Release year: 1960
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Writers: Dalton Trumbo, Peter Ustinov, Calder Willingham, Howard Fast (novel)
Starring: Kirk Douglas, Laurence Olivier, Jean Simmons, Tony Curtis, Charles McGraw, John Dall, Peter Ustinov, Charles Laughton, John Gavin
Ratings: 4 Oscars: Best Supporting Actor (Peter Ustinov), Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design. 2 Oscar nominations: Best Film Editing, Best Score. 1 Golden Globe: Best Picture Drama. 5 Golden Globes nominations: Best Director, Best Actor Drama (Laurence Olivier), Best Supporting Actor (Woody Strode), Best Supporting Actor (Peter Ustinov), Best Score.
Moviegeek Sunday Classic #55, week 26 2015
The slave Spartacus (Kirk Douglas) is sold to a gladiatorial school run by Batiatus (Peter Ustinov) where he meets kindred soul Varinia (Jean Simmons). When he and the other slaves gets the chance they take it and escape and Spartacus starts an uprising among the slaves threatening the state of Rome.
Spartacus was originally meant to be directed by Anthony Mann, but after he had a major fall out with the leading star, Kubrick (The Shining, 1980) was hired by the request of Douglas who had previously worked with him on Paths to Glory (1957). Apparently the only part of the movie directed by Mann is the salt mine sequence in the beginning. The rest of this epic movie is the work of Kubrick and epic is the right word for this three hour long dramatic tale of Spartacus, which has everything your heart could desire from an epic movie. Kubrick created a masterpiece with tense gladiator fights and magnificent battles in which the orderly Roman army faces the wild and chaotic army of slaves. However, there are also battles in the senate as well as tender moments among the slaves, especially between Douglas (The Vikings, 1958) and Simmons (Black Narcissus, 1947). Simmons’s Varinia is a strong hearted woman sharing Spartacus’s refusal to subcumb to being merely the animals the Romans treat them as, and whether dressed as a queen or lying in the dust she holds her head high. Douglas’s Spartacus has a constant rage in him shown through the intense looks and tense jaws but in the quiet moments of happiness he shares with Varinia he has an opportunity to open and show a more vulnerable side that makes the danger he is in even more horrifying. He is a man to follow and as a viewer you have no trouble sympathising with him or the other slaves for that matter. While the great Olivier (Wuthering Heights, 1939) shines as the ruthless Crassus determined to bring down Spartacus, the Roman side of the battle also provides brilliant performances from Laughton (Mutiny on Bounty, 1935) as the senator and Gavin (Psycho, 1960) but also worth mentioning is an excellent turn from Ustinov (Quo Vadis, 1951) as the owner of the gladiatorial school who develops tremendously through the story and plays his part with an equal ammount of spite and charm; furthermore, although Curtis (Some Like It Hot, 1959) has a rather small part he makes an impact especially in the ending. A truly brilliant and, in spite of its dire subject, an uplifting movie about refusing to subcumb, standing up for yourself and the will to be a free man. Epic.
Peter Ustinov is the only actor who has recieved an Academy Award by playing in a movie directed by Stanley Kubrick.
Cinematographer Russell Metty complained that Kubrick wouldn’t let him do his job. As a profesional photographer Kubrick did most of the cinematography himself. Metty tried in vain to get his name removed from the critics, so when the movie won an Oscar for best cinematography Metty recieved the statue for a film he had hardly shot.
The original version had a scene where Crassus (Laurence Olivier) tries to seduce the slave Antoninus (Tony Curtis) but the Production Code Administration and the Legion of Decency objected to it, leading to the scene being cut. It was put back in in the 1991 restoration. However, the soundtrack had been lost and the dialogue had to be dubbed. Curtis did his line, but unfortunately Olivier had died in the meantime. Luckily his widow remembered that Anthony Hopkins did a spot-on impersonation of him and Hopkins agreed to do Olivier’s lines.
Picture copyright: Universal