Cast: Kirk Douglas, Laurence Olivier, Peter Ustinov, John Gavin, Jean Simmons, Tony Curtis
Spartacus, a Thracian slave, refuses to allow himself to become the animal the Roman civilization would have him be. His love for Varinia, a slave girl, coupled with his revulsion at the crushing treatment and callous murders of his fellow slaves, ignite in his breast a passion for freedom. They escape and are joined by more runaways, and swell to become a vast army. Contrasted with their impassioned plans for open rebellion are the cool, calculating minds of their Roman adversaries Crassus, Grachus and Batiatus. To Rome, a poorly equipped army of slaves are no more threatening than the invasion of insects which attack the city during the hot, humid seasons. The slaves' cries for freedom and their challenge will be but a more diversion from the musty affairs of state. And so, in a chilling engagement, the superior military might of Rome proceeds to crush the army of Spartacus.
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“I am Spartacus!” is one of the most iconic lines on par with “stuff dreams are made of” of the Maltese Falcon and “Take your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape!” from the Planet of the Apes. When you hear those words you know exactly where it comes from and who stars in it. Spartacus is one of the best inspirational films about a historical character who fought for the people against corruption, a theme which still continues today in many films.
Kirk Douglas had a reputation of playing the villains in many of his pictures. He didn’t mind so much considering the villains are usually the best part of the story, but here we get him not only as a hero but as a hero who meant something more than his title. He like William Wallace in later pictures would be a symbol of freedom.
The rebellious Thracian Spartacus, born and raised a slave, is sold to Gladiator trainer Batiatus. After weeks of being trained to kill for the arena, Spartacus turns on his owners and leads the other slaves in rebellion. As the rebels move from town to town, their numbers swell as escaped slaves join their ranks.
Under the leadership of Spartacus, they make their way to southern Italy, where they will cross the sea and return to their homes. Meanwhile, in Rome, the slave revolt has become a deciding factor in the power struggle between two senators: the republican Gracchus and the militarist Crassus, each of whom sees the fortunes of the rebellion as the key to his own rise to power or humiliating defeat.
As the two statesmen attempt to aid, hinder and manipulate the rebels for their own benefit, Spartacus and his followers press on toward freedom. Kirk Douglas does an excellent performance and one that certainly paved the way for other Hollywood martyrs. The ending may leave some a little heartbroken but he power of that scene and the meaning behind it is not lost.
It should be noted that the film took liberty with the truth. Most of it was embellished or simply made up for the purpose of the movie. If were recreated today, it would likely follow the same formula although I do think they creative force behind it would try to stay closer to the truth rather than sacrifice it for pure entertainment. The audience is far more critical and privy to such changes than they were in the old Hollywood days.
Despite the historical inaccuracies, Kirk Douglas created a powerful epic that still resonates today. Spartacus has become something of an iconic figure that represents something larger than himself. Kubrick solid directing and Douglas exceptional acting make Spartacus a film worth watching. Enjoy.