is a 1960 historical drama
directed by Stanley Kubrick
and based on the novel of the same name
by Howard Fast
about the historical life of Spartacus
and the Third Servile War
. The film stars Kirk Douglas
as rebellious slave Spartacus
and Laurence Olivier
as his foe, the Roman general and politician Marcus Licinius Crassus
. The film also stars 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
, Herbert Lom
, Woody Strode
, Tony Curtis
, John Dall
and Charles McGraw
. The titles were designed by Saul Bass
The film begins with slaves working 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 tells Spartacus to get back to work, only to be attacked and bitten on the ankle, apparently on the Achilles tendon
. (In the film, he is said to have hamstrung the guard, which is obviously inaccurate.) 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 disgustedly inspects several slaves before finally settling on Spartacus, recognizing his unbroken spirit. Batiatus sails for Capua
, where his gladiatorial training camp is located.
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, and is defeated, but the victor, Draba (Woody Strode), refuses to kill him, instead throwing his trident into the elevated spectators' box and leaping to attack the Romans. Crassus quickly dispatches the slave, and prepares to depart. As he leaves, he purchases the pretty slave woman Varinia (Jean Simmons), whom Batiatus has assigned to Spartacus. Spartacus and Varinia have fallen in love, and in frustration at his loss the former begins a successful uprising. The gladiators eventually take Capua and all the surrounding districts. Many local slaves flock to the insurgents.
In the Senate of Rome, plebeian senator Sempronius Gracchus (Charles Laughton) cunningly manipulates Crassus's protege and friend Marcus Glabrus (John Dall) into taking 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 city. Meanwhile, Crassus purchases a new slave, Antoninus (Tony Curtis), a former children's tutor from Sicily. Antoninus soon runs away to join Spartacus.
Spartacus reviews 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 the portly Batiatus: he had run after her, but was too slow to catch her. After destroying the Garrison of Rome, Spartacus outlines his plan to escape by sea, aboard the ships of the Cilician pirates, whom he is able to pay from the plunder the slave army has amassed.
Rome keeps sending armies to put down the rebellion (the theatrical trailer mentions nine armies), but Spartacus defeats them all. 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. 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. The Cilician envoy (Herbert Lom) offers to convey Spartacus, whom he addresses as General, along with the pregnant Varinia and Spartacus's senior officers, to Asia to live like kings. The honest Thracian, however, is unwilling to abandon his army. Spartacus finds himself trapped between three Roman armies (Pompey in Calabria, Lucullus in Brundisium and the Garrison of Rome). The Roman deployment has maneuvered Spartacus into a position where his only choice is to fight his way through to Rome, 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 results in the total defeat of the rebel army and the capture of many survivors, including Spartacus. Crassus promises the captives that they will not be punished if they will identify Spartacus or his body. In a powerful scene, one by one, each surviving soldier stands and claims to be Spartacus (shouting out "I'm Spartacus!"). Crassus condemns them all to be crucified along the Appian Way from the battlefield to the gates of Rome. He saves Antoninus and Spartacus for last, recognizing the former and recalling the latter's face and name from his visit to Capua.
Meanwhile, Batiatus sees that the revenge of Crassus denies him the promised lucrative auction of the surviving slaves. Varinia and her first born son are taken to Crassus's home as a love slave, where he unsuccessfully woos 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. Meanwhile, Crassus 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 declaring that the winner will be crucified. Each man tries to kill the other, to spare his companion a slow, agonizing death on the cross. Spartacus is victorious and is 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.
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 and vows that he will grow up a free man. Spartacus's head slumps back, and Varinia gets back onto the wagon and rides on.
- Kirk Douglas as Spartacus. Spartacus is a Thracian slave working in Libya, who is purchased by the lanista Lentulus Batiatus, and trained as a gladiator.
- Laurence Olivier as Crassus. Crassus is a patrician with an obsessive love of the city of Rome. He vies for power in the Roman senate, and thinks little of Spartacus's rebellion. Academy Award-winner Sir Laurence Olivier is considered by many to be the greatest classical actor of the 20th century. Olivier, when approached by Douglas (who knew him because they had both worked together on The Devil's Disciple), suggested that he play Spartacus, much to Douglas's chagrin. Olivier, however, accepted the secondary part and second billing.
- Jean Simmons as Varinia. Varinia is a slave girl working for Batiatus, who falls in love with Spartacus and eventually becomes his loving wife. Academy Award-nominee Simmons had played many roles in notable British films (Great Expectations, Black Narcissus, Olivier's Hamlet), and had made a successful transition to Hollywood. This was one of her numerous leading roles.
- Charles Laughton as Gracchus. Gracchus is 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. However, he was willing to help Batiatus seek revenge on Crassus. Academy Award-winner Laughton's career had dwindled somewhat since the late '30s. This was one of his last major roles, before his death in 1962. He and Olivier shared a similar relationship to that of their respective characters, and reportedly weren't even told that the other had been cast before filming began.
- Peter Ustinov as Batiatus. Lentulus Batiatus is 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 (the second would come with Topkapi). Ustinov was a writer, director, and a distinguished raconteur. His performance was the only one that would win an Oscar from a Kubrick film.
- John Gavin as Julius Caesar. Caesar is the young, ambitious, protege of Gracchus, who gains command of the Garrison of Rome during the chaos of the Spartacus rebellion. His support of Gracchus wanes as the rebellion becomes more serious and Caesar grows disgusted with Gracchus's perfidious attitude towards Spartacus, ultimately defecting to Crassus. Gavin is today best known as the lover of Marion Crane in Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho. He would later become the United States Ambassador to Mexico.
- Nina Foch as Helena Glabrus. Helena is the shrewd, maniplative sister of Marcus Publius Glabrus. The Academy Award-nominated Foch had gained mainstream stardom in another epic, Cecil B. DeMille's The Ten Commandments.
- John Ireland as Crixus. Crixus is one of Spartacus' most loyal lieutenants, and serves him until he is slain in the final battle. Academy Award-nominee Ireland normally played supporting roles akin to the one he played in Spartacus; he featured a mixture of supporting characters in Hollywood epics and Westerns, as well as larger roles in Italian sword and sandal films and spaghetti westerns.
- Herbert Lom as Tigranes Levantus. Levantus is a Silician pirate who is forced to betray Spartacus and takes no pride in it. Herbert Lom was a Czech who moved to Hollywood, eventually to gain his greatest fame as Inspector Dreyfuss in Blake Edwards' long running film series The Pink Panther.
- John Dall as Marcus Publius Glabrus. Glabrus is the naïve protege of Crassus, who unwittingly plays into the hands of Gracchus. Academy Award-nominee Dall was an American actor who worked primarily in the theatre. His most famous screen role is as Brandon Shaw, one of the two murderers in Alfred Hitchcock's Rope. His character is loosely based on Gaius Claudius Glaber.
- Charles McGraw as Marcellus. Marcellus is Lentulus Batiatus's gruff and cruel gladiator trainer, who picks on Spartacus in particular. McGraw was well known for playing heavies similar to his role in Spartacus.
- Tony Curtis as Antoninus. Antoninus is a young 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 gladiator match. Academy Award-nominee Curtis had recently had huge success with Billy Wilder's Some Like It Hot, and Douglas wanted him for the film to add more "star power".
The development of Spartacus
was partly instigated by Kirk Douglas's failure to win the title role in William Wyler
. Douglas had worked with Wyler before on Detective Story
, and was disappointed when Wyler chose Charlton Heston
instead. Not wanting to appear beaten, he decided to upstage Wyler, and create his own epic, Spartacus
, with himself in the title role.
Originally, Howard Fast
was hired to adapt his own novel as a screenplay
, but he experienced difficulty working in the screenplay format and was replaced by the blacklisted Dalton Trumbo
, who worked under the pseudonym
"Sam Jackson". The filming was plagued by the conflicting visions of Kubrick and Trumbo: Kubrick, a young director at the time, did not have the degree of control he would later have over his films, and the final product is more a result of Trumbo's optimistic screenplay than it is of Stanley Kubrick's trademark cynicism; Kubrick complained, in fact, that the character of Spartacus had no faults or quirks.
After David Lean
turned down an offer to direct, Spartacus
was originally to be directed by veteran Anthony Mann
, then best-known for his Westerns
like Winchester '73
and The Naked Spur
. However, at the end of the first week of shooting, in which the opening sequence in the quarry had been filmed, Mann was fired by Douglas. "He seemed scared of the scope of the picture," wrote Douglas in his autobiography. Thirty-year-old Stanley Kubrick
was hired to take over. He had already directed four feature films (including Paths of Glory
, also starring Douglas), but only two had been feature length productions. 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), but Kubrick gave no indication of being overwhelmed.
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 State – Notre 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.
In the final crucifixion scene, an extra accidentally slipped off the temporary bicycle seats they were standing on, and nearly died.
The original score for Spartacus
was composed and conducted by six-time Academy Award
nominee Alex North
. It is considered 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
, Yugoslav flute], kythara
, 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 wouldn't allow. 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 (sung by Terry Callier
) 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 until Goldsmith's death in 2004. There have been numerous bootlegs, but none of them have good sound quality.
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, plus an additional 14 minutes that had been cut from the film before its original release. This addition includes several violent battle sequences as well as a bath scene in which the Roman patrician and general Crassus (Olivier) attempts to seduce his slave Antoninus (Curtis) using 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, and so it had to be re-dubbed. Tony Curtis, by then 66, was able to re-record his part, but Crassus's voice is actually an impersonation of Olivier by actor Anthony Hopkins, a talented mimic who had been a protege of Olivier during his days as the National Theatre's Artistic Director, and knew his voice well.
- The events in the famous "I am Spartacus!" scene and all the scenes afterwards with Spartacus may never have occurred, as Spartacus is widely believed to have been killed in battle. In the film, he was crucified.
- Julius Caesar could not have commanded the garrison of Rome, since it did not exist at that time.
- In the film, Spartacus was born into a life of slavery. The real Spartacus is believed to have served in the Roman Army as an auxiliary soldier who deserted, then was caught and sold into slavery as punishment. There is no evidence that Spartacus worked in the mines of Libya. These facts, deemed less than heroic, were altered in the film and help explain the hero's seemingly uncanny leadership and grasp of how to build and strategically deploy large armies.
- In the film there is a character referred to as Gracchus. The character is depicted as being part of the Senate and opposed to Crassus. The most significant Gracchi were Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus and Gaius Sempronius Gracchus who were both revolutionary political figures active from 163 to 121 BC. The Gracchus in the film acts as an amalgam of the two historical figures and their populist political stance, as well as their tendency to break with tradition in favor of expediency.
- Crassus was never made dictator of Rome.
- In the film, the first slave revolt at the gladiator school was not organized.
- In the film, Crassus mentions a political party. There were no Roman political parties in the modern sense.
- The Retiarii gladiator type did not exist at that time.
Awards and nominations
Spartacus has been on 4 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.
Critics such as Roger Ebert
have argued that the film has flaws
, though his review is generally positive otherwise. Bosley Crowther
called it a "spotty, uneven drama." It has a 95% (fresh) rating on Rotten Tomatoes
. Critics attribute some of the film's flaws to various elements including the interference of the Motion Picture Association of America
(MPAA), which imposed censorial conformity under the Production Code
. Spartacus was one of the most violent and sexually suggestive films of its time. The replacement of the original director, Anthony Mann
, in exchange for Stanley Kubrick
, may have made the filming more difficult.
I am Spartacus!
In perhaps the most famous scene, the recaptured slaves are asked to point out which one of them is Spartacus in exchange for leniency. Instead, they each proclaim themselves to be Spartacus and thus share his fate. This has been widely referenced and parodied in a range of different mediums. An example would be the "I am Malcolm X
!" montage from the end of Malcolm X
, or when several townspeople erroneously declare themselves drag queens to prevent an actual one from being arrested in To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar
. South Park
has also taken a shot at it in a 2005 episode, with everyone shouting "I broke the dam!" In the series finale of Power Rangers in Space
, "Countdown to Destruction
," the evil Astronema
vows to spare the civilian populace if the Power Rangers will surrender themselves; the Rangers are about to do so when longtime comic relief characters Bulk and Skull
claim to be Power Rangers. The rest of the people follow. Also, in an episode of Undergrads, many of the Techerson Tech students are accused of being "G-Prime", a student who had been pulling pranks on the school. In the school meeting, many of the students yell out "I am G-Prime!" to prevent the real G-Prime from being figured out. (Also, further reference to the movie in the episode is found when a student in a Roman warrior suit yells out "I am Spartacus!" after everyone yells saying that they are G-Prime in the school meeting.) In the movie Life, when asked who the father of the white baby is, all men come forward and say they're the father.
The 1996 film That Thing You Do has a recurring line in which the character Guy Patterson claims to be Spartacus, an obvious reference to the scene.
In the 1997 film In & Out has a scene in school during graduation ceremony most of students and town citizens successively stand up and say "I'm gay!", an obvious reference to the scene.
In the 1998 film The Mask of Zorro, the scene in which Don Montero walks into a prison and is looking for Zorro. An overzealous jailkeeper announces that if any of the prisoners is Zorro, that he should say so. All the prisoners then declare, "I am Zorro." and proceed to argue about it. The only one who does not speak up is the actual Zorro.
Monty Python parodied the scene in their film The Life of Brian. When the prisoners due for crucifixion are told that only Brian will be spared, in the opposite of the situation in Spartacus, they all cry out "I'm Brian," desperate to be saved but dooming the real Brian in the process. One man shouts, "I'm Brian and so's my wife!
In a 2001 episode of Futurama ("A Tale of Two Santas"), the members of the Planet Express crew all claim to be Santa Claus.
The 2005 film Colour Me Kubrick, inspired by the impersonation in real-life of Spartacus director Stanley Kubrick pays reference the 'Spartacus moment' with con-man Alan Conway finally frustrated in his impersonation by fellow inmates of a mental asylum all declaring "I'm Stanley Kubrick". The film is also littered with other tributes to Kubrick's films.
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.
In a episode of the British science fiction television series Doctor Who, called The Fires of Pompeii, when the Doctor is asked of his identity, he replies " I am... Spartacus." His companion, Donna Noble then says "And so am I".
The 2008 Phantom Regiment Drum and Bugle Corps won their 2nd Drum Corps International World Championship (although it was the first title that wasn't a tie) with a 3rd version of "Spartacus" (which had previously been performed by Regiment in 1981 and 1982).In the latter part of the program, the assistant Drum Major -- who was playacting arole on the field -- declared "I AM SPARTACUS" and was followed by various individuals and groups from the field. During the same portion of their encore performance, members of the audience ALSO joined in.