BY RICK JACKSON
Spartacus is playing at The Screening Room in Kingston, Ontario at 7 p.m. as part of their Cinematica program of film classics on Wednesday, May 16, 2012. It is one of the last great epics.
When I first saw it as a kid in 1963, I was impressed by the visual landscape and, of course, the story appealed to me because I loved to watch the period films of the 1950s like The Robe, Demetrius And The Gladiators and Ben-Hur.
Kirk Douglas has always impressed me as an actor and being cast in the title role turned out to be one of his most famous. Seeing him in the restored Spartacus in 1990 in Toronto, I was eager to see what was new.
Not much has been written about Spartacus. Alexander Walker skips it in his book, Stanley Kubrick Directs, although he does list the credits with the director's other films.
Robert A. Harris who worked on the restoration of Lawrence of Arabia and the silent classic, Napoleon. With help from Jim Natz five minutes of the missing footage from the original 197 minutes were found in an underground storage facility. When it opened in 1960, it had been cut to 182 minutes.
Anthony Hopkins was invited to dub in Laurence Olivier's voice in a restored scene. What also was added in the restored version was the original overture and intermission.
In re-reading Kirk Douglas' autobiography, The Ragman's Son, Douglas says he wanted to do Spartacus despite the fact he had no desire to do another period epic when he finished The Vikings in 1957. He turned down the part of Massala in Ben-Hur because he wanted the title role which, as you know, went to Charlton Heston. Stephen Boyd played Massala.
Douglas used some of his own money to bankroll the production and wanted it to be authentic to the period.
While in London, England filming The Devil's Disciple he told his co-star Laurence Olivier about the film and he expressed interest in playing the title role.
Behind the scenes Douglas was busy looking for a screenwriter. He wanted the blacklisted Dalton Trumbo because he was a fast worker.
Choosing a director was not an easy task. The first choice was Martin Ritt, whose upcoming film was The Long Hot Summer starring Paul Newman and Joanna Woodward.
Universal Studios insisted Anthony Mann since he had a good track record with such films as The Glenn Miller Story, Winchester 73 and Strategic Air Command.
Tony Curtis who had just finished The Defiant Ones wanted to finish his contractual agreement with Universal and asked Douglas if there was a part for him. He created the role of Antoninus who fought against Spartacus and the met the same fate by film's end.
When it came to actresses, Jean Simmons wanted to be in it but Douglas said no because a British accent would not make a convincing Roman. He wanted French actress Jeanne Moreau.
Production on Spartacus started on January 27, 1959 with Mann as director and Trumbo as screenwriter under the pseudonym of Sam Jackson. The first scene was the mine in Death Valley. It all went smoothly until co-star Peter Ustinov decided to direct himself in the gladiator scenes. The blame fell on Mann's shoulders because he wasn't right. He did get paid for his services.
Douglas thought of Stanley Kubrick because they they worked together on Paths of Glory (1957). How he managed to get him makes an interesting sidebar. He was in pre-production on One-Eyed Jacks when Marlon Brando fired him to direct it himself.
Another major problem was the casting of Sabina Bethmann as Varinia. Douglas relented and told Jean Simmons to get down to the set as fast as she can.
When it came to do the bathroom sequence in Spartacus, there was a problem with the censors over the words snails and oysters. Changed to artichokes and truffles,the censors still didn't approve and it ended up on the cutting room floor.
The battle scenes were done in Spain where the government allowed their army to play the Roman army.
To get the male voices neded for the cries, Hail! Crassus and I Am Spartacus in English, Kubrick arranged to record the crowd in half-time during a college football game between Michigan State and Notre Dame.
The Hollywood premiere of Spartacus was on October 19, 1960.
May 11, 2012
Copyright Rick Jackson 2012