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Kirk Douglas as Spartacus
Jean Simmons as Varinia
Tony Curtis as Antoninus
Laurence Olivier as Crassus
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Movie Reviews

Reviewed by bkoganbing 10 / 10

The Eternal Cry For Freedom

From what little I've read of this film it was lucky to have been made at all. Some very big talents had some very big egos and those egos clashed repeatedly. Original director Anthony Mann was replaced by Stanley Kubrick by Producer/Star Kirk Douglas among other clashes.

But the result was all worth it. The stars all give top notch performances, but the mark of a really great film is the memorability of each individual in the ensemble. To give a few examples, Charles McGraw as the sadistic trainer at the gladiatorial school, John Dall as Sir Laurence Olivier's protégé, and John Ireland as Kirk Douglas's fellow gladiator trainee are all memorable in the brief roles they have.

Kirk Douglas wisely opts for a straightforward interpretation of a hero in the title role of Spartacus. He's a BC everyman, born into a world which hadn't heard anything about human rights, he knows and feels he's not just cattle. Catch the alternating scenes of Douglas and Sir Laurence Olivier addressing the slave army and the Roman Army. Olivier with his years of Shakespearean training coming across as the tyrant to be, and Douglas in simple prose talking about the slaves fighting for their hopes and dreams. Very effective.

The plot concerns a revolt at a gladiatorial school which mushrooms into a crisis for the Roman Empire. Political factions led by Olivier as Crassus and Charles Laughton as Gracchus seek to use the slave revolt to further their own ends.

Laughton as always is a wonder. It's a bit of unusual casting for him because his parts are usually those of very tortured souls. His Gracchus is a sly rogue, but a decent man. One of my favorite movie lines of all time is delivered by him addressing the Roman Senate where he says he'll "take a little republican corruption for a little republican freedom."

Another sly rogue in the film is Peter Ustinov who won the first of his two Oscars as Batiatus the owner of the gladiatorial school. Like so many others I'm sure in those days, he's just trying to come out on the winning side when doing so could be a life or death situation.

Jean Simmons as Varinia, beloved of Spartacus, has the only woman's part of any substance. But when was Ms. Simmons bad in anything. One of the most underrated and under-appreciated actresses in the history of film.

The lessons about man's desire for freedom and to control his own destiny are eternal and valid. And this film will be also.

Reviewed by Arriflex1 9 / 10

Controlling Stanley: The Spartacus Experience

As most are undoubtedly aware this is the film that the director virtually expunged from his repertoire. But why did Stanley Kubrick really disown SPARTACUS (1960)? The answer can be summed up in two words: absolute control. Kubrick wanted total administrative as well as artistic authority over the making of the film about a revolt of gladiators and slaves in ancient Rome.

But you will notice that Bryna Productions not only financed SPARTACUS but also an earlier film directed by Kubrick, PATHS OF GLORY (1958). Bryna was Kirk Douglas' film company and, as most filmgoers know, he was the star of both films. Besides having all the money to make the films, Douglas had artistic vision as well. Only three weeks into what would prove to be an incredibly complex and arduous production, Douglas fired venerable director Anthony Mann (RAW DEAL, RAILROADED,THE FURIES, THE NAKED SPUR, THE MAN FROM LARAMIE, MAN OF THE WEST, etc.) from SPARTACUS. With only two days notice, Kubrick was hired to replace him.

Shooting PATHS OF GLORY, Douglas had confined his criticisms and objections to Kubrick's failed rewriting of the script (they went with the original screenplay). Douglas' complaints and artistic influence were far greater on SPARTACUS, much to Kubrick's chagrin. Though the director craved autonomy over every aspect of the film, Douglas would not budge. A tense compromise was reached but ultimately Douglas had the last word. Kubrick saw himself as just a hired gun. And he would never allow himself to be placed in this position again.

Later, both men would complain about the film's outcome and each other. They never made another movie together.

But SPARTACUS is no uneven patchwork of divergent ideas. The film is cohesive and arresting. At the restored version of three hours and eighteen minutes, there is practically no dead footage in the film. Dalton Trumbo's screenplay is surprisingly economical, with sharply drawn characters placed against the sweeping historical majesty and violent sociological tumult of ancient Rome. Quite plainly, the gloriously inventive music by Alex North is among the greatest scores ever written for a motion picture. And despite Kubrick's bad experience, he managed to guide the actors towards creating outstanding work (a best supporting actor Oscar for Peter Ustinov). He even transformed the very real enmity between Laughton and Olivier into an on-screen asset. His other contributions were considerable also (the large scale and power of the battle sequence, for example). In the end, for the film at least, the clash of giant egos proved fortuitous. Recommendations: for greater insight and detail on this and Kubrick's other films I urge you to seek out Jan Harlan's excellent documentary, STANLEY KUBRICK: A LIFE IN PICTURES, and Vincent LoBrutto's exhaustive, highly informative biography, STANLEY KUBRICK. For the producer's views on SPARTACUS and its director, take a gander at Kirk Douglas' very candid autobiography, THE RAGMAN'S SON.

Reviewed by Richard Kerslake 10 / 10

A Triumph of Spirit Over Oppression?

As a historical epic, 'Spartacus' stands out from the crowd.

The film has the basic theme of 'force' versus 'an idea'. One man - Spartacus- has the idea of freedom, which is pitted through his slave army against the entire force of the Roman Empire.

In Spartacus's eventual defeat, force seems to be victorious, but we know with hindsight that it is Spartacus' idea that finally prevails, albeit long after his death, with the abolition of slavery. As the opening narration makes clear, as a young man Spartacus would dream of the death of slavery - "two thousand years before it finally would die." Kirk Douglas gives an inspiring performance as the brutalised and uneducated slave rising above his degradation to find love, leadership and high ideals.

The film closely interweaves the fate of Spartacus with that of Roman politics. His slave rebellion contributes to the fall of Gracchus, the main Republican advocate, and the corresponding rise of authoritarian Crassus. In a way, Spartacus is portrayed as a catalyst for a new era of Roman dictatorship under the Caesars; by suppressing his slave rebellion, Rome sets itself irrevocably on a path away from Republic and freedom, and perhaps confirms its eventual downfall. Some historical licence, no doubt; but a thought-provoking concept.

Unlike many other Roman epics such as 'Ben-Hur' and 'The Robe', the film does not have a Christian motif. However, 'Spartacus' epitomises the triumph of the human spirit in a way that few movies do. Even after his death, not only Spartacus' son but his spirit lives on,if only in man's perennial cry for freedom. The slave leader's resolve, and his will to freedom, remain true to the end.

Considering that it was made in 1960, the film's confronting of hard themes is notable. For example, we have the hint of forbidden homosexual/ bisexual desires from Crassus to Antoninus; the seeming death and failure (but perhaps ultimate victory)for the hero, who traditionally should triumph; and unpleasant scenes involving battlefields and rows of crucified bodies.

The movie is helped by an excellent cast, an evocative score and Stanley Kubrick's direction. The sets and costumes also show great attention to detail, so that ancient Roman society comes alive.

Overall a most entertaining and inspiring movie.

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