Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBBB.
USA, 1960. Bryna Productions. Screenplay by Dalton Trumbo, based on the novel by Howard Fast. Cinematography by Russell Metty. Produced by Edward Lewis. Music by Alex North. Production Design by Alexander Golitzen. Costume Design by Valles. Film Editing by Robert Lawrence. Academy Awards 1960. Golden Globe Awards 1960.
Who would have thought that among the years of endless bloated religious epics, a grand centurion movie would come along to blow them all away? After being turned down for the lead in Ben-Hur, Kirk Douglas went to Italy and produced his own large-scale Roman drama, choosing Howard Fast’s novel as its source. Hiring a then-fresh Stanley Kubrick to direct and blacklisted scribe Dalton Trumbo to write the screenplay, Douglas’ team came up with an intelligent, beautifully-shot and engrossing adventure about a gladiator (Douglas) who stages a revolt against the enslaving aristocrats of Rome. The only film of its genre to have no religious overtones of any kind, it also features a brilliant supporting cast led by Jean Simmons and Peter Ustinov, with other support coming from Charles Laughton, Woody Strode, John Gavin, Laurence Olivier and Tony Curtis. The film was recently restored to its original length and image quality, with a homoerotic bath scene between Olivier and Curtis being the most notable restoration (Anthony Hopkins dubbed Olivier’s dialogue since the soundtrack needed to be recreated). Your greatest chance to see it is by renting Criterion’s stunning double-disc set edition.