Spartacus

AFI Rank: #81 (10th Anniversary list)
Year Released: 1960
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Actors: Kirk Douglas, Laurence Olivier, Jean Simmons, Charles Laughton, Peter Ustinov

I adore Spartacus. The Spartacus character was a real life, historical figure, and we are hearing about the real, poignant struggles of an abused group. While the movie Spartacus wasn't on the first AFI listings, it did get voted onto the 10th anniversary version, earning the #81 spot.

Kirk Douglas shines as the main character. He goes from a slave to a gladiator, and quickly to the leader of the slave revolt. Along the way he could have become harsh towards nobles, but instead he shows a humanity. He wants their movement to be better than what they are escaping from. He refuses to brutalize Simmons, even when she is offered to him as a prostitute. Instead, he falls in love with her, and of course in true movie-like fashion they end up together.

On one hand the movie does a great job of showing the epic scope of the conflict. There are a wide range of slaves escaping - from pampered house slaves to grizzled field workers. You are shown a sad scene of a quiet slave couple having to bury their newborn infant. And yet, with all of the characters, and all of the scenes, from rich mansions to poor hovels, somehow it is only men who are talking. Simmons occasionally talks to Spartacus, to support him. There are two noble women who show up briefly, but their only purpose is to coo at the gladiators and make it clear how heartless many of the nobles are about forcing others to die. It would have been much more moving to show how this revolt truly affected all people, and how all were doing their part. Instead we get a granny as "comic relief" when she offers to help the cause.

Still, there is great cinematography of the Italian landscapes, and intriguing dialogue that explores the world the nobles inhabited and how much it differed from the world of the slaves and gladiators. The nobles scoff at even the idea that slaves could cause a threat to their forces. The soldiers are laughing and drinking on their way down to squish the slaves. They aren't laughing quite as strongly after that first encounter.

Highly recommended. There were many epics made throughout the history of movies, but this one stands out for its fine acting, its powerful story, and the ending scene where the slaves show their true moral character.

Buy Spartacus from Amazon.com

AFI Top 100 Film Listing
Male vs Female Actors in the AFI Top 100
The Bechdel Test in the AFI Top 100