Monday, June 8, 2015

Spartacus (1960)


Director Stanley Kubrick's fifth feature film won four Academy Awards, including best supporting actor for Peter Ustinov, but this 1960 epic didn't dazzle this movie-goer.

Spartacus (Kirk Douglas) is a slave in Rome. After working for the Romans on a mountainside, he is purchased and sent to gladiator school. There, he falls for Varinia (Jean Simmons), a sex slave for the gladiator hopefuls.

Spartacus' rebellious streak - he knawed on a Roman guard's leg while carrying rock - rises up again. He leads a rebellion of gladiators. The pushback against Rome picks up speed. Other slaves join the gladiators. Their goal is to reach the ocean and sail back home.

The Roman senate, not keen to see slaves succeed in their freedom quest, seek to stomp out Spartacus and the other rebels.

What's most interesting about this film is Ustinov's role as Batiatus, who purchases slaves. Batiatus is a coward and opportunist. He easily spots chances to make money and make sure when trouble comes up, he's nowhere to be found. Batiatus kisses a lot of backsides to get his way. Nice job, Peter Ustinov!

Spartacus isn't too subtle in contrasting the slave leader's bid for freedom and efforts by his Roman counterpart Crassus (Laurence Olivier) to curtail freedom of Romans as part of his plans to be Roman leader.

The romance between Spartacus and Varinia shows promise when both are captives, but gets bogged down in standard lovey-dovey scenes once they're free.

For a movie about two opposing forces, there's not a lot of time spent fighting in this film. What is interesting is how Kubrick handles large crowd scenes, especially as Roman solders fill a field in preparation for a final showdown with Spartacus and company.

RATING: 6/10

FUN FACTS: Jean Simmons was in Guys and Dolls. She was also a harpist in Caesar and Cleopatra.

Kirk Douglas will celebrate his 100th birthday in 2016.

John Gavin, who appears as Julius Caesar, was Sam Loomis in Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho.

Spartacus was Charles Laughton's second last feature film.