I was wrong to recommend it? Would this movie still hold up after all those years? I decided to make a revisit to make sure I knew what I was talking about.

I needn’t have worried though. It was pretty much the same as I remembered it. People die all the time. Revenge needs to be claimed. The camera alters between close-ups and panoramas over the barren landscape. Very little is said.

To be honest, it’s not by any means a “perfect” movie, if such a thing exists. The soundtrack is a little bit corny at times and not all actors are splendid, but hey, what can you expect from a nation with a population of about 300 000? There can’t be much of a competition.

It’s not all truly original either. In its core, it’s pretty much the same story as Kurosawa’s Yojimbo and Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars. One hero plays out two families against each other.

But weaknesses and possible lack of originality doesn’t matter to me. There’s so much to love anyway. How often have you heard Icelandic spoken in a film? It made me want to sign for a language course right away! It’s the language of the fairy tales.

The setting is fantastic – a timeless landscape which is perfect for a story taking place far back in time. I came to think of how strange it is that historical Iceland hasn’t been used more than it has in on the movie screen. There should be a lot of unexplored ideas in the sagas that could be the inspiration for some excellent action.

Until we’ll see a new wave of Icelandic historical action movies I’ll comfort myself with the one line that I think is what first comes to mind for anyone who has watched When the Raven Flies:

“Þungur hnífur, “Tungur knifur” (Don’t ask me to explain how to pronounce it.)  “Heavy knife”.

That’s all you need.

When the Raven Flies (a.k.a The Revenge of the Barbarians, orig title Hrafninn flýgur, Hrafn Gunnlaugsson, IS, 1984) My rating: 4/5

Written by Jessica

October 25, 2011 at 1:00 am

Posted in Korpen Flyger

15 Responses

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  1. I can also recommend the sequel “Korpens Skugga” (

    Í skugga hrafnsins (original title).

    Not as good as the first movie but worth watching if you liked the first one.


    October 25, 2011 at 8:27 am

    • Yeah, I remember the sequel as good too. I didn’t rewatch it now so I decided not to talk about it in the review. There was a third one as well I think, but not as good as the earlier ones as far as I recall.
      In any case: Korpen Flyger holds up!


      October 25, 2011 at 8:33 am

  2. I’m not sure I have even seen this film form start to finish. I definitively need to revisit it though. Have you seen the Kautokeino Rebellion? It has the same western feel to it and would be really easy to remake into an american western film.

    Joel Burman

    October 25, 2011 at 9:27 am

    • I was happily surprised to find it on DVD at my library. It was released a few years ago on a double that also includes the follow-up movie. So there’s no excuse not to watch it! It’s a classic! And how many Icelandic movies have you watched? About time!

      I haven’t heard of or seen that movie Rebellion. Thanks for the heads-up!


      October 25, 2011 at 9:36 am

  3. Haha this idea certainly sounds interesting, but I think I prefer desert westerns, particularly the mother of them all, Alejandro Jodorowsky’s EL TOPO.


    October 25, 2011 at 9:46 am

    • How do you know until you’ve tried a viking one? Go for it!

      I have yet to check out El Topo. I’ve probably watched too few westerns. I feel as if I’m not a fan but perhaps it’s a dillusion.


      October 25, 2011 at 12:15 pm

  4. Vikings are simply more badass than cowboys

    End Of!!

    Probably the best quote I have read all day!!


    Scott Lawlor

    October 25, 2011 at 10:34 am

  5. Thanks for the reminder, I will make sure to include this in my movie-diet before long. There is a lot more to vikings than cowhorn helmets and binge drinking meade.


    October 25, 2011 at 10:37 pm

    • Yeah. It’s sad it’s so hard to getting the word out. About vikings, I mean. Looking forward to see what you make of it.


      October 26, 2011 at 12:35 am

      • Yes, well there are a few misconceptions floating around… I once heard about an american talking to a danish guy about native americans and the problems they experience with the whole reservation thing. Where upon the american retorts: “Well, I would imagine you having the same problem with your vikings…” True story! 😀

        I for one would absolutely love a viking reservation (preferably with a casino) on one of the smaller islands in the Stockholm archipelago.


        October 26, 2011 at 7:15 pm

        • Gosh, that story was pretty hilarious. A viking reservate would probably be quite attractive for the touism industry. And why not? We can sell anything moose to the crazy Germans. Vikings probably will go just as well.


          October 26, 2011 at 11:56 pm

          • For some unknown reasons i have not seen this film. When it was released it seemed like everyone saw it, well except me. Gonna give it a try.


            October 28, 2011 at 5:21 pm

  6. […] was When the Raven Flies if not an Icelandic remake of A Fistful of Dollars, which in turn was a remake of […]

  7. […] My friend Jessica at The Velvet Cafe recommended this to me and in her review talks about the similarities to Yojimbo and A Fistful of Dollars, two films […]

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