Play It Again – Spartacus

Play It Again – Spartacus. Starring Kirk Douglas, Peter Ustinov, and Laurence Olivier. Directed by Stanley Kubrick. Rated PG. By Jess Lomas.

Play It Again is a weekly feature in which our classic-film connoisseurs revisit a revered motion picture from the annals of movie history, to see if it holds up… or if it has aged terribly. And yes, it takes its name from a famously misquoted Casablanca line (hey, whatever; it fits!).

This month, we’re doing battle with the filmography of Stanley Kubrick.

“I’m Spartacus!” It’s one of the greatest lines in cinema history and is spoken in a pivotal scene in Stanley Kubrick’s 1960 toga-fest Spartacus. When you talk of epic Hollywood films, few come close to trumping this 3-hour test of endurance. Packed with injustice, romance, action, and fights to the death, Kubrick tackles the life of Spartacus and the Third Servile War in grand fashion.

Adapted by screenwriter Dalton Trumbo from the novel of the same name by Howard Fast, Kirk Douglas plays the slave named Spartacus; rebellious in nature and a natural born leader. Rescued from a death sentence by slave trader Lentulus Batiatus (Peter Ustinov,who won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance), Spartacus enters gladiatorial training from which he will be sold and forced to fight for the wealthy citizen’s entertainment. It is during his training that he meets and falls in love with a slave woman, Varinia (Jean Simmons).

When Roman general and politician Marcus Licinius Crassus (Laurence Olivier) arrives with his small party and demands to be treated to a show, four gladiators – including Spartacus – are chosen to fight to the death in an exhibition of their skills. What follows this demoralising demand is a revolt and a chain of events that will not only alter the future of Spartacus and his fellow slaves, but the future of the Roman empire.

Interestingly, Kubrick was the replacement for director Anthony Mann, who was fired by Kirk Douglas after one week of shooting. Though many doubted Kubrick’s ability to helm such an ambitious picture, it would go on to become a classic and win four Academy Awards including Best Cinematography and Best Costume Design. Spartacus was also nominated for Best Film Editing and Best Music; with the haunting, and, at times, repetitious score lingering after the credits.

Tony Curtis also makes an appearance as the slave Antoninus, though it is Douglas’ performance that is iconic overall. A richly filmed and elaborate production, Spartacus is an epic undertaking for truly committed fans of cinema. Thankfully, the DVD includes a much-needed intermission for your respite.

Next week: Simon closes out the Kubrick marathon with Barry Lyndon.

Spartacus is available on DVD, Blu-ray, and can be streamed via Quickflix’s WatchNow service.

One Response to “Play It Again – Spartacus”

  1. Great review.I was surprised to read recently Anthony Hopkins dubbed Lawrence Olivier in the infamous bath tub scene,which was omitted in my first viewing of Spartacus.This movie is brilliant,even by today’s standards.

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