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Spartacus (1960)

It took twelve million dollars, two years of intensive planning and 8,000 Spanish extras to complete this epic costume drama starring (and produced by) Kirk Douglas.

The end results justified the enormous expense, and the movie was widely praised for its ambitious battle sequences – although if you look closely you can see Roman soldiers wearing wristwatches and tennis shoes.

Less than two weeks after shooting began in Death Valley, California, Kirk Douglas fired Anthony Mann as director and replaced him with Stanley Kubrick, who had directed Douglas in the brilliant anti-war movie Paths Of Glory (1957).

Directing a cast of heavyweight names such as Laurence Olivier (as the sadistic patrician general Crassus), Jean Simmons (as slave girl Varinia), Charles Laughton, Peter Ustinov and Tony Curtis, Stanley Kubrick (then aged only 31) brought as much visual sweep and dramatic emphasis to his epic subject as the Technorama 70 screen could comfortably contain, as well as some excessively violent scenes which it could not – such as Crassus’ callous puncturing of a gladiator’s neck and the severing of a warrior’s arm in a battle between Roman legions and slaves.

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For most of its fairly extensive running time, however, Kubrick wisely concentrated on the development of the personal relationships described in both the novel and in Dalton Trumbo’s literate screenplay.

Spartacus tells the (embellished) real-life story of a slave from Thrace (a vast tribal region comprising parts of modern-day Bulgaria, Greece, and Turkey) who, in the first century BC led a motley army of rebels – mostly escaped slaves – against the mighty Roman Republic.

While the revolt failed, Spartacus entered legend as the unlikeliest of heroes: a man who rose from bondage to battle tyranny, and failed – but ignited a dream of liberty in his followers’ hearts.

“Are you afraid to die?” slave Antoninus (Curtis) asks Spartacus at one stage in the film. “No more than I was to be born”, replies the slave leader. Hopefully this made his subsequent crucifixion easier to bear!

Spartacus was filmed partially on location outside Madrid (where Spanish soldiers doubled as Roman legionnaires) and in Hollywood.

The film netted a massive $14,600,000 and has been exalted, imitated, honoured, derided, dissected and parodied – but after all these years it still achieves what three-hour-long big budget movies rarely get right. It’s entertaining as all hell.

Spartacus
Kirk Douglas
Marcus Licinius Crassus
Laurence Olivier
Varinia
Jean Simmons
Sempronius Gracchus
Charles Laughton
Lentulus Batiatus
Peter Ustinov
Antoninus
Tony Curtis
Caius Julius Caesar
John Gavin
Tigranes Levantus
Herbert Lom
Crixus
John Ireland
Marcus Publius Glabrus
John Dall
Draba
Woody Strode
Helena
Nina Foch
Claudia
Joanna Barnes
Marcellus
Charles Mcgraw
David
Harold J. Stone
Ramon
Peter Brocco
Gannicus
Paul Lambert
Captain of the Guard
Robert J. Wilke
Dionysius
Nick Dennis
Caiaus
John Hoyt
Laelius
Frederic Worlock
Symmachus
Dayton Lummis
Julia
Jill Jarmyn
Otho
James Griffith
Marius
Joe Haworth
Metallius
Vinton Hayworth
Narrator 
Vic Perrin

Director
Stanley Kubrick