Controlling Stanley: The Spartacus Experience
As most are undoubtedly aware this is the film that the director virtually expunged from his repertoire. But why did Stanley Kubrick really disown SPARTACUS (1960)? The answer can be summed up in two words: absolute control. Kubrick wanted total administrative as well as artistic authority over the making of the film about a revolt of gladiators and slaves in ancient Rome.
But you will notice that Bryna Productions not only financed SPARTACUS but also an earlier film directed by Kubrick, PATHS OF GLORY (1958).
Bryna was Kirk Douglas' film company and, as most filmgoers know, he was the star of both films. Besides having all the money to make the films, Douglas had artistic vision as well. Only three weeks into what would prove to be an incredibly complex and arduous production, Douglas fired venerable director Anthony Mann (RAW DEAL, RAILROADED,THE FURIES, THE NAKED SPUR, THE MAN FROM LARAMIE, MAN OF THE WEST, etc.) from SPARTACUS. With only two days notice, Kubrick was hired to replace him.
While shooting PATHS OF GLORY, Douglas confined his criticisms and objections to Kubrick's failed rewriting of the script (they went with the original screenplay). Yet Douglas' complaints and artistic influence were far greater on SPARTACUS, much to Kubrick's chagrin. Though the director craved autonomy over every aspect of the film, Douglas would not budge. A tense compromise was reached but ultimately Douglas had the last word. Kubrick saw himself as just a hired gun. And he would never allow himself to be placed in this position again.
Later, both men would complain about the film's outcome and each other. They never made another movie together.
But SPARTACUS is no uneven patchwork of divergent ideas. The film is cohesive and arresting. At the restored version of three hours and eighteen minutes, there is practically no dead footage in the film. Dalton Trumbo's screenplay is surprisingly economical, with sharply drawn characters placed against the sweeping historical majesty and violent sociological tumult of ancient Rome. Quite plainly, the gloriously inventive music by Alex North is among the greatest scores ever written for a motion picture. And despite Kubrick's bad experience, he managed to guide the actors towards creating outstanding work (a best supporting actor Oscar for Peter Ustinov). He even transformed the very real enmity between Laughton and Olivier into an on-screen asset. His other contributions were considerable also (the large scale and power of the battle sequence, for example). In the end, for the film at least, the clash of giant egos proved fortuitous.
Recommendations: for greater insight and detail on this and Kubrick's other films I urge you to seek out Jan Harlan's excellent documentary, STANLEY KUBRICK: A LIFE IN PICTURES, and Vincent LoBrutto's exhaustive, highly informative biography, STANLEY KUBRICK. For the producer's views on SPARTACUS and its director, take a gander at Kirk Douglas' very candid autobiography, THE RAGMAN'S SON.
Great movie by the greatest. Director of all time but not a real Kubrickian masterpiece. Kirk Douglas almost make it unwatchable. See the the Spartacus original t.v. show for a more nobler version of the famous historical figure.
The original Hunger Games.
The high bar for Roman movies.
A great classic. Well worth revisiting,.. or a first viewing by younger generations.
A great movie. I hope this gets re-released some day so folks could see it in 70mm as I did. WOW
Executive producer Kirk Douglas' epic historical drama, born from both his spite and disappointment in being passed over for Charlton Heston as "Ben-Hur". Although a 30 year old Stanley Kubrick directs, I really didn't get a sense of any of his distinctive style in the film (too many 'chiefs', perhaps?). Cleft chinned Douglas shines as Spartacus, he's in his element, but the Brits really stole the show -- Olivier, Laughton, and Oscar winning Ustinov. (And I agree, lebaudroy. I think "Lonely Are The Brave", the repeated collaboration between Douglas and screenwriter Dalton Trumbo in '62 is magnificent as well. Apples and oranges, though.) FIVE STARS.
How thoroughly disappointing. Not even the 'I am Spartacus' scene saved this one for me. The music is atrocious, Spartacus's characterization is completely dropped once his escape is made, and the romantic interlude is laughable. Some movies age well, this one did not. Ustinov and Laughton's performances far outweigh an unusually lifeless Kirk Douglas. This is the role of his career? No way, Lonely Are The Braves for me.
I AM SPARTACUS -- but if I weren't, Spartacus would definitely be Kirk Douglas. This film is exactly what a historical film should be: both fun and serious. Baci.
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