Tanned to bronze perfection, with brush-cut hair and a dimpled chin that juts out in rage, Kirk Douglas is the quintessence of old-fashioned manly heroism in Spartacus. No movie featuring famous actors standing around in loincloths and togas is completely without its camp value, but Stanley Kubrick’s 1960 epic — by turns grand, stodgy, and thrilling — successfully sweeps us back to an era when machismo had soul.
As Spartacus, the slave gladiator who leads a rebellion against the Roman empire, Douglas is a fearless, baby-blue-eyed messiah who loves his fellow underdogs like brothers.
The newly restored version contains roughly 10 minutes of extra footage. Here, though, as with the recently restored Lawrence of Arabia, what counts isn’t so much the addition of two or three meekly risque scenes as the stupendous new 70mm print that’s been unveiled for the occasion. The images now have a golden, surreal majesty. Like Lawrence, Spartacus seems to teeter between eras, fusing the moral and visual clarity of classic movie epics — scenes of carnage, squalor, and political revolt transformed into widescreen eye candy — with dashes of contemporary knowingness, most notably in the superb, slyly mordant performances of Laurence Olivier, Charles Laughton, and Peter Ustinov. The one scene with a hint of the eccentrically detached brilliance that would come to define ”Stanley Kubrick Movies” is the climactic battle, in which marching blocks of Roman soldiers are mowed down by fire: It’s war as the greatest halftime show ever choregraphed. Until then, Spartacus envelops you in the sort of bedazzled hero worship Hollywood never quite managed to bring off this rousingly again. A-