Although this is the only one of Stanley Kubrick's pictures over which he did not have complete control (he was brought in by Kirk Douglas to direct when Anthony Mann was fired after the first week of shooting), SPARTACUS is still a remarkable epic--one of the greatest tales of the
ancient world ever to hit the screen. It's especially strong, and more typical of Kubrick, in the first half--before satire gives way to sentiment.
It tells the true story of a slave rebellion that panicked Rome for more than two years circa 73 BC, though some historical facts have been Hollywoodized (including Spartacus's demise--he was hacked to death in battle, not crucified). Spartacus (Douglas) is a rebellious Thracian slave purchased by
Lentulus Batiatus (Peter Ustinov), the proprietor of a school for gladiators. Like his fellow trainees, he is rigorously trained in fighting skills in order to be profitably peddled to Roman coliseum owners. Discovering in himself and his fellow gladiators a spark of human dignity, Spartacus helps
to lead a revolt and organize an army of slaves that will descend on Rome and liberate all oppressed men from the tyrannical rule of the patricians, specifically Marcus Crassus (Laurence Olivier). Also playing parts in this battle between free will and oppression are Gracchus (Charles Laughton), a
senator engaged in a political power struggle with Crassus; Varinia (Jean Simmons), the beautiful slave and wife of Spartacus whom Crassus previously arranged to purchase; and young Julius Caesar (John Gavin), a student of Gracchus who later allies himself with Crassus.
More visually restrained than usual for Kubrick (the Technirama equipment made camera movement difficult), SPARTACUS instead concentrates on the mise-en-scene, most notably in the preparation of the massive final battle scene, as the various Roman military units position themselves like pieces on
some gigantic chessboard. SPARTACUS today remains a stirring, intelligent comment on the spirit of revolt, largely due to Dalton Trumbo's literate and impassioned screenwriting (this was the blacklisted Trumbo's first screen credit in over a decade). Severely cut for its 1967 re-release, the film
was largely restored in 1991. The restorers took advantage of this opportunity to insert some footage that was considered too suggestive for the film's initial release, a thinly-veiled attempted seduction of Curtis by Olivier. The soundtrack of this sequence had been lost and, since Olivier had
recently died, his dialogue was indetectably redubbed by Anthony Hopkins.
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- Review: Although this is the only one of Stanley Kubrick's pictures over which he did not have complete control (he was brought in by Kirk Douglas to direct when Anthony Mann was fired after the first week of shooting), SPARTACUS is still a remarkable epic--one of… (more)