It's true. They don't make them the way they used to. But that doesn't completely dispel the original impression that the 1960 "Spartacus" lumbered more than it shook. And adding an expunged five minutes (making a total of 197) to the restored version doesn't necessarily mean it is that much better.
The film is big. The climactic battle scenes, employing some 8,000 soldiers, were shot in Spain, and this much is awesome. The final hour of the film, in fact, is absorbing, almost gripping, but there are those others hours to endure, and at times, they look like so much "Hercules" footage, despite the presence of some impressive names, among them Laurence Olivier, Kirk Douglas, Peter Ustinov, Charles Laughton, Jean Simmons and Tony Curtis.
In the end, when the film begins to intrigue, it is largely because Douglas and Curtis have less to do, and Olivier, Ustinov and Laughton, more.
The title character was real. He did live. He was a Thracian who was sold into slavery. Later, he would become a gladiator and lead a revolt against Rome.
Douglas plays the lead role - in a crew cut, which was popular at the time the film was made. Olivier is the evil Crassus, who sends all the rebels to the crucifix, a scene that doesn't seem to have quite the power it did in 1960.
John Gavin is Julius Caesar, Laughton is the more humane senator who would allow the rebels a chance to escape Italy and make it to their homelands, and Curtis is the pretty Sicilian who is taken home by Crassus - and you've certainly heard about this. In 1960, footage in which Crassus and Antoninus talk euphemistically about oysters and snails, was eliminated. Too sexually suggestive, said the censors. The original footage was found, but there was no sound, so in the new version Anthony Hopkins speaks for Olivier and Curtis speaks for himself.
You can tell it is Hopkins, and this adds to the historical significance of the film. "Spartacus" is also historical in that it was scripted by Dalton Trombo, who was blacklisted during the House Un-American Activities era. Douglas defied the establishment and became the first producer to hire a blacklisted writer.
Beyond all this, the movie is worth watching simply because it isn't being shown on television, because it is big - the way movies once were - and because nobody today, despite unlimited funds, could assemble this many stars or this many extras for the spear-and-sandal scenes.
"Spartacus," directed by a 31-year old Stanley Kubrick (who does not choose to list it in his credits), is showing at the Westview Cinema, on one of the big screens.
- Spartacus, a Thracian slave, leads a slave revolt against Rome.
CAST: Kirk Douglas, Laurence Olivier, Tony Curtis, Jean
Simmons, Peter Ustinov, John Gavin, Charles Laughton, Herbert Lom, Nina Foch, John Dall.
DIRECTOR: Stanley Kubrick.
RUNNING TIME: 197 minutes.