Armor and tunic of Marcus Licinius Crassus, original costume. Costumi D’Arte Peruzzi, Rome.
“Spartacus” (1960), both the production and the completed film, investigates the problem of power. Kirk Douglas, the producer of the film, hired screenwriter Dalton Trumbo to adapt the novel by Howard Fast. Trumbo was one of the Hollywood Ten, a group of screenwriters and other industry professionals blacklisted for refusing to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), and Spartacus was the first script in a ten-year period to bear his true name. Trumbo intended the script to be a comment on modern-day politics and the Cold War. Never completely Kubrick’s film, it was begun by another director, Anthony Mann, who Douglas quickly came to distrust. Douglas invited Kubrick to take over as director after just a week of shooting.
Based on historical accounts, the film’s theme appealed to Kubrick: it follows a slave-become-general-become-liberator who inspired a massive uprising against the Roman Republic. He ultimately
fails and is put to death by the state. Kubrick reworked the script to include major battle scenes, and these gigantic vistas with thousands of extras moving in geometric patterns are the triumph of the picture.
Kubrick was not wholly satisfied with the film, for which he did not have “final cut” privilege. He called “Spartacus” a lesson learned, and it would be the only film of the director’s career over which he did not have complete control.
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