Spartacus (1960) / Drama-Action

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for violence and some sensuality
Running Time: 184 min. (The Restored Version runs 198 min.)


Cast: Kirk Douglas, Laurence Olivier, Jean Simmons, Charles Laughton, Peter Ustinov, John Gavin, Herbert Lom, Tony Curtis
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Screenplay: Dalton Trumbo (based on the novel by Howard Fast)
Review published June 12, 1998

Set in Ancient Rome, Spartacus follows a group of slaves that are bought up by a trainer of gladiators to hold as entertainment for patricians who want to see them fight to the death. Unable to take the injustices of slavery any longer, one of the slaves turns on the Roman captors, sparking a revolt among the slave population, forming an army of gladiator-warriors. They do not seek revenge on the Romans, but rather, they only want to cross the sea for a life of freedom. However, the Roman Senate sees the events as a disgrace, deciding it better to hunt them down rather than let them go in peace.

As fine a film as this is, one can only wonder how great Spartacus could have been had director Stanley Kubrick (2001, A Clockwork Orange), who was brought in late due to differences between star Kirk Douglas (Paths of Glory, Oscar) and the original director Anthony Mann, been allowed to alter the script, perhaps toning down the rather high amounts of moralization, potentially diffusing the film's only weakness. 

Brilliant performances by the entire cast highlight this impeccably directed and impressively mounted epic, with outstanding performances by Ustinov (Logan's Run, Lorenzo's Oil) and Laughton (Jamaica Inn, Witness for the Prosecution) in particular. The finer elements vastly exceed any moments of heavy-handed morality, making this a must-see for all lovers of historical epics.  If you enjoyed Gladiator, Spartacus makes a worthy older-but-wiser companion.. 

Qwipster's rating:

1998 Vince Leo