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This is Kubrick's farewell to Hollywood. I would have liked to be a fly on the wall. I don't believe for a minute that it was a cordial parting of the ways. I mean, Kubrick never returned, never! With "Paths of Glory" Kubrick gave Kirk Douglas, not just his best part as an actor, but his best movie. By the time Douglas called Kubrick to "take over" "Spartacus" Douglas was already a huge star with too much saying in the matter. Look at it, it's clear. "Spartacus" is more Douglas than Kubrick. Great fun to watch, yes, absolutely. A terrific script by black listed Dalton Trumbo. Some fight sequences unequalled in the history of film. Look at the fight between Douglas and Woody Strode and compare it to the ones in "Troy" or "Gladiator" for that matter. It is sad an embarrassing to realise how low we've fallen. Computer generated images or not. The cast is unbelievable but it's clearly not Kubrick's. The casting of his movies was part of his master plan. He would cast a Ryan O'Neil as Barry Lyndon for instance so he can blend perfectly with the magnificent tapestry, without adding any colours of his own. The same can be said of Keir Dullea, in 2001, a robotic non entity in a showdown with a voice. When he needed actors to be at the very pinnacle of his universe he went to Peter Sellers, Malcolm McDowell or James Mason. Even the casting of Tom Cruise made a lot of sense. He used the star and his wife to talk about the dreamlike powers of betrayal. In "Spartacus" Tony Curtis, plays Antoninus, a teacher of the classics. A campy idea never seen in a Kubrick film, before or since. To be fair, there are some spot on, brilliant pieces of casting. Charles Laughton is, as usual, superb. Peter Ustinov, terrific. Laurence Olivier manages to give a multifaceted portrait of weakness, fear and greed. Jean Simmons makes the reason to survive totally believable. But the cutesy love scene between her and a shiny muscular, coiffed Spartacus is truly terrible. As a final blow, the scene is enveloped in a sticky, corny music theme. Having said all that. Don't you dare missing this epic. I'ts Kubrick's goodbye to Hollywood and like everything else that the master said or do, he really meant it.
From what little I've read of this film it was lucky to have been made
at all. Some very big talents had some very big egos and those egos
clashed repeatedly. Original director Anthony Mann was replaced by
Stanley Kubrick by Producer/Star Kirk Douglas among other clashes.
But the result was all worth it. The stars all give top notch performances, but the mark of a really great film is the memorability of each individual in the ensemble. To give a few examples, Charles McGraw as the sadistic trainer at the gladiatorial school, John Dall as Sir Laurence Olivier's protégé, and John Ireland as Kirk Douglas's fellow gladiator trainee are all memorable in the brief roles they have.
Kirk Douglas wisely opts for a straightforward interpretation of a hero in the title role of Spartacus. He's a BC everyman, born into a world which hadn't heard anything about human rights, he knows and feels he's not just cattle. Catch the alternating scenes of Douglas and Sir Laurence Olivier addressing the slave army and the Roman Army. Olivier with his years of Shakespearean training coming across as the tyrant to be, and Douglas in simple prose talking about the slaves fighting for their hopes and dreams. Very effective.
The plot concerns a revolt at a gladiatorial school which mushrooms into a crisis for the Roman Empire. Political factions led by Olivier as Crassus and Charles Laughton as Gracchus seek to use the slave revolt to further their own ends.
Laughton as always is a wonder. It's a bit of unusual casting for him because his parts are usually those of very tortured souls. His Gracchus is a sly rogue, but a decent man. One of my favorite movie lines of all time is delivered by him addressing the Roman Senate where he says he'll "take a little republican corruption for a little republican freedom."
Another sly rogue in the film is Peter Ustinov who won the first of his two Oscars as Batiatus the owner of the gladiatorial school. Like so many others I'm sure in those days, he's just trying to come out on the winning side when doing so could be a life or death situation.
Jean Simmons as Varinia, beloved of Spartacus, has the only woman's part of any substance. But when was Ms. Simmons bad in anything. One of the most underrated and under-appreciated actresses in the history of film.
The lessons about man's desire for freedom and to control his own destiny are eternal and valid. And this film will be also.
As most are undoubtedly aware this is the film that the director
virtually expunged from his repertoire. But why did Stanley Kubrick
really disown SPARTACUS (1960)? The answer can be summed up in two
words: absolute control. Kubrick wanted total administrative as well as
artistic authority over the making of the film about a revolt of
gladiators and slaves in ancient Rome.
But you will notice that Bryna Productions not only financed SPARTACUS but also an earlier film directed by Kubrick, PATHS OF GLORY (1958). Bryna was Kirk Douglas' film company and, as most filmgoers know, he was the star of both films. Besides having all the money to make the films, Douglas had artistic vision as well. Only three weeks into what would prove to be an incredibly complex and arduous production, Douglas fired venerable director Anthony Mann (RAW DEAL, RAILROADED,THE FURIES, THE NAKED SPUR, THE MAN FROM LARAMIE, MAN OF THE WEST, etc.) from SPARTACUS. With only two days notice, Kubrick was hired to replace him.
Shooting PATHS OF GLORY, Douglas had confined his criticisms and objections to Kubrick's failed rewriting of the script (they went with the original screenplay). Douglas' complaints and artistic influence were far greater on SPARTACUS, much to Kubrick's chagrin. Though the director craved autonomy over every aspect of the film, Douglas would not budge. A tense compromise was reached but ultimately Douglas had the last word. Kubrick saw himself as just a hired gun. And he would never allow himself to be placed in this position again.
Later, both men would complain about the film's outcome and each other. They never made another movie together.
But SPARTACUS is no uneven patchwork of divergent ideas. The film is cohesive and arresting. At the restored version of three hours and eighteen minutes, there is practically no dead footage in the film. Dalton Trumbo's screenplay is surprisingly economical, with sharply drawn characters placed against the sweeping historical majesty and violent sociological tumult of ancient Rome. Quite plainly, the gloriously inventive music by Alex North is among the greatest scores ever written for a motion picture. And despite Kubrick's bad experience, he managed to guide the actors towards creating outstanding work (a best supporting actor Oscar for Peter Ustinov). He even transformed the very real enmity between Laughton and Olivier into an on-screen asset. His other contributions were considerable also (the large scale and power of the battle sequence, for example). In the end, for the film at least, the clash of giant egos proved fortuitous. Recommendations: for greater insight and detail on this and Kubrick's other films I urge you to seek out Jan Harlan's excellent documentary, STANLEY KUBRICK: A LIFE IN PICTURES, and Vincent LoBrutto's exhaustive, highly informative biography, STANLEY KUBRICK. For the producer's views on SPARTACUS and its director, take a gander at Kirk Douglas' very candid autobiography, THE RAGMAN'S SON.
As a historical epic, 'Spartacus' stands out from the crowd.
The film has the basic theme of 'force' versus 'an idea'. One man - Spartacus- has the idea of freedom, which is pitted through his slave army against the entire force of the Roman Empire.
In Spartacus's eventual defeat, force seems to be victorious, but we know with hindsight that it is Spartacus' idea that finally prevails, albeit long after his death, with the abolition of slavery. As the opening narration makes clear, as a young man Spartacus would dream of the death of slavery - "two thousand years before it finally would die." Kirk Douglas gives an inspiring performance as the brutalised and uneducated slave rising above his degradation to find love, leadership and high ideals.
The film closely interweaves the fate of Spartacus with that of Roman politics. His slave rebellion contributes to the fall of Gracchus, the main Republican advocate, and the corresponding rise of authoritarian Crassus. In a way, Spartacus is portrayed as a catalyst for a new era of Roman dictatorship under the Caesars; by suppressing his slave rebellion, Rome sets itself irrevocably on a path away from Republic and freedom, and perhaps confirms its eventual downfall. Some historical licence, no doubt; but a thought-provoking concept.
Unlike many other Roman epics such as 'Ben-Hur' and 'The Robe', the film does not have a Christian motif. However, 'Spartacus' epitomises the triumph of the human spirit in a way that few movies do. Even after his death, not only Spartacus' son but his spirit lives on,if only in man's perennial cry for freedom. The slave leader's resolve, and his will to freedom, remain true to the end.
Considering that it was made in 1960, the film's confronting of hard themes is notable. For example, we have the hint of forbidden homosexual/ bisexual desires from Crassus to Antoninus; the seeming death and failure (but perhaps ultimate victory)for the hero, who traditionally should triumph; and unpleasant scenes involving battlefields and rows of crucified bodies.
The movie is helped by an excellent cast, an evocative score and Stanley Kubrick's direction. The sets and costumes also show great attention to detail, so that ancient Roman society comes alive.
Overall a most entertaining and inspiring movie.
The darkest historical epic. No dancing girls, no chariot races, filmed in sombre browns and reds. Nominally directed by Kubrick but Douglas, as a very 'hands on' producer was responsable for the operatic sweep of the film. I was astonished when revisiting the film in 1991 at the cinema at the bravery of the project-to have the hero cry several times, once even out of self pity and with a heart rending ending! The film has depth and weight, the characters are well drawn. The performances are almost flawless, Douglas managing as actor to create tension in each scene-Olivier, not withstanding his eyerolling mannerisms is perfectly cast. The minor parts are richly drawn-gravel voiced Charles McGraw, Herbert Lom and Woody Strode. The cinematography and music are flawless. Only John Dall as a very modern Glaberus and John Ireland as Crixus seem out of place. Ironically, despite the downbeat tone of the film it is impossible to watch it without being uplifted through your tears of compassion. Unofficialy remade as Braveheart...watch one after the other and you'll see the similarities in mood, theme and even the battle choreography. Spartacus would be my 'desert island' movie.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Widely acclaimed for his serious ambitions and his uncompromising
perfectionism, Stanley Kubrick has won for himself a unique degree of
Based on a true story of a slave revolt in 73 B.C., Dalton Trumbo's script mixes the melodrama with some quite moving moments... The film depicts the Roman era, the brutality of the slave system, gladiator combat and the decadence of Roman senators... What emerges from the screen is a passionate statement on behalf of freedom and men who are willing to die to overthrow oppressive governments...
The credit for the film's style belongs to Stanley Kubrick, who handles scenes of intimacy and scenes of gigantic sweep with equal attention, illustrating the violence, brutality and corruption of both, the masters and the slaves, raising the question of freedom which justify the human cost...
Kirk Douglas plays Spartacus the idealistic noble slave who believes he must struggle forever against tyranny and just by opposing tyranny he inspires his followers with his example...
Spartacus' character, from a violent primitive rebel who hamstrung a foreman with his teeth, into a gladiator who fought desperately for life in the arena, into a revolutionary able to unite an amorphous mass of slaves and deserters, into a force which succeeded to defeat Rome's best trained armies, into a charismatic leader (with a vision) who forces a long-awaited revolt against the Roman empire...
Two political rivals (Crassus and Gracchus) use the slave uprising threat to manipulate the Roman senate for their own ends:
Crassus (played powerfully by Laurence Olivier) extorts 'a fee,' the dictatorial post of First Consul, Commander of all the legions of Italy as his price for releasing Rome from Spartacus... Crassus sees the defeat of Spartacus' army as a chance for him to seize power of the empire for himself... He tries to make the slaves betray Spartacus... He tries to win the love of Varinia, not merely to possess her, but as a form of victory over Spartacus... In his last confrontation with Spartacus, he is seen losing all his delusions of grandeur as he stands deeply wounded by the total disregard in which Spartacus holds him...
Charles Laughton plays, with expertise, Gracchus, a generous Roman politician, soft and rich, able to get his Julius Caesar (John Gavin) elected leader of the Praetorian Guard to annoy Crassus' ambitions...
The first hour of "Spartacus" contains many of the film's best moments : The operation of the gladiatorial school and its training program is impressive and also expressive... The gladiators school is tough but fair: The men are oiled, bathed, shaved, massaged and trained to fight... They are never allowed to kill... And for their good performances, they are even rewarded with the companionship of a young lady... In this degrading manner Spartacus meets Varinia (Jean Simmons-lovely as ever) and it is his love for her and his hatred for his captors that inadvertently sparks off an uprising and the gladiators break out...
Particularly effective is the scene in which Crassus and his "capricious over-painted nymphs" (Nina Foch & Joanna Barnes) ask to be entertained by the sight of two pairs fighting to the death... The scene summarizes the injustice of the situation, the cruelty of bondage and the insurrection becomes a triumph easy to understand...
Nominated for six Academy Awards, and winning for Cinematography, Costume Design, Art Direction and Supporting ActorPeter Ustinov. the motion picture contains no chariot races and no orgies but it still imparts the grandeur and the decay of ancient Rome...
With a stirring musical score by Oscar nominee Alex North, "Spartacus," is masterfully directed by Kubrick...
A very moving and compelling story of epic proportions. The plot is
relentless, propelled by a dazzling screenplay. Kubrick draws some of
the greatest performances of the cast, and fills the screen with images
that fascinate throughout. Well paced for a movie of this magnitude.
To those who complain of anachronisms and poetic license with historical events, I say to them, 'Remember, it is a movie.' To be truly accurate, the cast would be delivering their lines in Latin and ancient Greek, with English subtitles. Whatever Kubrick might lose with historical inaccuracies, he gains far more in his ability to convey the story to the viewer. Even though it is over forty years old, the film tells us more of the present day than it does of the past.
This movie, oddly, parallels A.I. but for a different reason. It is a hybrid of Kirk Douglas and Stanley Kubrick. Young people, Kubrick, probably the greatest American director, wanted a deep penetrating analysis of war and slavery evocative of Paths Of Glory. He and Kirk had worked well together on that film; so Kirk got the studio to go for the project. During making this movie war broke out and not in front of the camera. Stanley went to the studio but he was just starting out; Kirk had a lot more pull. He won and the great movie that you can see traces of was obliterated and replaced with a prosaic action movie. Kirk also thought we should hear endless speeches and scenes of them wandering that would have made Ceil B. DeMille say,"Cut, that is enough wandering crap, we are boring people." It is clear Stanley did the best part of the movie, the training camp and revolt. I own all of Kubrick's movies and I can assure you he never has long boring scenes of magic shows, people going from place to place ad nauseum. Forgive me, the I Am Spartacus did not come from the pen of the darkest misanthropist who ever lived. He makes me look like Gene Roddenberry. Does this look like the man who has the general in Paths say,"The men died gloriously, sometimes some one does something that spoils the whole undertaking.."
When you are watching this movie, like A.I., you can see traces of the Kubrick movie that never got made. The first half is worth owning the movie for, the training camp and the revolt. Both are filed with the usual Stanley, man's boundless cruelty to each other, I assure you the scene where Strode could have killed Douglas but spares him and tries to kill the patrician slime: That is Quintessential Stanley. The weakness of the film is the eternal scenes of wandering and the Kirk Douglas what a man I am show. The one with I Am Spartacus may be remembered, yes it is good, but find me a parallel humanistic scene of human nobility in any other Stanley Kubrick film. That is all Kirk Douglas, and forgive me, it is not Spartacus that is being canonized. The battle scenes, leaving aside the sneakers on their feet, are way too drawn out and boring. Do we need to see the Roman formation for a half an hour as it creeps towards the slaves lines?
Douglas while a great actor was an incompetent director. You can see the damage; he has no grasp of pacing or relevancy to the plot. One or two wandering scenes are sufficient more is boring. However noble the I Am Spartacus is, coincidentally it is a tad self aggrandizing. Like A.I. the movie is a hybrid of a legendary director and an actor in over his head. I own the movie for the Kubrick parts believe me even half of a Stanley Kubrick movie is worth owning. Also, Douglas, while incompetent, does not wreck the movie like Stevie does to A.I. Despite this, you cannot but wish Stanley had won. Imagine if the rest of this classic, mirrored the first half. The wandering scenes can be done well compare these to the ones in DeMille's The Ten Commandments. Notice how we do not see eternal perambulation like we do here. He was a terrible director and he did real damage to Stanley's movie. I heard Kubrick fought to have his name taken off of the movie. His standards, 1000s of takes, were not even remotely met here. Half of a classic.
Spartacus (1960) was a director for hire gig for Stanley Kubrick. Kirk
Douglas was in a pinch for his next film project. He was making an epic
film about a slave in the roman republic who rebels against his
masters. Anthony Mann stepped down from the director's chair and Mr.
Douglas needed someone to take over. Enters Stanley Kubrick. Although
he has little creative input (i.e. script and story wise) he manages to
make a compelling movie with his keen eye and directorial abilities.
Filmed in a grand scope and in such great detail, Spartacus is eye candy for fans of epic film making. I can only imagine what the film would have been like if he had total control over the project. Kirk Douglas is the man as Spartacus, Tony Curtis is quite good as his sidekick, Charles Laughton is wise and witty as the elder senator, Peter Ustinov is a hoot in his role as the poor victim of fortunate (and unfortunate) circumstance and Sir Laurence Olivier shows why he was the premier actor of his day as Crassus.
Highly recommended for Kirk Douglas fans and Stanley Kubrick philes.
I think the movie is quite good; what I want to add to the comments
already made is just this:
The commentary (on the DVD) by screenplay writer Dalton Trumbo is great. Kirk Douglas said it was the greatest analysis of film-making ever. He explains the purpose of every scene, very openly and honestly critiquing the changes the actors made, for (in his estimation) better or worse.
There is another track of commentary by the actors. The actors had an unusual degree of latitude in re-writing their lines and forming their characters.
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