Friday, January 11, 2013

#879. Spartacus (1960) - The Films of Stanley Kubrick

Directed By: Stanley Kubrick

Starring: Kirk Douglas, Laurence Olivier, Jean Simmons

Tag line: "They trained him to kill for their pleasure. . .but they trained him a little too well. . ."

Trivia: Sir Peter Ustinov joked about his daughter, born at the beginning of production, being in kindergarten by the time the film was finished. When asked what her father did for a living she would answer, "Spartacus"

A thrilling historical epic, 1960's Spartacus also tells the very personal tale of a slave who dreamed of freedom, then took on the world’s mightiest empire in order to attain it.

Shortly after he is condemned to death for attacking a guard, the Roman slave Spartacus (Kirk Douglas) is purchased by Batiatus (Peter Ustinov, who would win an Academy Award for his performance), owner of a training facility for gladiators. Over the course of the next several months, Spartacus is instructed in the fine art of killing for profit, yet also finds himself falling in love with Varinia (Jean Simmons), a house slave. 

After being forced to take part in a brutal fight to the death, Spartacus persuades his fellow gladiators to rise up against their cruel masters, and before long, he has not only taken control of Batiatus's’ school, but the surrounding villages as well, building an army of slaves that he himself has set free. 

While most of Italy panics at the prospect of a slave uprising, Roman Senator Gracchus (Charles Laughton) uses this rebellion to advance the career of his young apprentice, Julius Caesar (John Gavin), and to destroy the reputation of his chief adversary, Crassus (Laurence Olivier), a military leader and one of the most powerful men in Rome. 

With the ruling class at each others' throats, Spartacus takes advantage of the extra time allotted him and marches his troops towards the sea, where he hopes to hire a fleet of ships that will carry him and his ragtag army as far away from Rome as possible.

Directed by Stanley Kubrick (who took over when Anthony Mann was fired a week into production), Spartacus is both a sprawling epic and a stirring drama, its moments of spectacle interspersed with an intimate tale of a people fighting to be free. The film’s various battle scenes, some of which boast thousands of extras, are spectacular; the final confrontation between Spartacus’ slave army and Crassus’ troops is as exciting as it gets. But the quieter sequences are just as effective, like the touching relationship between Spartacus and Varinia, and the battle of wills that sees Crassus and Gracchus butting heads on the floor of the Roman Senate.

Spartacus does, indeed, tell a grand story, yet never loses sight of the deeply personal ones that drive it.


Unknown said...

I loved Spartacus. Olivier, Ustinov, and Douglas gave such stunning performances.

thickerthantalk said...

And of course the scene of mass heroism: I am Spartacus! Wonderful sequence that has justly become part of culture.