Trivia / Spartacus

  • AFI's 100 Years... Series:
  • All-Star Cast: Kirk Douglas, Laurence Olivier,Jean Simmons, Charles Laughton, Peter Ustinov and Tony Curtis.
  • Award Category Fraud: The movie was mostly shot by Stanley Kubrick himself, but the Oscar won in that category went to Russell Metty.
  • Creative Differences: Kirk Douglas, a passionate Zionist, wanted the history depicted to parallel the story of the Jewish people. He clashed with screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, who was more interested in making the film a commentary on the Cold War.
  • Creator Backlash: Stanley Kubrick practically disowned the movie due to his lack of creative control, though he considered it a valuable learning experience about the Hollywood studio system:
    "My experience proved that if it is not explicitly stipulated in the contract that your decisions will be respected, there's a very good chance they won't be."
  • Deleted Scenes:
    • Over half-an-hour of footage was removed from the original cut, notably the "snails and oysters" exchange between Crassus and Antoninus, and some of the more graphic battle scenes. Some of this was restored in the early '90s. It's also alleged that the Battle of Metapontnum was filmed but cut from the final version, and that Julius Caesar's subplot (defecting from Gracchus to Crassus) was far more prominent in Kubrick's original cut.
    • European prints of the film contained a scene in which a nude Jean Simmons bathes in a pond. Stills and lobby cards exist, but the scene has not appeared in any re-issue.
      • There is a similar sequence in existing copies the film, when Varinia announces to Spartacus that she is pregnant. Tree branches are used as Scenery Censor for the most part, so all you see in that scene is Simmons' rear.
  • Missing Episode: The film premiered at 202 minutes. However, the prints from the premiere were lost in the 1970s when Universal threw out all the film's tracks, outtakes, additional prints etc. The Criterion Collection has 4 minutes of lost scenes involving the Gracchus subplot:
    • After the first senatorial meeting scene, Gracchus and Caesar walk around the market discussing the dirty tactic of fishing votes. (Shown in production-still form)
    • Gracchus commits suicide by slitting his wrist in the bathtub. This occurred immediately after he closes the curtain near the end of the film. Only the audio track was found in the studio vault.
  • Reality Subtext: The credited screenwriter, Dalton Trumbo, was blacklisted from Hollywood for refusing to name names during the Red Scare. There's even a line where Crassus proclaims "Lists of the disloyal are being compiled," making this explicit.
    • Not just the screenwriter. The writer of the original novel was also on the blacklist. More than that, making a film about Spartacus was itself highly radical since he had long been a hero for leftists and Karl Marx himself considered Spartacus his all-time favorite hero. Secretly using an expensive Epic Movie to make what is essentially a leftist epic was pretty subversive for that era.
    • Woody Strode's black Gladiator sparing the life of Spartacus and then hurling his spear at Crassus was seen by later critics as a reflection of the Civil Rights Movement which was ongoing at the time.
    • Enforced Method Acting: Charles Laughton and Sir Laurence Olivier were longtime rivals who really hated each other, which added to their onscreen rivalry as Gracchus and Crassus.
  • Troubled Production: Things started smoothly enough. Kirk Douglas purchased the rights to Howard Fast's novel for just $100, and cast most of the key roles without difficulty. But problems began when shooting started.
    • The original director, Anthony Mann, shot some early scenes with Peter Ustinov but dropped out after a few days. Douglas offered David Lean, Joseph L Mankiewicz and others the chance to direct; he even considered letting Olivier take over direction. All declined. Then Douglas remembered Stanley Kubrick, whom he'd worked with on Paths of Glory, and offered him the job. Ominously, Kubrick had just dropped out of One-Eyed Jacks, another film with a temperamental producer-star (Marlon Brando).
    • Though Douglas and Kubrick had collaborated amicably on Paths, Spartacus proved another story. Kubrick's notoriously prickly, perfectionist personality led to endless rows with Douglas, arguing over script content, editing, the staging of scenes and even Kubrick's wardrobe. When Douglas asked Kubrick his opinion of the "I Am Spartacus" scene, Kubrick (in front of cast and crew) called it "a stupid idea." Douglas promptly chewed the director out. When Kubrick removed close-ups of Spartacus's crucifixion during the finale, Douglas (by his own account) grew so angry he attacked Kubrick with a folding chair.
    • Douglas and Kubrick weren't the only ones feuding on set. Laurence Olivier and Charles Laughton, longtime rivals, were barely on speaking terms; Olivier actually refused to film a key scene between them unless Laughton left the set. Laughton's prima donna behavior aggravated everyone, storming off the set and threatening to sue Douglas for trimming his part. Olivier was distracted by his dissolving marriage with Vivien Leigh and exasperated Douglas by insisting that he play Spartacus. And both Laughton and Peter Ustinov disliked Dalton Trumbo's script, rewriting scenes on set or else ad-libbing dialogue. Only Jean Simmons avoided the squabbling, partly because she missed six weeks of shooting after an emergency surgery. In addition, Douglas caught the flu and Tony Curtis injured his Achilles tendon playing tennis.
    • After filming ran way too long and extremely over budget, Kubrick delivered a disastrous rough cut - a formless mess with little coherent story. Hoping to salvage the picture, Kubrick insisted on filming Spartacus's final battle with Crassus (at this point, the movie only showed its aftermath). Universal reluctantly relocated to Spain (having previously shot in Hollywood and Death Valley) for an expensive battle employing thousands of Spanish soldiers as extras. Along with other last-minute reshoots, this swelled the budget to a then-staggering $11,000,000.
    • During post-production, Douglas received detailed memos from Universal Studios and Production Code offices demanding heavy cuts. Having received the instruction "Any implication that Crassus is a sex pervert is unacceptable," the producers excised the notorious "snails and oysters" scene between Olivier and Curtis. More seriously, Universal trimmed several action scenes, along with political content that was deemed subversive. Apparently the studio feared that if Spartacus had a chance of winning, viewers would perceive the film as Communist! Nearly 30 minutes were cut, most of which was restored to the 1991 re-release.
    • Douglas hired blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo to write the script, under his alias Sam Jackson. At some point during production, journalist Hedda Hopper discovered the identity of "Jackson" and demanded Douglas fire the screenwriter. In this case, Douglas stood his ground; he not only retained Trumbo but credited him in the finished film, hence breaking the Hollywood blacklist. Douglas's decision was vindicated as Spartacus became a smash hit.
  • Wag the Director: Kirk Douglas, as producer of the film, fired the original director, Anthony Mann (who later made El Cid and The Fall Of The Roman Empire) and brought in relative newcomer Stanley Kubrick. Guess who wore the pants on set? Indeed, after making Spartacus, Kubrick shifted to England and made all his remaining films there under highly controlled conditions feeling that he would never truly be free working within the Hollywood system.
  • What Could Have Been:
    • The slaves' final battle was originally to be intercut with Varinia giving birth to her child, to give a contrast of destruction and creation. This idea was scrapped for running time purposes.
    • Dalton Trumbo originally wanted Universal to get Orson Welles to play the pirate, Tigranes Levantus.
    • Stanley Kubrick originally wanted Audrey Hepburn to play Varinia. Kirk Douglas had Jeanne Moreau in mind, but she was in Paris and wouldn't leave to do the film. Ingrid Bergman was also considered.

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