Starring: Kirk Douglas (Spartacus),
Laurence Olivier (Crassus),
Jean Simmons (Varina), Charles
Laughton (Gracchus), Peter
Ustinov (Batiatus), John Gavin
(Julius Ceasar), & Tony Curtis
Genre: Historical Epic
Runtime: 3 hrs. 16 minutes, with 15
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Producer: Edward Lewis
Writer: Dalton Trumbo
Address Comments To:Tom Pollock
100 Universal City
Universal City, CA 91608
SPARTACUS tells the true story of a slave rebellion that panicked Rome for more than two years around 73 B.C. The film opens with a narrator informing us that the story of Spartacus occurs about one hundred years before the coming of Jesus Christ, whose disciples would overturn the tyranny of the Roman Empire. This message continues throughout the film, as symbols and references foreshadow the coming of Jesus Christ.
Among the thousands of slaves working a Libyan quarry atop a mountain ridge, Spartacus, the son and grandson of slaves, stands out as he risks his life to save another slave. Left to starve as an example, he is purchased by Batiatus, the proprietor for a brutal school of gladiators, where the goal is to train men to put up a tremendous battle before dying. As a reward, the men are sometimes given a woman, thrown into their cells.
Under these circumstances, Spartacus meets and falls in love with Varina, a slave from Britain. However, when Crassus, a wealthy Roman senator comes to visit, he asks that a match be set up for his own amusement and orders Spartacus into the arena for a fight to the death.
Spartacus fights reluctantly with a black slave, whose throat is later slit by Crassus when he refuses to finish off Spartacus. Revolted by the cold cruelty of the hedonistic Romans, Spartacus leads a gladiator rebellion, which grows in numbers and strength as it takes to the countryside.
Eventually, Spartacus is joined by Varina and another escaped slave from Crassus' household, Antoninus (in footage originally cut, the motive for Antoninus' escape is made clear when the bisexual Crassus makes a sexual pass at Antoninus). Spartacus' slave army grows to 60,000, and for four years he holds off the Roman legions, but finally is defeated and brought back to Rome in chains.
Crassus, whose political ambitions against another Roman senator, Gracchus, have been well-served by this victory, finds Varina and her infant son by Spartacus and attempts to seduce her. When she spurns him, he orders that Spartacus and Antoninus fight each other to the death, the winner to be crucified. To save Antoninus from that slow death, Spartacus finishes off him quickly.
Gracchus, meanwhile, frees Varina and her son. As she leaves Rome, she passes the thousands of rebels crucified along the Appian Way. She finds Spartacus, almost dead now, and shows him his free son.
As James Powers noted in the October 2, 1960 Hollywood Reporter, SPARTACUS "is a magnificent picture, with spectacle to dazzle the eye, political conflict to ease the mind and intimacy to hug the heart." Costing more than any film before it was made, SPARTACUS is monumental with vividly etched sequences and scenes. The vast deployment of the Roman army for battle has never been surpassed in detail and grandeur. The actors are superb, especially Laurence Olivier, as the polished, effete patrician Crassus, who personifies evil without repelling the audience, and Peter Ustinov who provides a welcome vein of humor in the film as Batiatus, the corrupt owner of the school of gladiators. Furthermore, director Stanley Kubrick is at his best in crafting this masterpiece. Finally, the film has a poignant love story to soften and highlight its dynamic plot which affirms that hope triumphs over slavery.
However, the film is not flawless. Its length causes one to tire during the brief periods of calm between the crescendos. Also, there are jumps in plot development which slightly annoy. Of particular concern is how Antoninus escapes the clutches of Crassus. Finally, the rough New York accents detract from the otherwise exceptional authenticity of the film.
It is interesting that the Hollywood Reporter worried whether the public would accept a film written by Dalton Trumbo, because of his previous Communist Party affiliation and blacklisting. Here he is careful to foreshadow the life of Jesus Christ and infer in the opening narration that the way of the disciples, who overturned the Roman Empire by their loving witness, was more powerful than the rebellion of the slaves. Also, Trumbo avoids glorifying revolution and instead supports justice and the acceptance of the consequences of one's actions. True, the hope that the slaves will throw off their chains burns eternal, but the means do not coincide with the ruthless duplicity of Marx's dialectical materialism. In fact, they tend to affirm the liberating power of the love of Jesus Christ.
It should be noted that the added film footage is unnecessary and demonstrates the fact that the Church helped Hollywood to produce better films, since the added footage only serves to slow the movie down. However, in the final analysis, SPARTACUS is a masterpiece, which every teenager and adult should see on the big screen in all its magnificence.