A solid action drama from the pages of history, based on a Howard Fast novel, this epic has influenced and inspired important leaders and people who pursue justice all over the world.
Spartacus was a slave most of his life. Later, trained as a gladiator for the Romans’ entertainment, he watched their cruelty at its peak. He then, began a rebellion that challenged Rome to its core, but failing to foresee the Empire’s long and strong arms that surrounded him and bought loyalties leaving him no way out, he found himself betrayed by those who were to provide him escape to his homeland.
Kirk Douglas, who plays Spartacus, shows how the man suffered, fought, loved, and longed for freedom and home. With a great cast including Tony Curtis as his best friend Antoninus, Jean Simmons as Varinia, lover and mother of his child to be born, and Lawrence Olivier as Crassus, Roman senator and general who, behind his rage, he is also intrigued and afraid by this slave’s charisma, the film delivers a story still relevant today.
Black-listed writer Dalton Trumbo, victim of the witch hunt by the House Un-American Activities Committee of almost a decade before, and first time credited after this dark period in American life thanks to Douglas, wrote a script of remarkable realism and intelligence.
This movie became one of President Kennedy‘s favorite films. It’s also important to notice the striking similarities between Spartacus’ struggle and Martin Luther King‘s. Watch closely the scene where Spartacus addresses the multitude of fellow slaves in their last night together and see the resemblance in Dr. King’s last speech in Memphis eight years after this 1960 movie was released.
This influential film broke the mold when, in contrast to the old tired formula of bad guy loses-good guy wins, Spartacus is shown dying on a cross at the end, changing the way heroes would be presented from then on in other serious movies.
The spectacular cinematography by Russell Metty capturing the Roman legions and the thousand slaves over large portions of landscape (no computer-generated effects in 1960!) is effectively accompanied by Alex North‘s martial score turning sublime when Varinia says goodbye to Spartacus.
Director Stanley Kubrick engages the audience so well, that when our hero is defeated and the Romans ask the prisoner slaves to identify him, contrasting with our society’s individualistic pressures to save only our own skin stepping back when our fellow man or woman is in trouble with the “authorities”, the audience, just like his loyal friends, will feel moved to stand up and proclaim: “I am Spartacus!”
See also with Kirk Douglas: Inherit the Wind (1988), The Vikings (1958), Lust for Life (1956).