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White Thunder: The Story of Varick Frissell and the Viking Disaster

4.0 out of 5 stars 1 customer review

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(Dec 07, 2004)
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

On March 9, 1931, the SS Viking left the port of St. John's, Newfoundland, and sailed into motion picture history. On board were New York filmmaker Varick Frissell and an unusual crew of seamen and Hollywood movie people. Their mission: to shoot the final scenes for an epic feature film on the lives of Newfoundland sealers. Six days later, an accidental onboard explosion killed Frissell and 26 other men.

White Thunder, directed by native Newfoundlander Victoria King, is a gripping account of that tragic adventure and an exquisite tribute to an early film pioneer. Born in 1903, Frissell grew up on Manhattan's moneyed Upper East Side and studied at Yale. Caught up in the early fad for home movies and mentored by renowned documentarian Robert Flaherty, Frissell quickly grasped the potential of the emerging genre. In 1921 he attended a lecture by Dr. Wilfred Grenfell, who had established medical outposts along the isolated Labrador coast. Frissell went to work with Grenfell and was overwhelmed by the stark beauty of the landscape. With two successful documentaries (The Lure of Labrador and The Swilin’ Racket) under his belt, he secured the backing of Paramount Pictures to make a feature sound film. Frissell and his large crew hauled heavy camera and sound equipment to the rolling ice floes of the North Atlantic. The legendary Bob Bartlett (captain of Robert E. Peary’s expeditions to the North Pole) plays himself, working alongside the local sealers and American actors. Tragically, with the explosion, the shot-on-location melodrama turned into one of Hollywood’s worst disasters.

White Thunder explores Frissell's fascinating legacy, integrating astonishing footage from The Viking, as well as his earlier documentaries, to present evidence of a remarkable filmmaking talent.


"The jaw-dropping scenes... rival any computer-generated spectacles Hollywood has made in recent years." -- The London Free Press

Special Features


Product Details

  • Actors: Charles Starrett, Louise Huntington, Arthur Vinton, Bob Bartlett, Wilfred Grenfell
  • Directors: Victoria King, Varick Frissell, George Melford
  • Writers: Victoria King, Terre Nash, Garnett Weston
  • Producers: Annette Clarke, Kent Martin, Roy W. Gates, Sally Bochner
  • Format: Black & White, Closed-captioned, Full Screen, NTSC
  • Language: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated:
    Not Rated
  • Studio: J.D. Williams
  • DVD Release Date: December 7, 2004
  • Run Time: 50 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • ASIN: B00068NVHU
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #271,584 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "White Thunder: The Story of Varick Frissell and the Viking Disaster" on IMDb

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By Annie Van Auken TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 14, 2012
WHITE THUNDER (aka The Viking) is docu-fiction very much in the tradition of NANOOK OF THE NORTH (1922). "The Viking" is the name of the Newfoundland-coast sealing boat where the action unfolds. Highlight of this movie is the natural wonder of sea, ice and action, and not its contrived love story.

MAN OF ARAN is another example of docu/fiction from the creator of "Nanook," Robert Flaherty. This one concerns residents of remote islands off Ireland's western coast and their battle for survival against a violent sea and harsh climate.

Parenthetical number preceding title is a 1 to 10 IMDb viewer poll rating.

(6.8) White Thunder (Canada/USA-1931) - Charles Starrett/Arthur Vinton/Bob Bartlett/Louise Huntington


Charles Starrett played The Durango Kid in the movie series.

Bob Bartlett was a native Newfoundland fisherman/seal hunter.

George Melford also directed the Spanish language version of DRACULA (1931).

After main shooting was complete and while trying to get additional footage, tragedy struck this project when its producer/director (Varick Frissell), cameraman (Alex Penrod) and almost the entire film crew were killed in a massive on-ship explosion.
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