Spartacus (1960)

“Your followers are deluded enough to trust you. I intend that you shall speak to them tomorrow for their own good, their peaceful and profitable future. From time to time thereafter, I may find it useful to bring you back to Rome to continue your duty to her, to calm the envious spirit and the troubled mind. You will persuade them to accept destiny and order and trust the gods!”

‘Spartacus’, directed by Stanley Kubrick in 1960, is an epic American drama based on a novel by Howard Fast. Kirk Douglas plays the title character, a slave in the first century BC who is bought by a Roman businessman and trained to be a gladiator. Spartacus leads an uprising of the slaves who fight their way through Italy with the intention of reaching the coast and leaving the country. A new dictator, Crassus, played by Laurence Olivier, has other ideas and outmanoeuvres the slave army. Determined to kill their figurehead, Crassus seeks Spartacus with the intention of crucifying him, but when his fellow slaves cover up for their leader, Crassus decides to massacre them all. It’s an unusual film. Made in reaction to ‘Ben Hur’, released a year earlier, ‘Spartacus’ is far more politically charged. These politics go far beyond the story of a slave uprising however: the real significance of the film is the fact that blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo is given an on-screen credit at the insistence of Kirk Douglas, a move that finally began to correct the injustices following the HUAC investigations. Much like Marcel Carné’s ‘Les Enfants du Paradis’, ‘Spartacus’, for all its bombast and sentiment, is more interesting for the story of its making than the narrative shown on screen. All this, and the director is one of the most distinctive creative stylists in American cinema. Kubrick’s style is supressed by the scale of this film, his direction is characteristically precise, but the real stars of ‘Spartacus’ is the lead actor and producer Douglas, and Trumbo.

Would I recommend it? It’s a spectacular movie with a strong cast including Douglas and a brilliant turn by Peter Ustinov. Watch in a double bill with ‘Trumbo’ for the background.


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