Spartacus (film)

Spartacus (film)

Theatrical release poster by Reynold Brown
Directed by Stanley Kubrick
Anthony Mann (uncredited)
Produced by Edward Lewis
Kirk Douglas (executive)
Screenplay by Dalton Trumbo
Based on Spartacus by
Howard Fast
Narrated by Vic Perrin
Starring Kirk Douglas
Laurence Olivier
Peter Ustinov
John Gavin
Jean Simmons
Charles Laughton
Tony Curtis
Music by Alex North
Cinematography Russell Metty
Stanley Kubrick (uncredited)
Editing by Robert Lawrence
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release date(s) October 7, 1960 (1960-10-07)
Running time 184 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $12 million
Box office $60,000,000
Original 1960 theatrical release poster

Spartacus is a 1960 American epic historical drama film directed by Stanley Kubrick and based on the novel of the same name by Howard Fast. The life story of the historical figure Spartacus and the events of the Third Servile War were adapted by Dalton Trumbo as a screenplay.

The film stars Kirk Douglas as rebellious slave Spartacus and Laurence Olivier as his foe, the Roman general and politician Marcus Licinius Crassus. Co-starring are Peter Ustinov (who won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role as slave trader Lentulus Batiatus), John Gavin (as Julius Caesar), Jean Simmons, Charles Laughton, John Ireland, Herbert Lom, Woody Strode, Tony Curtis, John Dall and Charles McGraw. The film won four Oscars in all.

The titles were designed by Saul Bass.[1]

Anthony Mann, the film's original director, was replaced by Douglas with Kubrick after the first week of shooting.[2]



Slaves work in the Roman province of Libya. Spartacus (Kirk Douglas), a burly Thracian, comes to the aid of an old man who has fallen down. A Roman soldier whips Spartacus and tells him to get back to work, only to be attacked and bitten on the ankle. For this, Spartacus is tied up and sentenced to death by starvation.

Lentulus Batiatus (Peter Ustinov), a lanista (an impresario of gladiatorial games), arrives looking for recruits for his gladiatorial establishment. He inspects several slaves before finally settling on Spartacus, recognizing his unbroken spirit, along with his good health and physical condition. Batiatus purchases Spartacus and several others, then sails for Capua where his gladiatorial training camp is located. The trainer, Marcellus (Charles McGraw), immediately tries to provoke Spartacus into giving the trainer a reason to kill the Thracian as an example. Spartacus also befriends another gladiator, Crixus (John Ireland).

After several scenes showing gladiator training and life at the school, Crassus (Laurence Olivier) arrives with some companions, wishing to be entertained by watching two pairs of gladiators fight to the death. Spartacus is selected along with Crixus, an Ethiopian named Draba (Woody Strode), and another gladiator named Galino.

Crixus and Galino are the first to fight, and Crixus slays him. Spartacus is next. He duels the mighty Draba and is defeated. Draba, however, refuses to kill him, instead throwing his trident into the elevated spectators' box and leaping to attack the Romans. During his climb to the box, a guard throws a spear that lands in Draba's back, wounding him at the feet of Crassus, who quickly dispatches the slave and prepares to depart.

As Crassus leaves, he purchases the pretty slave woman, Varinia (Jean Simmons). Spartacus and Varinia have fallen in love, and in frustration at his loss and the overseer's callous treatment, Spartacus begins a successful uprising. The gladiators eventually take Capua and all the surrounding districts. Many local slaves flock to the insurgents. Spartacus outlines his plan to escape by sea from the port of Brundisium, aboard the ships of the Cilician pirates, whom he plans to pay from the slaves' plunder.

In the Senate of Rome, plebeian senator Gaius Sempronius Gracchus (Charles Laughton) cunningly manipulates Crassus's protege and friend Marcus Glabrus (John Dall) into taking six cohorts of the Garrison of Rome out to crush the revolt, leaving the way open for Gracchus's ally, Julius Caesar (John Gavin), to take command of the garrison during Glabrus' absence. In the meantime, Crassus receives new slaves as a gift from the governor of Sicily. Among them is Antoninus (Tony Curtis), a former children's tutor from Sicily. Crassus intimidates him during a bath with homoerotic allusions causing Antoninus to run away to join Spartacus.

Spartacus and Crixus review some new recruits, assigning them positions according to their skills. Antoninus, who is among them, identifies himself as a poet and illusionist. Later, he entertains the slave army, but he is determined to be a soldier, indirectly commenting on the relation between politics and art. Spartacus is reunited with Varinia, who had escaped from Batiatus, only to end up the property of yet another master.

A humiliated Glabrus returns to Rome, with only fourteen other known survivors of the attack. After a senate hearing, Crassus is forced to banish Glabrus from Rome for his carelessness.

Rome keeps sending armies to put down the rebellion, but Spartacus defeats them all; one such defeat at Metapontum costs the Romans 19,000 men. Crassus resigns from the Senate, supposedly to share the disgrace of his exiled friend Glabrus. However, Gracchus suspects that he is merely waiting for the situation to become so desperate that the senators will make him dictator, thus neutralizing Gracchus's rival plebeian party. Gracchus, for his own purposes, maneuvers to help the slaves to escape in order to deny Crassus his opportunity. A disgusted Caesar betrays Gracchus, however, and Crassus reaches deep into his own pockets to defeat the plan.

When the former slaves reach the coast, they discover that the Cilicians have been bought off by Crassus. Spartacus finds himself trapped between three Roman armies (Pompey in Calabria, Lucullus in Brundisium and the legions of Crassus in Rome). The Roman deployment has maneuvered Spartacus into a position where he can be trapped between two Roman armies, and his only other choice is to fight his way through to Rome itself, a strategy with little chance of success. Meanwhile, the Senate gives Crassus the sweeping powers he desires. In parallel scenes, Spartacus harangues the slaves, while Crassus warns against the elimination of patrician privileges. Batiatus is hired by Crassus to help him identify Spartacus after his expected capture, and is in turn promised the dealership of the survivors of Spartacus's army after its defeat.

The climactic battle begins with Spartacus leading his troops, men and women, against Crassus and his own legions. During the fighting, the slaves initially enjoy some success, but later on Crixus is killed, and the slave forces are overwhelmed by the arrival of the armies of Pompey and Lucullus. The battle results in the total defeat of the rebel army, heavy casualties on both sides, and the capture of many survivors, including Spartacus and Antoninus. Crassus promises the captives that they will not be punished if they will identify Spartacus or his body. Spartacus and Antoninus stand up, but before Spartacus can speak, Antoninus shouts "I'm Spartacus!" One by one, each surviving slave stands, shouting out "I'm Spartacus!" Crassus condemns them all to be crucified along the Appian Way from the battlefield to the gates of Rome, against Batiatus's wishes. He saves Antoninus and Spartacus for last, recognizing the former and recalling the latter's face and name from his visit to Capua. The slaves are marched along the Appian Way, where, one by one, they are crucified.

Crassus arrives and orders Spartacus and Antoninus to duel to the death, too impatient to wait for the next day's celebrations in which the pair was to figure, and furious at Spartacus's refusal to confirm his identity, Crassus declares that the winner will be crucified. Each man tries to kill the other, to spare his companion a slow, agonizing death on the cross. After killing Antoninus, Spartacus is informed that Varinia and her son are slaves of Crassus, and he is then crucified by the walls of Rome. Crassus admits to Caesar that he now and for the first time fears Spartacus, who has become a martyr, even more than he fears Caesar himself, foreshadowing events to come.

Meanwhile, Batiatus sees that the revenge of Crassus denies him the promised lucrative auction of the surviving slaves. Varinia and her first born son, recovered from the battlefield, are taken to Crassus' home. Crassus tries to use Varinia as a love slave, and he unsuccessfully tries to woo her. In his last act before committing suicide, the disgraced Gracchus generously hires Batiatus to steal Varinia from Crassus, then grants freedom for her and her son, personally writing out manumission documents for them. Before they leave, Varinia kisses Gracchus in gratitude. After they leave, Gracchus examines two daggers, looks at one and says "Hmm... prettier". Grabbing one dagger and putting down the other, he goes into the adjoining room, closing the curtains behind him as he leaves, and commits suicide offscreen.

Batiatus and Varinia leave for Gaul via the Appian Way and find Spartacus hanging on the last cross by the road, not quite dead. Varinia shows Spartacus their newborn son, vowing that he will grow up a free man, promises to tell her son, "Who his father was, and what he dreamed of," and bids Spartacus a final farewell. With one last breath, Spartacus's head slumps back, and Varinia gets back onto the wagon and rides on.


  • Kirk Douglas as Spartacus, a Thracian slave working in Libya, who is purchased by the lanista Lentulus Batiatus, and trained as a gladiator. He later leads the revolt at the gladiatorial school, which spreads throughout the countryside.
  • Laurence Olivier as Crassus, a patrician with an obsessive love of the city of Rome and its old tradition of patrician rule.
  • Jean Simmons as Varinia, a slave girl from Britannia working for Batiatus, who falls in love with Spartacus and eventually becomes his loving wife, and gives birth to a son.
  • Charles Laughton as Gracchus, a dedicated Roman senator who is Crassus's only real opposition. He is a Republican and a crooked pragmatist whose lack of scruples in his political dealings is his ultimate downfall. But he also has sympathy for Varinia's plight, and he helps her and her newborn child escape Crassus. Knowing that he will be killed for this, he chooses to commit suicide.
  • Peter Ustinov as Lentulus Batiatus, a shrewd, manipulative slave dealer, who purchases Spartacus, and ends up paying dearly for it. He blames Crassus for Spartacus's rebellion and for his poverty; therefore, he seeks revenge against Crassus and eventually settles that account with a little help from the Roman senator Gracchus. Peter Ustinov won his first Oscar for his role in this film; his performance was the only one to win an Oscar in a film directed by Kubrick.
  • John Gavin as Julius Caesar, the young ambitious protege of Gracchus, who gains command of the Garrison of Rome during the chaos of the Spartacus rebellion.
  • Nina Foch as Helena Glabrus, a shrewd, manipulative sister of Marcus Publius Glabrus, who insists that Batiatus entertain them with two pairs of gladiators fighting to the death.
  • John Ireland as Crixus, one of Spartacus' most loyal lieutenants, who serves him until he is slain in the final battle.
  • Herbert Lom as Tigranes Levantus, a Cilician pirate who agrees to take the slaves out of Italy. When Spartacus and his forces reach Brundisium, Levantus is forced to betray them, and takes no pride in it.
  • John Dall as Marcus Publius Glabrus, a naïve protege of Crassus, who unwittingly plays into the hands of Gracchus.
  • Charles McGraw as Marcellus, the gruff gladiator trainer for Lentulus Batiatus. He dislikes Spartacus immediately and singles him out for extra training and punishment. He is killed by Spartacus during the revolt.
  • Tony Curtis as Antoninus, a young Sicilian slave who leaves his master, Crassus, and joins Spartacus. At the conclusion of the movie, Spartacus and Antoninus are forced to fight to the death in a gladiatorial match, the survivor to be crucified.
  • Woody Strode as Draba, an Ethiopian being trained at the gladiatorial school. Initially, Draba refuses to tell Spartacus his name, as he knows someday he might be matched with him in the ring: each would be obliged to kill the other.


The development of Spartacus was partly instigated by Kirk Douglas's failure to win the title role in William Wyler's Ben-Hur. Douglas had worked with Wyler before on Detective Story, and was disappointed when Wyler chose Charlton Heston instead. Shortly after, Edward (Eddie) Lewis, a vice-president in Douglas's production company, Bryna (named after Douglas's mother), had Douglas read Howard Fast's novel, Spartacus, which had a related theme - an individual who challenges the might of the Roman Empire - and Douglas was impressed enough to purchase an option on the book from Fast with his own financing. Universal Studios eventually agreed to finance the film after Douglas persuaded Olivier, Laughton and Ustinov to act in it. Lewis eventually became a co-producer of the film. [2]

Screenplay development

Originally, Howard Fast was hired to adapt his own novel as a screenplay, but he had difficulty working in the format. He was replaced by Dalton Trumbo, who had been blacklisted as one of the Hollywood Ten. He used the pseudonym "Sam Jackson."

Kirk Douglas insisted that Trumbo be given screen credit for his work, which helped to break the blacklist.[3] Trumbo had been jailed for supposed communist sympathies in 1950, after which he had been surviving by writing screenplays under assumed names. Douglas' intervention on his behalf was praised as an act of courage.

In his autobiography, Douglas states that this decision was motivated by a meeting that he, Eddie Lewis and Kubrick had regarding whose name/s to put against the screenplay in the movie credits, given Trumbo's shaky position with Hollywood executives. One idea was to credit Lewis as co-writer or sole writer, but Lewis vetoed both suggestions: Kubrick then suggested that his own name be used. Douglas and Lewis found Kubrick's eagerness to take credit for Trumbo's work revolting, and the next day, Douglas called the gate at Universal saying, "I'd like to leave a pass for Dalton Trumbo". Douglas then writes, "For the first time in ten years, [Trumbo] walked on to a studio lot. He said, "Thanks, Kirk, for giving me back my name." " [2]

The filming was plagued by the conflicting visions of Kubrick and Trumbo. Kubrick complained that the character of Spartacus had no faults or quirks, and he later distanced himself from the film.[4] Despite the on-set troubles, Spartacus's critical and commercial success established Kubrick as a major director.


After David Lean turned down an offer to direct, Spartacus was to be directed by veteran Anthony Mann, then best-known for his Westerns such as Winchester '73 and The Naked Spur. Douglas fired Mann at the end of the first week of shooting, in which the opening sequence in the quarry had been filmed. "He seemed scared of the scope of the picture," wrote Douglas in his autobiography; yet a year later Mann would embark on another epic of similar size, El Cid. The dismissal (or resignation) of Mann is mysterious since the opening sequences, filmed at Death Valley, Nevada, set the style for the rest of the movie.

Thirty-year-old Stanley Kubrick was hired to take over. He had already directed four productions (including Paths of Glory, also starring Douglas), but only two had been feature-length films. Spartacus was a bigger project by far, with a budget of $12 million and a cast of 10,500, a daunting project for such a young director (although his contract did not give him complete control over the filming). Shortly after taking over, Kubrick effectively fired cinematographer Russell Metty and took over the film's lighting work, although Metty remained contracted and credited as cinematographer to avoid legal wrangling. Metty won an Oscar for the film.

Spartacus was filmed using the 35 mm Technirama format and then blown up to 70 mm film. This was a change for Kubrick, who preferred using square-format ratios. Kubrick found working outdoors or in real locations to be distracting and thus preferred to film in the studio. He believed the actors would benefit more from working on a sound stage, where they could fully concentrate. To create the illusion of the large crowds that play such an essential role in the film, Kubrick's crew used three-channel sound equipment to record 76,000 spectators at a Michigan StateNotre Dame college football game shouting "Hail, Crassus!" and "I'm Spartacus!"

The intimate scenes were filmed in Hollywood, but Kubrick insisted that all battle scenes be filmed on a vast plain outside Madrid. Eight thousand trained soldiers from the Spanish infantry were used to double as the Roman army. Kubrick directed the armies from the top of specially constructed towers. However, he eventually had to cut all but one of the gory battle scenes, due to negative audience reactions at preview screenings.


The original score for Spartacus was composed and conducted by six-time Academy Award nominee Alex North. It is considered[who?] one of his best works, and a textbook example of how modernist compositional styles can be adapted to the Hollywood leitmotif technique. North's score is epic, as befits the scale of the film. After extensive research of music of that period, North gathered a collection of antique instruments that, while not authentically Roman, provided a strong dramatic effect. These instruments included a sarrusophone, Israeli recorder, Chinese oboe, lute, mandolin, Yugoslav flute, kythara, dulcimer, and bagpipes. North's prize instrument was the ondioline, similar to an earlier version of the electronic synthesizer, which had never been used in film before. Much of the music is written without a tonal center, or flirts with tonality in ways that most film composers would not risk. One theme is used to represent both slavery and freedom, but is given different values in different scenes, so that it sounds like different themes. The love theme for Spartacus and Varinia is the most accessible theme in the film, and there is a harsh trumpet figure for Crassus.

The soundtrack album runs less than forty-five minutes and is not very representative of the score. There were plans to re-record a significant amount of the music with North's friend and fellow film composer Jerry Goldsmith, but the project kept getting delayed. Goldsmith died in 2004. Numerous bootleg recordings have been made, but none has good sound quality.

In 2010 the soundtrack was re-released as part of a set, featuring 6 CDs, 1 DVD, and a 168-page booklet. This is a limited edition of 5,000 copies.[5]

Re-releases and restoration

The film was re-released in 1967 (in a version 23 minutes shorter than the original release), and again in 1991 with the same 23 minutes restored by Robert A. Harris, plus an additional 14 minutes that had been cut from the film before its original release. This addition includes several violent battle sequences. It also has a bath scene in which the Roman patrician and general Crassus (Olivier) attempts to seduce his slave Antoninus (Curtis), speaking about the analogy of "eating oysters" and "eating snails" to express his opinion that sexual preference is a matter of taste rather than morality.

When the film was restored (two years after Olivier's death), the original dialogue recording of this scene was missing; it had to be re-dubbed. Tony Curtis, by then 66, was able to re-record his part, but Crassus' voice was an impersonation of Olivier by the actor Anthony Hopkins. A talented mimic, he had been a protege of Olivier during his days as the National Theatre's Artistic Director and knew his voice well.

Some four minutes of the film are lost, due to Universal's mishandling of its film prints in the 1970s. These scenes relate to the character of Gracchus (Laughton), including a scene where he commits suicide. The audio tracks of these scenes have survived. They are included on the Criterion Collection DVD, alongside production stills of some of the lost footage.

Awards and nominations

Academy Awards

Award[6] Winner(s)
Best Actor in a Supporting Role Peter Ustinov
Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Color Alexander Golitzen
Eric Orbom
Russell A. Gausman
Julia Heron
Best Cinematography, Color Russell Metty
Best Costume Design, Color Arlington Valles
Bill Thomas
Best Film Editing Robert Lawrence
Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture Alex North

Spartacus has been on 5 different AFI 100 Years... lists including #62 for thrills, #22 for heroes, #44 for cheers and #81 for overall movies.

In June 2008, AFI revealed its "Ten top Ten"—the best ten films in ten "classic" American film genres—after polling over 1,500 people from the creative community. Spartacus was acknowledged as the fifth best film in the epic genre.[7][8]

American Film Institute Lists

  • AFI's 100 Years…100 Movies - Nominated[9]
  • AFI's 100 Years…100 Thrills - #62
  • AFI's 100 Years…100 Heroes and Villains:
    • Spartacus - #22 Hero
  • AFI's 100 Years…100 Movie Quotes:
    • "I'm Spartacus! I'm Spartacus!" - Nominated[10]
  • AFI's 100 Years…100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) - #81
  • AFI's 10 Top 10 – #5 Epic film

Critical reception

The movie received mixed reviews when first released, but over time its reputation has gained in stature. Critics such as Roger Ebert have argued that the film has flaws, though his review is generally positive otherwise.[11] When released, the movie was attacked by both the American Legion and the Hollywood columnist Hedda Hopper because of its connection with Trumbo. Hopper viciously stated, "The story was sold to Universal from a book written by a commie and the screen script was written by a commie, so don't go to see it." [2]

Bosley Crowther called it a "spotty, uneven drama."[12] It has a 96% (fresh) rating on Rotten Tomatoes.[13]

"I am Spartacus!"

In the climactic scene, recaptured slaves are asked to identify Spartacus in exchange for leniency; instead, each slave proclaims himself to be Spartacus, thus sharing his fate. The documentary Trumbo[3] suggests that this scene was meant to dramatize the solidarity of those accused of being Communist sympathizers during the McCarthy Era who refused to implicate others, and thus were blacklisted.

Kubrick referenced this scene in his next film, Lolita, where Humbert Humbert asks Clare Quilty, "Are you Quilty?" to which he replies, "No, I'm Spartacus. Have you come to free the slaves or something?"[14]

Several subsequent films by others also reference this scene, one of the most notable being the 1979 film Monty Python's Life of Brian, which reverses the scene by depicting an entire group undergoing crucifixion all claiming to be Brian who it has just been announced is eligible for release ("I'm Brian" "No, I'm Brian" "I'm Brian and so's my wife.")[14] Further examples can be found[14] in David Hughes' The Complete Kubrick[15] and Jon Solomon's The Ancient World in Cinema.[16]

In the 1998 film The Mask of Zorro convicts one after the other say "I'm Zorro!".

In the 1996 film That Thing You Do!, drummer Guy Patterson repeatedly uses the phrase "I am Spartacus"; though none of the other characters appear to understand the reference.

In 2005, Pepsi aired a commercial where a Roman general announces that a lunch package (containing a 12oz can of Pepsi) marked with the name 'Spartacus' has been found, and asks if Spartacus is present. Everyone immediately claims to be Spartacus in an attempt to get the beverage for himself, resulting in the general drinking it himself. The commercial contains licensed footage from the original film.[14]

In May 2007, British soldiers in Iraq were reported to be wearing t-shirts bearing the statement "I'm Harry!" in reference to the debate over whether Prince Harry should serve a tour of duty there.[17]

In November 2010, at the instigation of UK singer Chris T-T, thousands of users of the social networking site Twitter used the hashtag #iamspartacus to show solidarity with Paul Chambers who on 11 November had his appeal against his conviction denied. Chambers had been convicted for a joke post on Twitter in which he threatened to blow up Robin Hood Airport. Many users have tweeted copies of his original tweet, accompanied by the hashtag.[18]

During Roger Waters' 2010/2011 tour of The Wall, Waters plays the audio of "I am Spartacus" and chants the phrase himself with the audience.

See also


  1. ^ Spartacus at the Internet Movie Database Retrieved June 17, 2006.
  2. ^ a b c d Kirk Douglas. The Ragman's Son (Autobiography). Pocket Books, 1990. Chapter 26: The Wars of Spartacus.
  3. ^ a b Trumbo (2007) at the Internet Movie Database Retrieved April 25, 2010.
  4. ^ Winkler, Martin M. Spartacus: Film and History, p. 4. Wiley-Blackwell, 2007. ISBN 1405131810
  5. ^ Varèse Sarabande Records: "Varèse Sarabande Records" 11 October 2010
  6. ^ "NY Times: Spartacus". NY Times. Retrieved 2008-12-24. 
  7. ^ American Film Institute (2008-06-17). "AFI Crowns Top 10 Films in 10 Classic Genres". Retrieved 2008-06-18. 
  8. ^ "Top 10 Epic". American Film Institute. Retrieved 2008-06-18. 
  9. ^ AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies Nominees
  10. ^ AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes Nominees
  11. ^ Ebert, Roger (1991-05-03). "Spartacus". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2009-01-08. 
  12. ^ Crowther, Bosley (1960-10-07). "'Spartacus' Enters the Arena:3-Hour Production Has Premiere at DeMille". New York Times. Retrieved 2009-01-08. 
  13. ^ "Spartacus Movie Reviews, Pictures". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2009-01-08. 
  14. ^ a b c d Winkler, Martin M. Spartacus: Film and History, pp. 6-7, fn. 12. Wiley-Blackwell, 2007. ISBN 1405131810
  15. ^ Hughes, David. The Complete Kubrick. London: Virgin, 2000; rpt. 2001, pp. 80-82. ISBN 0753504529
  16. ^ Solomon, Jon. The Ancient World in Cinema, 2nd edition. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001, p. 53. ISBN 0300083378
  17. ^ Staff (2007-05-02). "Harry's troops do a Spartacus". Ananova. Retrieved 2007-05-04. 
  18. ^ Haroon Siddique (2010-11-12). "#IAmSpartacus campaign explodes on Twitter in support of airport joker". The Guardian. Retrieved 2010-11-12. 

External links

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