Sunday, January 9, 2011

#227 Spartacus (1960)


Director: Stanley Kubrick

Cast: Kirk Douglas, Laurence Olivier, Jean Simmons, Charles Laughton, Peter Ustinov, Tony Curtis, John Gavin, Nina Foch, John Ireland, Herbert Lom, John Dall, Charles McGraw

When a rebellious Thracian slave, Spartacus (Douglas), is purchased by Baitius (Ustinov), the owner and operator of a gladiator school in Capra, he sets into motion a chain of events that forever change the destiny of millions. When forced to fight in the arena for the amusement of some visiting Roman nobility (in particular the leader of the Roman military, Crassus (Olivier)), a revolt spurs and the slaves free themselves. Leading his people into a revolution and campaign to leave Italy once and for all, Spartacus forms a legion of ex-slaves and gladiators strong enough to face legion after legion of Roman soldiers.

Taking the fair Varinia (Simmons) as his wife, Spartacus makes headway with his armies– all the way to the sea. But when they realize they are trapped on the shore without ships, Spartacus is forced to march on Rome and face Crassus once and for all.

Most of the film I spent curiously examining for any sign of Kubrick. Not so surprisingly, I found none, and it was only after the film that I read that Kubrick merely "took this on as a gig" after producer Douglas fired his standing director, Anthony Mann. It's a beautiful movie, and out of the context of Kubrick, it's not-so-surprising. A film full of interesting, twisted relationships as only can be expected when involving Roman nobility, and the battle scenes are indeed epic (for 1960). How fortunate that they put back in the classic "snails and oysters" scene between Olivier and Curtis! Also, I can now somewhat place one of my favorite films, Gladiator, into its proper context of being somewhat of a backwards homage to Spartacus. A true hero film.

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