Stanley Kubrick was only 31 years old when Kirk Douglas
(star of Kubrick's classic Paths of Glory
) recruited the young director to pilot this epic saga, in which the rebellious slave Spartacus (played by Douglas) leads a freedom revolt against the decadent Roman Empire. Kubrick would later disown the film because it was not a personal project--he was merely a director-for-hire--but Spartacus
remains one of the best of Hollywood's grand historical epics. With an intelligent screenplay by then-blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo (from a novel by Howard Fast), its message of moral integrity and courageous conviction is still quite powerful, and the all-star cast (including Charles Laughton in full toga) is full of entertaining surprises. Fully restored in 1991 to include scenes deleted from the original 1960 release, the full-length Spartacus
is a grand-scale cinematic marvel, offering some of the most awesome battles ever filmed and a central performance by Douglas that's as sensitively emotional as it is intensely heroic. Jean Simmons plays the slave woman who becomes Spartacus's wife, and Peter Ustinov steals the show with his frequently hilarious, Oscar-winning performance as a slave trader who shamelessly curries favor with his Roman superiors. The restored version also includes a formerly deleted bathhouse scene in which Laurence Olivier plays a bisexual Roman senator (with restored dialogue dubbed by Anthony Hopkins) who gets hot and bothered over a slave servant played by Tony Curtis. These and other restored scenes expand the film to just over three hours in length. Despite some forgivable lulls, this is a rousing and substantial drama that grabs and holds your attention. Breaking tradition with sophisticated themes and a downbeat (yet eminently noble) conclusion, Spartacus
is a thinking person's epic, rising above mere spectacle with a story as impressive as its widescreen action and Oscar-winning sets. --Jeff Shannon
, based on Howard Fast's popular novel, is Stanley Kubrick's glorious masterpiece about a slave uprising in Rome in 70 B.C. Kirk Douglas, who also served as executive producer, stars as the title character, a man born of a slave woman and a slave master who has known nothing but chains his entire life. After being forced to put on a gladiator show--that almost leads to his death--for wealthy Romans (including a marvellously conniving Laurence Olivier as the power-hungry Crassus), Spartacus leads a slave revolt across Italy that soon has thousands marching on Rome. Meanwhile, he has fallen in love with the beautiful Varinia (an effervescent Jean Simmons), pledging his life to her. Douglas assembled a fabulous all-star cast for the film; in addition to himself, Simmons, and Olivier, terrific performances are turned in by Charles Laughton as the curmudgeonly senator Gracchus, John Gavin as the young Julius Caesar, Tony Curtis as Antoninus (a 'singer of songs', with all lines delivered in a beautifully thick New York accent), and especially Peter Ustinov, an Oscar winner for his portrayal of the businessman Batiatus, who always wants to know what's in it for him. Blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo's melodramatic script and Alex North's thrilling, soaring score add a majesty that helps make Spartacus
one of the finest costume epics to ever come out of Hollywood.