Review: Spartacus (1960)

Spartacus (1960)

Directed by: Stanley Kubrick | 197 minutes | action, drama, war, romance, adventure, biography, history | Actors: Kirk Douglas, Laurence Olivier, Jean Simmons, Charles Laughton, Peter Ustinov, John Gavin, Nina Foch, John Ireland, Herbert Lom, John Dall, Charles McGraw, Joanna Barnes, Harold J. Stone, Woody Strode, Peter Brocco

During the production of ‘Spartacus’, executive producer Kirk Douglas fired original director Anthony Mann. Douglas remembered Kubrick from the recording of ‘Path of Glory’ and asked if he wanted to direct. Kubrick had to team it up with actor gods like Laurence Olivier, Kirk Douglas and Peter Ustinov as a 31-year-old. Kubrick gave them the freedom to fill their roles however they wanted. And with success. Spartacus (Kirk Douglas) is a slave in the salt mines of Thracie. One day he is sold to gladiator school owner Batiatus (Peter Ustinov). At school he not only learns how to fight like a gladiator, but he also learns love. Varinia (Jean Simmons) is a slave girl with whom Spartacus begins a romance.

When she is sold to the Roman senator Crassus (Laurence Olivier), Spartacus intervenes and revolts. Spartacus has already made many friends during his stay and showed that he has a rebellious nature. Not surprisingly, many fellow gladiators and other slaves join and go with him. They come into contact with pirates who are willing to make their ships available for payment of a lot of gold. The slaves can then return to their homeland. The slaves get the gold by robbing the rich Romans. News of the revolt becomes widely known and many slaves join Spartacus. The revolt is initially underestimated by the Roman rulers. People are busier with political games than with solving the revolt.

When the slaves finally arrive at the beach just outside Brindisi, there are no ships. Those in power have surreptitiously reached an agreement with the pirates and the insurgents have nowhere to go. There is only one way back: to march to Rome. The alternative is death, and it is unanimously chosen to go into battle with the Roman army. “Better die a free man than a slave,” Spartacus tells the crowd.

The story is slowly portrayed, but there is never a dull moment. And that is remarkable for a film that lasts more than three hours. The alternation of scenes between the slave raid and the political events in Rome ensures that the story and the film remain interesting to watch. But the excellent performances also make the film a fascinating whole. Peter Ustinov plays his role as gladiator school owner Batiatus with light irony. Laurence also impresses Olivier as the grim and power-hungry senator Crassus, but also Charles Laughton as the smart but shrewd senator Gracchus impresses. ‘Spartacus’ can rightly be called a classic.

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