Spartacus (1960)

spartacus poster 1960 movie kubrick
8.0 Overall Score
Story: 8/10
Acting: 8/10
Visuals: 8/10

Solid epic

Not my favorite Kubrick or epic film

Movie Info

Movie Name:   Spartacus

Studio:   Bryna Productions

Genre(s):   Action/Adventure/Romance/Drama

Release Date(s):   October 6, 1960 (Premiere)/October 7, 1960 (US)

MPAA Rating:   Not Rated

spartacus kirk douglas woody strode

Let’s get ready to rumble!!!

Born a slave, the Thracian Spartacus (Kirk Douglas) finds himself an unlikely hero when he raises an uprising among the slaves of Rome.  Now as the Romans plot to destroy Spartacus and his men, Spartacus and his love Varinia (Jean Simmons) are in a desperate race to reach the Italian coast and return to their homelands with their people.  The odds are against Spartacus and his men, but Spartacus vows to fight on!

Directed by Stanley Kubrick, Spartacus is a gladiator action-adventure drama.  Following Kubrick’s Paths of Glory in 1957, the film features a script by Dalton Trumbo and adapts Howard Fast’s 1951 adaptation of the Spartacus story.  The film won Academy Awards for Best Actor (Peter Ustinov), Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction-Set Decoration—Color, and Best Costume Design—Color with nominations for Best Film Editing and Best Dramatic or Comedy Score.  Multiple versions of the film existed but the film was restored to its original feature length in 1991.  The film was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress in 2017.  The Criterion Collection released a remastered version of the film (Criterion #105).

Spartacus arose from the epics.  Movies like Ben-Hur and The Ten Commandments were long and loaded with scenery, but Spartacus doesn’t seem to have the same flow as the other big epics which kind of hurts it in the long run.

spartacus snails oysters laurence olivier tony curtis

So…care for a snail or an oyster?

I do like that Spartacus isn’t as cut and dry.  You have a hero that is doomed.  The story of Spartacus is relatively well known and you know it doesn’t end well for the character…and the bad guy “wins”.  With that difficulty, you have to build up the “gotcha” ending which Kubrick does a nice job with the help of the fun character of Gracchus and Batiatus who serve as foils to Crassus.  Spartacus “loses” but is the ultimate winner.

Kirk Douglas and his chiseled look are perfect for the film.  He’s strong and built while most of the Romans are weak.  Jean Simmons is rather a generic female lead in a movie with very few female characters but she does have that appeal that could cause her to be desirable to many who see her.  While Peter Ustinov gets the meatier role of a swindler who always seems to be Teflon, I think Charles Laughton’s Gracchus might be more interesting.  Laurence Olivier plays the heavy and has the classic “snails or oysters” conversation with Tony Curtis which led to editing (and had Anthony Hopkins step in as the voice of Olivier for the dubbing).

spartacus 1960 im spartacus kirk douglas

I’m Spartacus!!!

The movie has the big look of epics.  It is a film of the pre-computer generated movies where if you wanted an army of men, you had to get an army of extras.  This is always important to remember is scenes of battles and fighting…like movies like Lawrence of Arabia and others, the movie was massive and it shows.

Spartacus isn’t my favorite Kubrick film because it doesn’t seem to have as many Kubrick touches as many of his other works.  Despite this, the movie is solid (but long), and it does have its place among the epics of the time.  When watching Spartacus, you can see how “modern” epics like Braveheart and Gladiator tried to emulate films like Spartacus, but you can argue that they failed in the scope and vision.  Kubrick followed Spartacus with Lolita in 1962.

Related Links:

Spartacus:  Blood and Sand Review and Complete Episode Guide

Spartacus:  Gods of the Arena Review and Complete Episode Guide

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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