So I’ve re-watched Spartacus, the 1960 movie directed (mostly) by Stanley Kubrick with an exceptional cast: Kirk Douglas, Peter Ustinov, Charles Laughton, Laurence Olivier, Tony Curtis and Jean Simmons. The movie can be considered as the passion project of Kirk Douglas (who’s still alive, he’s 102 years old!), who produced the movie and starred in it simply because he was rejected as the protagonist of Ben-Hur the year before. The making of the movie turned out to be a nightmare: the first director Anthony Mann was replaced by Kubrick after a few weeks of shooting, Kirk Douglas and Stanley Kubrick didn’t get along well, the same goes for Charles Laughton and Laurence Olivier, and several actors autonomously decided to change their lines of dialogue during shooting.
What can I say about Spartacus that hasn’t been said already? The movie is a peplum/epic/biopic made with thousands of extras and majestic sets. After 58 years, it remains visually impressive and its plot and screenplay still hold. The screenwriter was the great Dalton Trumbo, and let me recommend the movie about him with Bryan Cranston that came out in 2015, Trumbo, directed by Jay Roach. As it’s clear from the list of actors above, the role of women in the movie is marginal, which was normal both in 1960 in Hollywood and in the Roman empire. The gorgeous Jean Simmons (we’ll see her again as Admiral Nora Satie in Star Trek: The next generation) basically plays the role of the vulnerable lover for the whole movie. And there are two blood and sex-thirsty women who practically start the gladiators’ uprising. That’s it for women!
The movie proved out to be a success: it won four Oscars, including one for Peter Ustinov who steals every scene he’s in, and one for best cinematography which was done 100% by Kubrick even if it went to Russell Metty, who theoretically was the director of photography but left the production because the director didn’t let him work. But is it still worthwhile spending more than three hours watching Spartacus nowadays?
Of course it is! The movie is great: dynamic, brilliant, epic, and with sharp dialogues with strong political value. For example, Crassus’ disloyal lists are reminiscent of the blacklist of Hollywood which contained, among others, the name of the movie’s screenwriter, Dalton Trumbo. And the dialogue between Crassus and Antoninus about the former being bisexual was very powerful in a Hollywood movie in 1960! Another reason making Spartacus worth watching nowadays is that, clearly, both the director and all the main actors were masters of their professions, and thanks to them every scene is still enjoyable and never boring.
What else? I must admit that while there are scenes of battle preparation which are equal, if not better, than similar scenes in more modern movies such as Braveheart (which came out 35 years after Spartacus), the battles themselves are a bit underwhelming. Either they happen off screen, or what we see on screen seems like a small skirmish involving a few soldiers. Moreover, there are several scenes shot simply for Kirk Douglas to show off rather than to serve the screenplay, which is one of the reasons behind the difficult relationship between Kubrick and Douglas himself. In fact, after making this movie, the legendary director refused to accept any project in which he didn’t have complete control over everything, and he never considered Spartacus as one of his movies! And if you are looking for a historically accurate movie… well, Spartacus is not. There are historical elements (the Third Servile War actually happened between 73 and 71 a.C.), but the movie deviates a lot from the historical facts.
Anyway, Spartacus is a must-see, as every movie made by Stanley Kubrick. And, even if I didn’t plan this, I now realize that I’m writing this review exactly after 19 years of his death: he died on March, 7th, 1999. Ciao!