The 300 Spartans (1962) Poster

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"Go tell the Spartans...."
theowinthrop2 March 2006
Warning: Spoilers
It is only a vague memory of seeing this film four decades ago, but it impressed me for several reasons. It is (like ZULU DAWN, but more meaningfully) the story of a military defeat and massacre. It is also one of the handful of American or British films dealing with the history of ancient Greece. And, it is one of the few historical films that got the facts correct.

If one thinks about it, Hollywood only produced five other films dealing with ancient Greece between 1950 and 1990. They were "Alexander the Great" (directed by Robert Rossen), and "Jason And The Argonauts" and "Clash Of The Titans", the latter two not about classic Greek history but about the myths of the search for the Golden Fleece and of Medusa and Perseus. The fourth film was "Helen Of Troy" (which starred Cedric Hardwicke, but introduced Brigid Bardot to the U.S.). The fifth film was "The Trojan Woman", a film based on Euripides' tragedy and starring Katherine Hepburn. Italian productions were better, including "Ulysses" with Kirk Douglas and Anthony Quinn, and all those "Hercules" films with Steve Reeves. But the personalities of Golden Age Athens, like Pericles, Socrates, Plato, Alcibiades, never made it onto the big screen.

"Alexander The Great" was a fairly good film, and recently a new film on the conqueror was made. Also a new film about the Trojan War. Both flopped at the box office. That is why such films rarely are made - the bottom line is will it sell movie tickets (or DVDs). Neither did.

So it is a losing battle. But we are losing a great deal of history by ignoring it. So it is rewarding to see a production that dealt with a critical military turning point.

In 490 Darius of Persia attempted to conquer the free Greek states, as they were constantly causing trouble in his Greek possessions on the eastern shores of the Black Sea, Asia Minor, and the Eastern Meditteranean. His forces were defeated at the battle of Marathon. Marathon has been immortalized by a summer Olympic race that is named for an event in the battle: how Pheiddipides ran the twenty miles from Athens to Marathon and back without rest to report the victory, and dropped dead a moment after he announced it.

Darius died, and his son Xerxes decided to try again. He gathered the largest army in history (reputedly 2 million soldiers) from his empire, and crossed over into Greece, determined to smash Athens. However, this bulky army had to go through narrow mountain passes, and reached Thermopylae. Here a small Spartan army of 300 men, led by King Leonidas, repeatedly held off the attack. Besides showing superior military abilities to the Persian commanders, Leonidas had the added advantage of having a fighting area where the huge Persian forces could not manipulate their troop size in. He could have left several times, after each bloody repulse of Xerxes' men, but he refused because he wanted all of Greece to prepare for this onslaught. He finally told his last messengers to tell the Spartans that his men would never retreat and would die for Greece.

In the meantime, Themistocles (the leading political figure in Athens) had been arguing for the need of the sea port to take advantage of it's big calling card - it's huge fleet. Sparta was the great land power, and Athens the naval power. Themistocles started making arrangements for what would be the devastating blow to Xerxes' plans of conquest. Xerxes needed his ships to ferry his huge army back and forth across the Hellespont. Wipe out the Persian ships, and their huge size was not such an advantage anymore.

Eventually a traitor gave Xerxes the key to destroying Leonidas and his men - a secret path behind Thermopylae. Surrounded the last chance to retreat was rejected by the King, and the men of Sparta fought until all 300 were killed. But the death toll was like that at the Alamo, as the Spartans just kept killing Persian troops. We don't have the stats available but several thousand troops (mostly impressed slaves, unfortunately) were killed.

Xerxes moved onward, approaching Athens. On top of a hill overlooking Salamis Bay, he watched as his huge fleet was faced by a smaller Athenian one. But Themistocles had set up his ships in such a way as to get the larger, more cumbersome Persian ships jamming into each other. The Greeks destroyed most of them, thus making ferrying troops or supplying two million men impossible.

Xerxes himself went home - he could not bear to watch what was going to happen. A Spartan led Greek army destroyed his weakened army at the battle of Plataea in 279 B.C.E. Persia never again threatened to grab Greece.

The story of the 300 Spartans is now part of western legend - that against all odds, and in the face of death, a small force can make a difference and frequently does. Richard Egan was quite good as Leonidas, and Ralph Richardson did well in a supporting part as Themistocles. David Farrar played the arrogant, but ultimately humiliated Xerxes nicely.

A 19th Century Australian poet, Adam Lindsay Gordon, wrote this regarding the sacrifice of Leonidas and his army.

"We eat and drink or ere we die,

(The sunlight flashes on the sea.)

Three hundred soldiers feasted high

An hour before Thermopylae;

Leonidas poured out the wine,

And shouted ere he drained the cup,

'Ho! comrades, let us gaily dine --

This night with Pluto we shall sup;'

And if they leant upon a reed,

And if their reed was slight and slim,

There's something good in Spartan creed --

The lights are growing dim."
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Very credible job
boethius-416 May 2004
This was one of the last of the great sword-and-sandal epics. Unlike many before it or since, it managed to get the facts generally correct. The story, recorded in Herodotus, concerns a small band of troops from Sparta who held off the advance of the Persian army in the 5th century B.C. In doing so, they gave their fellow Greeks time to organise a larger army. Themes include: democracy vs. despotism, and sacrifice for the sake of the common good. Ever stoic Richard Egan (star of "Pollyanna," "Esther and the King," and other fun films) does a great job of projecting the inner strength of Spartan leader Leonidas. This film is not to be missed and ranks with other memorable epics of the 1960s, such as "The Long Ships". Note: this is newly remastered and should not be confused with the botched version released some months prior.
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Soapy Bravery in Ancient Greece
dbborroughs12 September 2004
What is it about the tale of 300 Spartans holding off the whole of the Persian army that haunts us still?

At some point they'll make the great version of this story, until that day comes this film will do nicely.

The plot has the 300 Spartans going off with a small band of other Greeks to perform a delaying action in a narrow pass against the vastly superior Persian Army. They delay the Persians for several days before a final and terrible battle that assured them their place in history.

The battle scenes are wonderful, as is pretty much everything in this film. The problem is that they've shoehorned a love story into this testosterone charge film to the point it distracts from the rest of the film, it just doesn't belong. Actually most of the early part of the film, before the troops move out is rather soapy. However once the troops march the film picks up, and other than the damned romance is fine film.

See this movie. Forgive the soap and you'll have a rousing good time.

8 out of 10.
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I like this better than "300"
Col_Hessler18 March 2007
If you enjoy a lot of blood, then watch "300". But, if you want something closer to what history really tells us happened at Thermopylae, then "The 300 Spartans" is what you want. I enjoyed the fact that they showed what both sides had in that time as far as weapons and tactics were concerned. They also kept the focus on the bravery of the Spartans, and that all of Greece not only wished them well, but could help, as with the Athenian fleet, not some CGI generated storm.

This was also marked by good acting all around, from Richard Egan as Leonidas, and all the supporting cast. This movie is for those who crave real history, even if much of what occurred may be lost to the ages.
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Not bad for 40 years ago.
MChittum-California1 October 2002
I was a teenager when I first saw this film. I was raised on the ancient spectacle films of the 50's and 60's and feel this one holds up quite well. No, it's not perfection with respect to history. The Spartans were hardly democratic or benevolent. But, they were fiercely proud, great warriors and very independent. The film does a fine job choreographing the 2-3 day battle, given the budget and FX limitations of the early 60's. Very similar to "Helen of Troy" in these respects. Richard Egan was excellent as Leonidas but the script was very limiting for him and the rest of the cast. I will look forward to seeing the film that results from Steven Pressfield's "Gates of Fire". Hopefully 40+ years of technology will create a true epic, as befitting an action (unknown to most school kids today) that helped preserve and push Western Civilization.
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Fantastic Film
Erin McHugh24 May 2004
This movie just came out on DVD, and it's something to get your hands on, no doubt.

The Battle Of Thermopylae is a great story of heroism, and captured here with great acting and breath-taking battle scenes sans special fx. I have no doubt this movie will be remade, especially since it's been ripped off endlessly (especially in recent times.)

Let's just start with the acting. Richard Egan and Ralph Richardson are, on their own, great actors. The chemistry between the two actors is endearing and honest. Richardson plays the older, wiser Themistocles while Egan plays the strong, respectful lionhearted King Leonidas. Both of them are wonderful to watch, and with Egan, it's nice to see an actor who plays a role as a human instead of a Shakespearean caricature. He's stoic, yet totally sympathetic. Wonderful.

Geoff Unsworth and Rudolph Mate succeeded in capturing the landscape of an ancient land, though I obviously was not there to verify that this is in fact what the land looked like. Come to think of it, neither were any of us! So, to try to criticize the movie on details with such vitriol that its as if you lived it yourself is, in all honesty, laughable and pathetic. Great, you derive joy from nit picking a MOVIE meant to stir discussion and above all, entertain. Bully for you.

Regardless, 300 Spartans is a great story of courage, sacrifice, and selflessness. Oh, and it was well done. Period.

Anyhow, if you've got wits, get this movie.
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A Tale of Courage, Heroism and Idealism
Claudio Carvalho6 April 2007
In 480 BC, the ambitious, cruel and merciless King Xerxes (David Farrar) of Persia invades Greece with his huge army to extend his vast slave empire. The brave Spartan army is the great hope to free and unite Greece, and Ling Leonidas (Richard Egan) promises to the council of the Greek Stats to defend the passage of Thermopylae, the only way by land to reach Athens. However, he is betrayed by the politicians of Sparta and stays alone with his personal body guard army composed of three hundred warriors only. Using courage and great knowledge of strategies of war, he defends Thermopylae until a treacherous goatherd tells King Xerxes a secret goat passage leading to the back of Leonidas's army.

The epic "The 300 Spartans" is a great tale of courage, heroism and idealism. This story has romance, action and drama, with great interpretations and choreography in the battle scenes. I laughed a lot with the witty line of the old goatherd to Phylon: - "Who can understand the way of gods? They create lovely girls and then turn them into wives." The use of red clothes by the Spartan army to hide the blood from the enemies shows how this warriors were war oriented . My vote is eight.

Title (Brazil): "Os 300 de Esparta" ("The 300 from Sparta")
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My favorite all time movie
ppeterson2-125 January 2004
I saw this movie when it first came out in 1962, I believe, when I was just a kid and it is still one of my favorite movies of all time. As I got older there were a few mistakes in it that I noticed. One was, someone in the movie said that the Spartans fight like Machines. I don't think that the word machines or machines in general were invented then. I could be wrong though. A few other flaws but in my judgement it is one the finest army action fighting movies.Reading history books about the Persian wars it seems quite accurate.
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It's always about the Spartans. What about the Thespians?
fheiser116 March 2007
This is a great movie but it steps into one of my pet peeves, the 700 Thespians. They never get the same press as the Spartans. They died with the Spartans, citizen soldiers and professional warriors fighting side by side for the freedom of others. If you want drama, pathos and tragedy, the story of some sculptor, farmer or smithie with a comfortable life, a wife, kids and a career sacrificing himself for freedom would impress me a lot more than a professional warrior taught to treat life with contempt from the earliest age.

Not that I'd call Sparta a "free" state. Democracy does not equal freedom. Yes they did elect their governing council but free states don't take your male children from you at age 7 to turn them into killing machines, don't murder slaves as a rite of passage and don't kill imperfect babies as a matter of law. The slaves in Sparta (the Helots) outnumbered the citizens by a wide margin and could never become citizens themselves. Even those who became emancipated (but still could never be citizens) were held in contempt and fear and were often massacred. Sparta lived in perpetual fear of a Helot revolt.

The Thespians were a free people who worshiped Eros and the Muses and lacked a warrior class. Their version of "slavery" was closer to indentured servitude where you had legal rights and could earn your freedom. Thespia was burned despite the sacrifice of its people at Thermopylae. The survivors still managed to muster another 1800 for the final battle at Plataea.

Incidentally, there were about 5-7000 Greek troops total. It was realistic that such a force could have held the pass indefinitely. Most were dismissed when the Persians threatened to surround them. The Spartans and Thespians remained behind to cover their retreat. (Apparently some Thebans also stayed behind but surrendered before the final battle.)
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a super excellent show
woodbuffmilk15 May 2004
seen the movie many times when younger, wanted to get the show again even now.still looking. best acting and best portrayal of the real events. they died with hounor and courage.and the last defence was very sad. loved the movie.the show had such realism and did keep to the whole plot of events that did shape the world even as we have it today. if not for their gallant and heroic fight the battle would have set the world on a different course. their was much emotion in watching the movie and it did keep you in your seat to not want to miss a thing. the major actors went on to bigger shows and also the best ones also as ben hur.ect.. this movie was years before its time and would be a major box office hit now.
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