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 dreamt of freedom, then took on the world’s mightiest power to attain it.
Shortly after he's 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), one of Lentulus’ house slaves. 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’s not only taken control of Lentulus’ school, but the surrounding area as well, building an army of slaves from the ones he himself 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 foe, 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 in the direction of 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 heartfelt 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 splashed across the screen, 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 one that drives it.