Spartacus (1960)

Spartacus
Directed by Stanley Kubrick
Written by Dalton Trumbo from a novel by Howard Fast
1960/USA
Bryna Productions
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental
One of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Spartacus: [to Crassus, about the slain Antoninus] Here’s your victory. He’ll come back. He’ll come back, and he’ll be millions!

I am not big on 3 1/2 hour sword-and-sandal epics.  This one is so grand, however, that it keeps my interest.

Spartacus (Kirk Douglas) was sold away from his slave mother when he was 13.  He now is sentenced to a lifetime of brutal hard labor.  He rebels and is sentenced to death by starvation.  Luckily, Lentulus Batiatus (Peter Ustinov) spots him and think he will make an ideal trainee at his gladiator school.

The school is equally brutal and Spartacus shows talent as a scrapper.  While there, he falls in love with slave-prostitute Varinia (Jean Simmons).  One day, the aristocratic Senator Crassus (Laurence Olivier) shows up with his daughter and new son-in-law (John Dall) and pays Batiatus big money to entertain their party with a death match.  The event sparks a slave revolt that destroys Batiatus’s premises.  The gladiators, lead by Spartacus, march through the country to the sea, collecting recruits as they go.

In the meantime, there is a political feud between Crassus and the democratically-minded Senator Gracchus (Charles Laughton).  In addition, Crassus fell in lust with Varinia during his stop and the school and attempted to buy her.  He is not one to be frustrated for long.

The remainder of the film is devoted to all these complications plus the efforts of the Romans to put down the slave revolt. With Tony Curtis as Crassus’s house slave and John Gavin as Julius Caesar.

This is probably the least Kubrickian film that Kubrick directed, but his talent shows through in every frame.  The many crowd and battle scenes are magnificent.  It’s an interesting and not too melodramatic story about freedom fighters as well.  Just reading the cast list should give you an idea about the acting.  Recommended.

Spartacus won Academy Awards in the categories of Best Supporting Actor (Ustinov); Best Cinematography, Color; Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Color; and Best Costume Design, Color. It was nominated in the categories of Best Film Editing and Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture.

Trailer