An epic classic in the recently departed legend’s filmography.
Kirk Douglas, one of Hollywood’s remaining Golden Age stars has sadly passed away at the age of 103. He’s one of the lucky ones to make it over 100 years old, and that is incredible. In Stanley Kubrick’s 1960 epic “Spartacus,” he portrays the Thracian gladiator Spartacus, and let me tell you: no-one could top his performance as the legend. It’s one of his classic movies I’ll be dishing on, out of respect.
It begins with him as a slave, who is sold to a gladiatorial school in Cape, run by Lentulus Batiatus (Peter Ustinov who won the Oscar for this role), and must train to fight on the battlefield. He manages to lead the other prisoners to freedom, and vows to free every slave from every prison. They would become an army.
It also shows his love for Varinia (Jean Simmons), a serving girl he refused to rape, as he is not an animal. She then gets sold to Roman senator Crassus (Laurence Olivier) for her spirit and intelligence. That’s when Spartacus turns the tables on Batiatus’ soldiers, and leads the prisoners to freedom. However, she manages to escape and reunite with Spartacus.
And about Crassus, he plans to change Rome for the better in his terms and the worse in our perspectives. He seizes to thwart Spartacus’ mission for liberty, and therefore, he leads his men to Rome for battle.
Douglas has a razor-sharp vibe as Spartacus, at the level of Charlton Heston in “Ben-Hur” and “The Ten Commandments.” This is one of his performances he will always be remembered for, despite him being denied Oscars for it. Simmons has a seductive and radiant charm as his lover. Ustinov is witty and vulnerable as Batiatus. Olivier is charismatic as Crassus in his devious intentions to destroy the hero’s story and legacy. And you also have Tony Curtis delivering the goods as Antoninus, an entertainer, magician, poet, and ally to Spartacus.
Leave it to director Stanley Kubrick and screenplay writer Dalton Trumbo (who blacklisted at the time had to be given the pen name Sam Jackson) to adapt Howard Fast’s novel and the hero’s life story on an epic scale. These types of movies deserved to be made in early 60s, unlike today when CGI, campaign ads, and movie cliches would consume the majesty of it all.
Look at the countless soldiers, the battlefields, the locations, the sets, and decor-all of which are fabulous designed and crafted. The cinematography by Russell Metty paints them all gloriously, and even if I’m seeing this in the new decade, it still resonates with the Golden Age of Hollywood. And the it was made in Hollywood and Spain, so there’s a sense of authenticity and picturesque beauty.
Running at a 3-hour scale, we’re able to see Spartacus, his allies, and enemies without them being rushed or forced. Even if Kubrick distanced himself from his masterpiece, because of his views of the movie Spartacus character, it still ranks with one of the bets movies of all time, and the very best of Douglas’ career.
He will be remembered for this movie.