I am very grateful to the International Socialist Journal for publishing my article on Spartacus. The original version of this article was twice as long, but we cut it down for reasons of space and because I tend to go on a bit. This also means that some of the editing which tightened up the published article is missing. But if you’re interested in reading more, here’s the full thing.
60 years ago the film Spartacus opened in US-American cinemas. The film was an indictment of slavery as practised by the Roman Empire but it also held a contemporary relevance. Phil Butland argues that the story of how the film was produced shows how inextricable art is from the politics of its time, the aspirations of its makers and those who oppose them.” 
On 6 October 1960, the film Spartacus opened in New York City’s De Mille Theatre. TIME magazine celebrated “a new kind of Hollywood movie: a superspectacle with spiritual vitality and moral force.”  The New York Times‘ long-time film critic Bosley Crowther was less excited, dismissing the film as “heroic humbug”, adding that “the middle phase is pretentious and tedious, because it is concerned with the dull strife of politics” 
People entering the film had to brave picket lines organised by the right-wing American Legion. In the run up to the film, the Legion had sent out 17,000 letters, encouraging patriotic war veterans to protest the film.  Hedda Hopper a columnist close to the Legion wrote “that story was sold to Universal from a book written by a Commie and the screen script was written by a Commie, so don’t go and see it” 
Said Commie scriptwriter was Dalton Trumbo, whose name appeared on the end credits of a film for the first time in over a decade. Trumbo had spent 11 months in prison after he refused to testify in front of Joseph McCarthy’s House of Unamerican Activities Committee (HUAC). Since 1945, no film had been prepared to publicly acknowledge his contribution, even though he had won 2 Oscars in this period for films he had written using pseudonyms.
This was not just about Trumbo. I have written elsewhere about Trumbo’s fellow members of the “Hollywood Ten”: “for the 12 years following their 1948 trial, none of the Ten could openly work in the US-American film industry. Some got jobs as labourers, some left the country. Others carried on writing – at a much lower rate of pay – under assumed names. By proudly displaying Trumbo’s name, [film producer, Kirk] Douglas was openly challenging the repressive status quo.” 
But by the time Spartacus was released, anti-Communist witch hunts weren’t what they used to be. The American Legion protests did not match their early rhetoric. At the Los Angeles première, the 1,500 guests were met by only 36 pickets. By the end of 1960, Spartacus was the year’s highest-grossing film.
Cinema Before Spartacus
Fifties Hollywood under the relatively benign presidencies of Truman and Eisenhower was a time of consensus. Peter Biskind is the author the definitive book on Cold War cinema . He notes that there were some overt, anti-communist films like Iron Curtain and My Son John, but these “pleased neither the public nor the critics and did badly at the box office.”  Popular cinema preferred people to come together, like the jurors of Twelve Angry Men under the watchful jurisprudence of Henry Fonda.
In 1947, President Truman presented his “Truman Doctrine” to Congress. Under the pretext of “support[ing] free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures.” , the Truman Doctrine was used both to intensify the Cold War and to crush the danger of Communist-led insurgency in post-war Southern Europe.
This expansionism was reflected in Hollywood. As the Cold War raged outside, a proxy war was fought on cinema screens, with the Russians being played by a series of aliens, native Americans and giant ants. While Westerns spoke of building a New Frontier (language which was to adopted by more liberal projects like Star Trek), Science Fiction films depicted the fraught relationship between Us and Them.
Not all these films were reactionary. Biskind notes that although “most movies stressed the virtues of conformity and domesticity … they reflected not one but several warring ideologies, so that it is possible to speak of radical (left-and right-wing) as well as mainstream films.”  While contemporary politics were reflected in the discussions taking part on screen, not all film makers took the same side.
The term “teenager” had started to come into common usage. A combination of a growing economy, falling birth rate and relief that the war was finally over meant that teenagers became a key demographic for Hollywood. Young people and their frustrations were depicted on screen, as was their rebellion within certain prescribed limits.
In 1955, the nice, middle-class James Dean was let a little off the leash in Rebel Without a Cause, although he ended up fully wedded to the nuclear family. Biskind sums up the film’s ending: “the old family is reconstituted, and the new family, Kim and Judy, is born … Jim and Judy, Mom and Dad, all pile into Ray’s police car and drive off. The family has been ‘cured’. Jim has ‘matured,’ the body politic has been healed.” 
Two years earlier, Marlon Brando had rebelled against “what have you got?” in The Wild One. In 1954 in On The Waterfront he was, once more, broody and misunderstood, but his character, Terry Malloy, is ultimately a scab, and a stand-in for director Elia Kazan who betrayed his colleagues to the HUAC. This is not to deny that these are all great films, but their anti-establishment credentials exist within very tight parameters.
One final development towards the end of 1950s was the emergence of “Sword and sandals” films. Usually set in ancient Rome, Greece or Egypt, they were the natural successors to Biblical epics like Samson and Delilah (1948), The Robe (1953) and The Ten Commandments (1956). In 1959, Ben-Hur won Best Picture Oscar, and Charlton Heston won Best Actor in the role for which Kirk Douglas was turned down.
The politics of most of these Epics rarely exceeded “be nice to each other” Christianity. Their budgets were high, but so was the potential audience which was wowed by the extravaganza on offer. The prioritisation of spectacle over content meant that there was little in the genre that promised much radicalism.
Spartacus – A film about John F Kennedy?
John F. Kennedy was elected president one month after Spartacus’s release, promising a new vibrancy that was lacking in his opponent, incumbent Vice President Richard Nixon. Although Kennedy was only four years younger than Nixon, he clearly positioned himself as the candidate of youth and change, talking of a “New Frontier” and promising that he would “get America moving again”.
Kennedy’s campaign had courted the film industry, winning endorsements from Hollywood Liberals like Henry Fonda, Harry Belafonte and indeed Kirk Douglas. The key turning-point in the campaign was believed to be television debates viewed by 40% of the US population. Commenting on the debates, historian Robert Gilbert said “Since the age of television, presidents have become like movie stars”. 
Kennedy, the “movie star president” identified with a film about “a man with a charismatic ‘personality and genius for leadership’ whose crusade for liberty almost toppled the might of Rome”  In February 1962, he crossed the American Legion picket lines and attended a showing of Spartacus in Washington. If his initial response (“It was fine” ) was a little underwhelming, he would later list Spartacus as one of his favourite films.
One film critic called Kennedy’s support the “single most important endorsement of the film as it began its stratospheric climb toward popularity and profit.”  And the ever-opportunistic president would never have come out in support of the film if he thought that this would cause him political problems.
The film is eminently open to a reading that supports Kennedy’s Cold War politics. For many critics, the film’s main metaphor was not of slaves fighting oppression or blacklisted writers fighting McCarthyism, but “a Cold War allegory depicting a struggle for liberty by freedom fighters. It cast ‘the long twilight struggle’ against Communism, as President Kennedy had termed it in his inaugural, back into the world of ancient Rome.” 
This analysis was shared by the mainstream press. Time magazine reported that “despite his personal predilection for the 20th century’s most crushing political orthodoxy, Trumbo has imparted to Spartacus a passion for freedom and the men who live and die for it – a passion that transcends all politics”.  Variety reported that “the desire for freedom from oppression that motivates Spartacus has its modern counterpart today in areas of the world that struggle under Communist tyranny.” 
In a review for the Chicago Reader, Jonathan Rosenbaum argued that “Spartacus dilutes and distorts its intermittent Marxism with all the gaudy and fruity colors of the Hollywood rainbow.”  I would be more charitable to the film’s Marxist writers, Howard Fast and Dalton Trumbo. It is in the very nature of Hollywood films, that even the most left-wing of intentions can be used to justify the existing order. The dominant ideas are, after all, the ideas of the ruling class. 
The trouble with allegories is that all statements against oppression can be appropriated by the worst oppressors. With the Spartacus legend, this reached its apogee in Ronald Reagan’s address to the British parliament in 1982. Citing the “the stand at Thermopylae, the revolt of Spartacus, the storming of the Bastille, the Warsaw uprising in World War II”, Reagan praised the repressive El Salvadorian government and the British army which was fighting a dubious war in the Falklands. 
Whatever the reasons, Spartacus fits the image that Kennedy was trying to build of himself. Winkler notes that “the Inaugural Address by President John F. Kennedy, delivered on January 20, 1961, contains several statements that, with only minimal adjustments, could have come straight out of the mouth of Spartacus.”.
Spartacus and the McCarthy Witch Hunt
The fact that Spartacus could be both denounced as Communist propaganda and embraced by Liberals like Kennedy reflects the conflicted politics with which the film was made. Spartacus was not just Cold War propaganda. It was also the product of a particular moment of a rebirth of political hope after a decade of repression.
Spartacus was created in a Hollywood still reeling from the McCarthy Witch Hunts. Trumbo’s script reminds us of the indignities that he was still suffering. When the proto-Fascist senator Crassus declares “the enemies of the state are known, arrests are in progress, the prisons begin to fill. In every city and province, lists of the disloyal have been compiled”, Trumbo knew that his name could be found on similar lists which had been compiled much more recently.
Norma Barzman, who was forced into exile by the blacklist, explains how artists were affected by the Witch Hunt: “you could no longer work in the US at all. People couldn’t get any kind of job. I know people who were turned down for a job in a filling station.” 
For all this individual suffering, McCarthy’s main enemy was the collective resistance of trade unions inside and outside Hollywood. Barzman goes on: “by 1941 the Screen Writers Guild had been built and there were big union struggles in Hollywood in the 1940s. It’s no accident they gunned for screenwriter Lester Cole, and the others in the Hollywood Ten. It was because the studios really had to break the unions in Hollywood” 
Although it is now generally thought that McCarthyism was primarily a Hollywood phenomenon, its purview was much wider, as was its aim of smashing radical opinion and social resistance. “The blacklist was a way of attacking all the unions and progressives. They kicked out all the teachers and the doctors — thousands of workers lost their jobs. They attacked Hollywood because it was high profile and made it easier to create a climate of fear. The blacklist was a small part of what was going on in this country at the time.” 
The Witch Hunt in the Trade Unions
The 1950s had not started well for the political left. Stefan Bornost reports that “unlike the 1930s which was characterized by large social struggles, workers did not break in large numbers from the system and towards the Communist Party (CP). Instead they were increasingly integrated in the developing conservative and anti-Communist Cold War Consensus. The CP thus lost both political perspectives and members. Party membership fell from 80,000 in 1944 to 5,000 in the mid-1950s. Of these 5,000, around 1,500 were FBI informants.” 
The Cold War Consensus was developed by Truman, and later continued by Kennedy, both nominally Liberal Democrats. In 1952, the US Chamber of Commerce recommended barring “Communists, fellow travelers, and dupes” from jobs as “teachers or librarians,” and from posts in “any school or university.” This was under Truman’s watch.
Specifically targetted were “the entertainment field” and “any plant large enough to have a labor union.”  The Communist Party had played a prominent role in the US labour movement between the wars. McCarthy’s relentless attacks on “fellow travellers” was aimed at breaking these trade union militants from other workers.
This involved both crushing the left and co-opting the liberals and social democrats who were leading trade unions and civil rights organisations. In his article Rehabilitating McCarthyism, William Keach reports that “Organized labor was ‘the most important institutional victim of the Cold War red scare,’ in part because some labor leaders, with their ties to ruling-class politicians, ‘collaborated with the witch-hunt.” 
McCarthy was helped by the Business Union perspective of the big Union Federations, which actively worked to police the attacks on the left. “In 1949, the CIO expelled 11 ‘red’ unions. By 1954, 59 out of 100 unions had changed their constitution to bar communists from holding union office–a provision that was only recently dropped – and 40 unions barred communists from being rank-and-file members.” 
“Business unionism was consolidated with the 1955 merger between the AFL and the CIO, dominated by the AFL under George Meany, who declared, ‘I stand for the profit system; I believe in the profit system. I believe in the free enterprise system completely’” 
All this meant that when McCarthyism started to spread to organised workplaces, potential trade union resistance was paralysed. Elizabeth Schulte reports in Counterpunch: “When HUAC came to Baltimore in 1957, 15 of 22 workers who took the Fifth lost their jobs, including seven Bethlehem Steel workers with seniority ranging from 10 to 20 years. Their union, the anticommunist United Steelworkers, refused to intervene.” 
Left-Liberal acceptance of McCarthyism went beyond the trade unions. “the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), instead of defending communists, conducted its own witch-hunt to oust radicals from its ranks–such as ACLU founding member Elizabeth Gurley Flynn. It was later discovered that throughout the McCarthy years, the ACLU dutifully reported the names of communists to the FBI.” 
Spartacus was a product of a time that had experienced these massive defeats, but was also slowly starting to recover. By the late 1950s, some of the trade unionists who had been destroyed by McCarthyism were starting to regroup. “When HUAC came to San Francisco in 1960, thousands of people came out to protest–forcing the committee to pack up and leave.” 
If you are inspired by the famous “I am Spartacus” scene, just think what this basic show of solidarity would have meant to the socialists and trade unionists who, after years of betrayal by politicians and trade union leaders, were starting to organise again. Although less radical forces tried to co-opt Spartacus’s message of resistance, it had an unmistakable relevance to fighting workers.
Who was Spartacus?
Spartacus, the film, is based on a novel of the same name written in jail by the Communist Howard Fast. Fast, a one-time recipient of the Stalin Peace Prize, had also been brought before the HUAC and subsequently imprisoned. In his autobiography, he wrote “It would be a safe bet to say that before the appearance of my book and the film that Kirk Douglas made from it ten years later, not one schoolboy in ten thousand had ever heard of Spartacus.” 
In his article Who was Spartacus?, Paul D’Amato notes that “there are scarcely 10 pages written about [Spartacus’s rebellion] by ancient historians.”  Historian Theresa Urbainczyk wryly notes that “slaves did not write their own history; we only know about them from the élite who won, who wrote the history and stamped their interpretation on events” 
Director and leading man Douglas had a similar analysis: “Spartacus was a real man, but if you look him up in the history books you will find only a short paragraph about him. Rome was ashamed; this man had almost destroyed them. They wanted to bury him.” 
And yet Spartacus’s story was not unknown to socialists. In a letter to Engels, Karl Marx called Spartacus “the most splendid fellow in the whole of ancient history. Great general (no Garibaldi), noble character, real representative of the ancient proletariat.” . In an answer to a survey by his daughter Jenny, Marx named Spartacus as his hero. 
Toussaint L’Ouverture, the leader of slave revolution on Haiti in 1794, was dubbed ‘the Black Spartacus’. And when Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht formed the organisation which was to become the German Communist Party, they called it the Spartacus League. Indeed, Fast’s initial interest in the Spartacus story came from his attempt to rehabilitate Rosa Luxemburg and the Spartacus League as alternative figureheads to the discredited Josef Stalin. 
The Introduction to Urbainczyk’s book about the film starts with a quote from Liebknecht, taken from a memorial in Berlin-Mitte : “Spartacus means the fire and spirit, the heart and soul, the will and deed of the revolution of the proletariat.”  In a footnote, Urbainczyk continues: “Liebknecht goes on to say ‘Spartacus means every hardship and every desire for happiness, all commitment to struggle of the class conscious proletariat. Spartacus means socialism and world revolution.'” 
Spartacus was also known to Enlightenment liberals. Voltaire wrote that Spartacus’s war “was a just war, indeed the only just war in history.”  In 1874 Raffaello Giovagnoli who had fought with Garibaldi, wrote his novel Spartaco. Garibaldi himself wrote an introduction.  This interest continued into the twentieth century, with 3 Italian films with the title Spartaco being released in 1909, 1913 and 1952. In the Soviet Union, many sports societies were named after Spartacus, the most famous being Spartak Moscow (renamed in 1935).
So although Spartacus was not a household name before 1960, he did hold a place in a certain popular consciousness. As Urbainczyk argues “in a way Spartacus is like Che Guevara, of whom many people have heard but about whom far fewer know very much. It is not important for them to know about him because he simply represents the idea of fighting back, or not being crushed”. 
Howard Fast and Dalton Trumbo’s Spartacus
Howard Fast had a clear vision of what Spartacus represented to him. In his book Film Criticism, the Cold War and the Blacklist, JeffSmith notes that “Fast hoped to popularize the image of someone he knew to be a Marxist icon of class struggle”. So, in Fast’s novel, “Spartacus give[s] a speech that echoes the phraseology of The Communist Manifesto, urging the ‘slaves of the world’ to ‘rise up and cast off your chains’.” 
Fast’s vision also betrays the pessimism of a man who had become isolated by the McCarthyite Witch Hunts: “Fast’s novel has two messages: a revolutionary fillip in dark times, which holds high the flame of revolt. At the same time it apportions some of the blame to working people of the USA: the Empire is functioning because the masses march along, isolating the socialists.” 
Like Fast, Trumbo had been persecuted by McCarthy’s witch hunts, and grown disillusioned by Stalin’s Soviet Union, though not in the idea of socialism itself. Bornost notes that “Trumbo decided to stay as close as possible to Fast’s novel. He wanted to tell Spartacus’s history as a revolutionary uprising against the power of Rome”  This resulted in a script which “absolutely drips with contempt for the ruling classes.” 
Trumbo’s script developed from his vision of a Large Spartacus: “the warrior who fought for the fundamental principle that every man should be free to determine his own destiny.”  Large Spartacus did not just bemoan the personal injustices that he was forced to suffer, he also denounced the system which was to blame for his suffering. Large Spartacus embodied “the traits, values, and hopes of the proletariat” 
Trumbo contrasted Large Spartacus to a less ideological Small Spartacus who understood the rebellion “more on the scale of a jail-break and subsequent dash for freedom” . A film based on Small Spartacus would be more a heist movie than a detailed critique of capitalism. And yet, as the film making process developed, Small Spartacus started to dominate.
There were several reasons for this. For a start, Trumbo and Fast found it impossible to work together. According to Urbainczyk, Fast “disliked Trumbo intensively, and the fact that the latter was working on the screenplay had to be kept a secret from the novelist.”  This was a particular problem, as Trumbo needed all the allies he could find.
When Spartacus was released with Trumbo’s name on the end credits, the Hollywood blacklist was effectively lifted. But while it was being filmed, he was still persona non grata and not allowed on set. This allowed the crew and some of the actors like Peter Ustinov and Charles Laughton to make significant changes to Trumbo’s script. This process led Trumbo to have “serious reservations about the effect of these rewrites on the dramatic conception of the film.” 
Another view from Arthur Koestler
Fast’s novel was not the only vision of Spartacus, and certainly not the first. In 1939, Arthur Koestler wrote the novel The Gladiators, which was republished in 1956 to counteract the popularity of Fast’s more radical text . While Kirk Douglas was trying to film Spartacus, United Artists was making a “serious and sustained attempt”  to bring The Gladiators to the screen with Yul Brynner in the leading role. 
Like Fast and Trumbo, Koestler was a former member of the Communist Party, although their political paths had diverged in more recent years. Koestler “had fought in the Spanish Civil War, being captured by Franco’s troops at one point. He was embittered and disillusioned by the show trials in the later 1930s and left the party, His novel, written at the time his comrades were being executed, is about how revolutions turn bad.” 
Koestler is now best known for his 1940 novel Darkness at Noon set during Stalin’s Show Trials. He also contributed to the 1949 collection The God That Failed in which 6 authors wrote of their disillusionment in Communism.
This disillusionment was already clear in The Gladiators. In her book Film and the Classical Epic Tradition, Joanna Paul explains: “Like Fast, it was Koestler’s left-wing politics that drew him towards Spartacus as a subject, but whereas Fast remained essentially committed in his beliefs (even as he came to doubt the actions of the Communists), Koestler questioned the creed of the Party earlier and more thoroughly.” 
Trumbo acidly remarked: “Koestler is a man who was for years bewitched by the idea that he was going to make a revolution, that he was going to lead the dear people in a vast freedom movement. But the revolution didn’t come off because the people, in their immense stupidity, didn’t see fit to follow Mr. Koestler. Koestler has spent all the years of his life since that fatal moment of rejection by the people in denouncing the common herd which had so little comprehension of his excellence as a leader.” 
Historian Barry Strauss puts it more kindly, saying that Koestler’s Spartacus is “a revolutionary who is corrupted by power, like Lenin or Stalin”.  As Bornost argues, “the Spartacus versions of Fast and Koestler stand in conflict with each other. The conflict is based on the different treatment of both authors with a very modern revolt – the experiences of the Russian Revolution of 1917” 
Fast and Trumbo both wanted to continue this revolution. Koestler’s book is written by someone who has stopped believing that social change is possible. This ultimately meant, Urbainczyk argues, that “Koestler used his novel as a warning against people with ideals who set out to make a better world.” 
And yet, while The Gladiators is pessimistic, it is not reactionary. Urbainczyk says “this novel is not simplistic anti-Communism. It is a sad reflection on the failure of revolution. Koestler’s sympathies clearly lay with the oppressed, but he could see no hope for them. 
This hopelessness was not shared by Trumbo, who argued that “Koestler may be right that they were actually defeated by their own demoralization and inability to cope with freedom, but so he was right only for Koestler’s book… the one they couldn’t make a movie of. He is wrong for our book … the one we are making a movie of”. 
Stanley Kubrick’s Nihilism
Even though Koestler’s novel was not filmed, his vision was to strongly influence the film’s nihilistic director, Stanley Kubrick. Urbainczyk notes that “perhaps the biggest problem for the lack of artistic unity of vision was that Kubrick has read Koestler’s novel, which was much closer to his own cynical view of humanity than Fast’s more upbeat book” 
In his memoir of Kubrick, Michael Herr described the director as follows: “He thought the best system might be under a benign despot, though he had little belief that such a man could be found. He wasn’t a cynic, but he could have easily passed for one. He was certainly a capitalist. He believed himself to be a realist.” 
In December 1960, shortly after Spartacus was released, the Observer published Kubrick’s notes, in which the director argues: “I don’t think that any genuine artist has ever been orientated by some didactic point of view, even if he thought he was”  While this is a welcome rejection of the Socialist Realist idea that artistic form should take second place to ideology, it also led to Kubrick blunting the film’s political content.
In his article Dalton Trumbo vs Stanley Kubrick: Their debate over the political meaning of Spartacus, DuncanL Cooper remarks that “the hallmark of Kubrick’s conception of the film was fidelity to a bitter realism which spared the illusions of neither the left nor the right.”  He thus wanted to “wanted to graphically illustrate the violence, brutality and corruption of both the masters and the slaves” 
Paul adds that “Kubrick (following Koestler’s belief that a new revolutionary regime often behaves as badly as the one it overthrows) actively wanted to emphasize slave brutality and violence.”  This put Kubrick in permanent conflict with Fast and Trumbo, who stood wholeheartedly on the side of the slave revolt. They were trying to create a film that was a metaphor of their own experiences of the McCarthyite witch hunt.
These diverging expectations of Fast, Kubrick and actor/producer Douglas were explained on the narrator’s introduction to the 2004 DVD: “Kirk Douglas wanted a larger than life hero that would enhance his stature as an actor and star. Fast wanted a pure, principled revolutionary to personify the ageless revolt of the oppressed against the oppressor. Director Stanley Kubrick, the master of cinematic cynicism, wanted a conflicted wretch, who was finally destroyed by the horror of bloody battle.”
Historical accuracy vs “Sentimental Trash”
Kubrick was also prone to nitpick, saying “I tried with only limited success to make the film as real as possible but I was up against a pretty dumb script which was rarely faithful to what is known about Spartacus. History tells us that he twice led his victorious slave army to the northern borders of Italy, and could quite easily have gotten out of the country. But he didn’t, and instead he led his army back to pillage Roman cities.” 
While Fast and Trumbo were writing a film about contemporary solidarity, Kubrick seemed more concerned about historical accuracy. This may be why he dismissed the famous “I am Spartacus” scene – maybe the film’s most memorable and effective – as “sentimental trash.” 
Urbainczyk notes that “human relationships in Kubrick’s films are rarely satisfactory and never warmly democratic. Spartacus and his fleeing comrades, living in a sort of ideal socialism, are an optimistic comment on human community, a topic Kubrick always approaches with distrust, pessimism, and futility (the natural confluence of reason and emotion).” 
And yet, Kubrick had been able to produce astounding political films. Immediately prior to Spartacus, he had collaborated with Kirk Douglas on the anti-war film Paths of Glory. But Kubrick’s politics tended more towards the nihilism of A Clockwork Orange or the End of Days satire of Dr. Strangelove. He never showed any obvious interest in filming Fast’s and Trumbo’s musings on the revolutionary process.
Ultimately, the film that was finally released was neither Fast and Trumbo’s call to class struggle, nor Koestler and Kubrick’s meditation on human frailty. Bornost remarks, “the truth is that the sum of changes in the film models a Spartacus which is clearly different to Fast’s revolutionary hero and Koestler’s tragic failure. This Spartacus does not want social revolution, but freedom for himself and his love. He wants freedom undisturbed from tyranny, and is prepared to fight tyranny if it comes between him and freedom. He trusts his own abilities, and can therefore shake off the yoke of slavery. In short: he is an American.” 
It is significant that the corrupt Roman senators are all played by British actors. Spartacus may be a film about heroes battling for freedom, but these are peculiarly US-American heroes. Douglas issued a statement calling the film “an American statement by an American film company about the cause of freedom and the dignity of man.” 
Kirk Douglas – A Liberal Revolutionary
So we have a film that is written by Communists, directed by a nihilist and embraced by the Liberal President who was soon to embark on the events leading up to the Cuban Missile Crisis. What holds all these things together? Maybe now is the time to examine the role of the fourth man responsible for the creation of Spartacus.
Kirk Douglas – the film’s producer and lead actor – was also a Liberal, but his background and politics were of a quite different calibre to Kubrick’s. Douglas’s politics were forged in his upbringing as a working-class Jewish immigrant.
Douglas was no stranger to Hollywood racism, noting that “the name ‘Kirk Douglas’ got me work as an actor. The name I was born with – ‘Issur Danielovitch’ wouldn’t have gotten me through the door.”  He pointedly called his autobiography The Ragman’s Son, and later reminisced: “my six sisters and I grew up during the Depression era. Our family struggled every day for bread and borscht. My mother struggled every day with my father” 
By 1960, the working-class Jew with Belarusian parents was also a close friend of the Liberal president. Douglas’s politics were torn between the class consciousness with which he grew up and his material reality. This was seen in his relationship with Trumbo, whom he defended against the witch hunt, while the film company he owned, Bryna Productions, paid the blacklisted writer way below the going rate.
Douglas’s liberal pragmatism was also seen when casting the large battle scenes. The 8,500 extras used for the battle scenes were taken from the Spanish army, still under the leadership of the fascist General Franco. Franco ordered “that none of his soldiers be allowed to die on film, Not that he was concerned with their safety – he just didn’t want us to make it appear as if they died. Spanish pride.”  The anti-fascist Douglas was undoubtedly appalled. The owner of Bryna Productions knew a good deal when he saw it.
The conflict of the film’s politics is, in part, the conflict that Douglas himself was experiencing as a working-class migrant and victim of racism who had made good. He was in a position to make a film like Spartacus precisely because of his success. But, every so often, he remembered where he’d come from.
Frank Sinatra’s Execution of Private Slovik
Spartacus was not the only film that threatened to break the blacklist, but it succeeded where others foundered. To try to understand why, let’s look at a similar attempt by Douglas’s friend Frank Sinatra, a man who would later turn to the right but in the 1950s was still very much a Hollywood Liberal.
In early 1960, Sinatra announced that he was to produce and direct The Execution of Private Slovik, the story of the only American soldier to be executed for desertion since the Civil War. The writer was to be Albert Maltz, another of the Hollywood Ten. Just naming Maltz jeopardized a $250,000 advertising contract that Sinatra had just signed.
General Electric threatened to pull out of sponsoring three of Sinatra’s television specials if he did not sack Maltz. Sinatra’s replied “there will be other specials’”.  In his political biography of Sinatra, Martin Smith reports that “Frank’s reply was ‘Fuck ’em. Across the country Catholic priests used their pulpits to sermonise against Frank. But even god’s ambassadors could not make him back down” 
Right-wing attacks on Sinatra increased, and even Trumbo advised him that “not only is this bad for breaking the blacklist, it’s bad for the country. He’s very identified with Kennedy. Nixon will use this against him. Forget about movies – the whole election could be hanging in the balance.”  Sinatra’s response was to take out a full-page ad in Variety saying: “I make movies, I do not ask the advice of Senator Kennedy on whom I should hire. Senator Kennedy does not ask me how he should vote in the Senate.” 
And yet, The Execution of Private Slovik never got made. “On Tuesday, April 5, John Kennedy did win the Wisconsin primary, but by a smaller margin than anticipated. The ‘Old Man’ – JFK’s father, Ambassador Joseph P. Kennedy – had seen enough. He called Sinatra and said, simply, its either ‘Maltz or us’”. 
Sinatra took out a new ad in Variety: “I have instructed my attorneys to make a settlement with Albert Maltz. I had thought that the major consideration was whether or not the script would be in the best interests of the United States. My conversations with Maltz indicated that he has an affirmative, pro-American approach to the story. But the American public has indicated it feels the morality of hiring Maltz is the more crucial matter, and I will accept the majority opinion.” 
It is not that Sinatra was subservient to the Kennedy clan and Douglas was not – both men enjoyed holding the coat tails of power. But Douglas’s relentless single-mindedness afforded him some political independence from the Kennedys. Without his perseverance, Spartacus would not have been made. We should bear this in mind before we criticize the compromises that Douglas was to make, even though many of these criticisms are quite legitimate.
The Censor Strikes: Battles with Universal Pictures
So far, we have talked about the contrasting political visions of the individuals responsible for producing Spartacus. And yet, a film that appears in cinemas is never the one that was conceived by its creators. Ultimately, a film is a product owned by a film studio, and the bigger the Studio involved, the more the Film Industry is able to assert control.
Bornost reports: “to insure themselves against possible problems, Universal maintained full control over the final cut. Studio boss Ed Muhl put Universal’s position clearly: ‘Deep ideas are nice in a movie but what counts is audience appeal’” 
Douglas himself was under no illusions about who had the final say about his film: “Without my approval, Universal made forty-two cuts to the film. As Eddie Muhl later admitted, they were ‘for content, not for length’.”  References to homosexuality, “gratuitous” violence and “bad language” were cut. “we were down to just two ‘damns’ and a single ‘damnation’”. 
The cuts were not just aimed at respectibility. “Even more cowardly and reprehensible was what they were really doing in the editing room. Having capitulated publicly on the use of Dalton Trumbo’s name, Universal was now even more concerned about the political message of the film.” 
“The bulk of the cuts they ordered were designed to reduce Spartacus’ historical significance. Their tortured rationale was that if this rebel slave even appeared to have a chance at overthrowing the Roman Empire, anti-Communist critics would say that this was all part of Trumbo’s hidden message designed to foment rebellion in America.” 
In the original conception (and indeed, in the historical story of Spartacus), the rebel Slave Army won some victories against Rome before finally capitulating to the sheer overwhelming power of the Roman Empire. In the film which was released in 1960, all scenes showing Spartacus’s fighters’ winning battles had been removed.
Douglas bemoaned the fact that “although he was still depicted as more than just a runaway slave concerned only with his own safety, any hint that he might have been leading a successful revolution was removed from the film.”  It was just about acceptable to see slaves revolting. To show them succeeding was still unthinkable.
Douglas complained that “‘Large Spartacus’, the warrior who fought for the fundamental principle that every man should be free to determine his own destiny – the same principle, by the way, on which America was founded – was reduced to, at best, ‘Medium Spartacus’”. 
In passing, this shows how far Douglas’s and Trumbo’s views of Large Spartacus diverge. For Douglas, Large Spartacus was about liberal individualism, for Trumbo it was the overthrow of capitalism. Yet even Douglas’s reformist Spartacus was butchered before the film was allowed into cinemas.
Spartacus and Race
The 1950s were not just experiencing the rebirth of labour struggles. In the black ghettos there was a growing feeling that a change was gonna come. Already in 1955, Ebony Magazine announced “the emergence of a “new, militant Negro”, a “fearless, fighting man who openly campaigns for his civil rights, who refuses to migrate to the North in search of justice and dignity, and is determined to stay in his own backyard and fight”.” 
In the same year, the successful 384-day Montgomery bus boycott made Martin Luther King a household name. In 1957, Eisenhower was forced to sign the Civil Rights Act. Three years later – the year of Spartacus’s release – four black college students refused to leave a segregated lunch counter in Woolworth’s in Greensboro.
Also in 1960, the Supreme Court passed Boynton v. Virginia, which declared the segregation of interstate transportation facilities unconstitutional. This triggered the Freedom Rides of 1961, as black and white activists went to Southern States to ensure that this basic right for unsegregated transport was honoured.
The fact that Spartacus was about a slave rebellion was not lost on militants whose recent ancestors had themselves been enslaved. In case the audience missed the point, the opening voice-over explained that the film was about the dream “of the death of slavery – which would not come until 2,000 years later.” Clearly, the film was not just about Ancient Rome.
One of the stars of Spartacus had his own experience of institutional racism. Woody Strode was later to give his name to the hero of Toy Story. At the time, explains Douglas, he “was a decathlon star at UCLA and one of the first players to beat the color barrier in the NFL. Now an actor, he was my top choice to play Draba, the Ethiopian slave who is paired with Spartacus in a fight to the death.” 
Draba has a small but significant part in the film. As the gladiator picked to fight Spartacus to the death for the entertainment of Roman noblewomen, he throws down his triton. For Rosenbaum “the reference to the nonviolence and humanism of the civil rights movement is unmistakable.“  But it does beg the question, why was passive sacrifice acceptable for the black character but not for his paler skinned leading man?
Like pretty much all “swords and sandals” epics, Spartacus is a very white film. But it does stand on the right side. It was both a product of and a contribution towards the growing wave of resistance. Without the nascent Civil Rights movement, it would have been a less significant film. But it also played its part in bringing the fight for civil liberties into the mainstream.
Sexual Politics in Spartacus
Spartacus was not just about race. In his recent article I’m Spartacus!, NeilFaulkner notes “another scene in which guards jeer at Spartacus when he is provided with a slave prostitute. He yells at them, ‘I’m not an animal!’ And very quietly she says to him, ‘Neither am I.’ This is about another kind of oppression – also set to explode across America with the rise of the women’s movement.” 
The sexual politics of Spartacus are more conflicted than its anti-racism. It is unclear whether Spartacus even passes the Bechdel test . Yes, there is a scene where two women talk to each other. Yes, it could be argued, that they are discussing not men qua men, but the slaves that they would like to see slaughter each other for their pleasure. But even here, there are sexual overtones.
In his review for the AV Club, Tom Breihan notes: “They’re there with their husbands, but they’re also clearly picking the slaves who they most want to fuck”  This may offer women a sexuality rarely seen in early 1960s films, but even by the comically low criteria of the Bechdel test, it is clear that even when Spartacus deigns to bring in a woman’s opinion, its main focus is on how this affects men.
The rare female characters are generally poorly drawn. Spartacus’s slave army does include women fighters, but they are largely mute. And by the end of the film, Spartacus is offered a choice between fighting oppression and a Leave it to Beaver style family life. Domesticated by his love interest Varinia, he ultimately conforms.
“General Spartacus was replaced by the family man Spartacus. The film focusses strongly on the love story between Varinia and Spartacus and their plans to form a family … The Spartacus who appears on screen dreams of a family life in freedom, and has his focus on the private in accordance with the conservative family values of a USA in the 1950s.” 
If the film challenges some stereotypes, it remains in the tradition of epic films, both of the 1950s and more recently. “In general terms, cinematic epics have tended to reinforce this privileging of the hero, especially given Hollywood’s fetishization of the strong, central (male) figure. The narrative centrality of the single hero is readily announced in the titling of Spartacus, Ben-Hur, Gladiator, Alexander”. 
This all fits with the Kennedyesque nature of Spartacus: “the film unfurled a banner for the masculine mystique of the New Frontier. It presented a vision of the Kennedy ideal of manhood, only outfitted in the tunics and gladiator regalia of the ancient world instead of tailored suits or hiking boots”  There is little room for active women on this frontier.
Spartacus and Homosexuality
The film’s sexual politics are most contradictory when it comes with the treatment of homosexuality. Geoff Shurlock, head of the Production Code Administration (PCA), objected to the suggestions of homosexuality in the character of Crassus. He successfully recommended the following cuts:
- “Page 85: ‘the dialogue on this page clearly suggests that Crassus is sexually attracted to women and men. This flavour should be completely removed. Any suggestion that Crassus finds sexual attraction in Antoninus will have to be avoided.’
- Page 86: ‘The subject of sex perversion seems to be touched on in this scene. Specifically we note Crassus putting his hand on the boy and the boy’s reaction to the gesture.’
- Pages 93 and 94 “Any implication that Crassus is a sex pervert is unacceptable” 
These scenes did not appear until a restored 1991 version of the film. The soundtrack of the film had disappeared, so Anthony Hopkins re-dubbed the late Laurence Olivier’s lines.
This is an interesting anecdote which shows how unprepared 1960 Hollywood was to contemplate homosexuality. But it doesn’t means that the film was remotely progressive in this area. Crassus’s bisexuality is shown as part of the depravity which was to condemn him and his society to ultimate failure.
Regarding the so-called “snails and oysters scene”, in which Crassus tries to seduce Tony Curtis’s Antoninus, Breihen says: “I’d love to know what Kubrick and Trumbo had in mind with all this. Is Olivier’s bisexuality supposed to make him more villainous? Is it a sign of Roman decadence? Or is he simply looking for one more way to enforce his power over someone else?” 
I think Breihen is being too generous here, and that there is little ambiguity about the scene. As Urbainczyk argues: “With his English accent and bisexuality, Crassus represented degeneration and helped audiences, at least in the US, know where their sympathies should lie.” 
Having said this, maybe Breihan is onto something when he later notes that “it also seems possible that there’s something going on between Spartacus and Curtis’ character.”  Maybe the film should gain a point for its willingness to discuss homosexuality, but ultimately it seems too scared of its characters’ sexuality to be able to do much interesting with it.
The Broader Politics of Spartacus
There are multiple possible readings of Spartacus. For the Hollywood Reporter, “there is nothing more subversive in Spartacus than contained in the Bill of Rights and the Fourteenth Amendment” , Roger Ebert’s review, however, stated that “the movie is about revolution, and clearly reflects the decadence of the parasitical upper classes and the superior moral fiber of the slaves.” 
In an article for Criterion Reflections, David Blakeslee makes a nuanced argument that the film uses a relative conservative form to deliver us much more radical content: “Spartacus looks and feels like your standard colossal Hollywood blockbuster of that era, featuring massive sets, abundant pomp and pageantry, portentous dialogue and the proverbial ‘cast of thousands.’ But despite these similarities, Spartacus stands quite apart from them in its underlying tone of subversion and challenge to popular mores and conventional power structures. 
To take the discussion further, Blakeslee contrasts Spartacus with Ben-Hur: “Spartacus was born into slavery, never received any kind of formal education, and inspired a revolt based not on an appeal to ancient religious traditions but only to the inherent striving for freedom and self-determination common to oppressed peoples whose consciences have been awakened. Ben-Hur is, in short, a film much more compatible and even subservient to cultural authoritarianism than Spartacus could ever be construed or accused of.“ 
Breihan puts it more succinctly: “In some ways, Ben-Hur is the culmination of a whole wave of religious epics, the pinnacle of a lineage that includes huge ’50s hits like The Ten Commandments and The Robe. Spartacus is something else. It’s a movie about class struggle.” 
In his article Genocidal Spectacles and the Ideology of Death, Christopher Sharrett compares Spartacus with a more contemporary epic: “Neoconservative works such as Braveheart (1995) incorporate gore insofar as it sanctifies sacrificial violence and national destiny. But no triumphal anthems are heard at the end of Spartacus as they are in Braveheart, no brandishing of national banners is seen.” 
The film spoke to the prevailing mood of the need for change. It “captures and expresses a sense of mounting fury and outrage in response to the unchecked abuses and contempt of untrammeled might and authority. As such, it’s a film that speaks to us today, in an age where wealth, privilege and access to power are increasingly concentrated into the hands of a few, to the detriment of the many.” 
This mood has not gone away. As Douglas wrote in the Epilogue to his 2014 book about the making of Spartacus: ““The fight for basic human freedom depicted in Spartacus is going on all over the globe from Syria to Iran.” 
Individual vs Collective Solution
For me, maybe the most interesting aspect of the film’s politics is the conflict about what sort of solution it suggests. Is it the triumph of one man, as suggested in the film’s title? Or is it the more collective response shown in the “I am Spartacus” scene, of which Breihan says: “It’s not a moment of individual heroism; it’s the proletarian mass coming together and becoming the hero” 
This is maybe the centre of Trumbo’s debate between Large and Small Spartacus. It also reflects a more general discussion which was taking place in wider society. Small Spartacus was the hope that the new, young President could deliver the reforms being demanded by a growing movement. According to this belief, the problems in society are not systemic, and can all be solved by having the right person at the top.
As an individual hero, Spartacus himself cannot stand for a collective solution: “Spartacus may be a charismatic proletarian hero, but he’s also a teacher and father figure who makes all the basic decisions — moral as well as practical — for the slave rebellion as a whole, so he clearly doesn’t qualify as a cell member” 
Large Spartacus, on the other hand, stressed the independence of a mass movement. Strong leaders are good as far as they go, but social power lies in classes, nor individuals. Small Spartacus took a hit in Dallas in 1963, with the assassination of Kennedy. But the movement was sustained as Large Spartacus took to the streets, first against racism and increasingly against war in Vietnam.
Although Spartacus’s protagonists are slaves, the film made a clear overture to workers, and joint collective struggle. “Spartacus dressed itself as an old-fashioned biblical epic, but its story was all about worker solidarity. It romanticizes a whole class of people who don’t even need to discuss a plan with each other before they start killing the people higher than them on the social strata.” 
The slave army sometimes acts as a prototype workers’ council: “they ‘share everything they have’. The rebels are harbingers of the coming classless society: ‘they were something which the world had not yet seen. They were as people could be.’”  This solidarity is learned by experience: “the Roman slave begins by revolting out of blind instinct, but gradually acquires a will to improve the society he is part of and to exert his full value in it.” 
This collective process is shown in a discussion between Spartacus and Antoninus, the character played by Tony Curtis. When Antoninus asks “Could we ever have won?”, Spartacus replies: “Just by fighting we won something. When just one man says no I won’t, Rome begins to fear. We were tens of thousands.”
For this reason, Spartacus, the film, is about more than just the man. When Crassus says “this campaign is not alone to kill Spartacus. It is to kill the legend of Spartacus” he is not afraid of future individual leaders inspired by Spartacus, but of the mass movements in their wake.
In a sense, the failure of Spartacus’s slave army also points to the need for a collective response. Urbainczyk correctly notes that “Spartacus fails because the other slaves of Italy do not rise up. Rejection of slavery in one city will not work.” 
Conclusion: But is it Any Good?
It is strange that an art form as collaborative as film has given birth to the “Auteur theory”, which ascribes the artistic success of a film down to individual genius. When we examine the final film, it makes little sense to talk of Douglas’s Spartacus or Trumbo’s Spartacus, still less that of Kubrick who later disowned the film. A film – far more than a novel or a painting – is the product of the collaboration – and the conflict – between a wide range of people, who may well be trying to pull it in quite different directions.
Even if it were possible for a film to have been solely created by a single talented individual, it is still just a product and the property of a large film company. Against the wishes of Douglas, Trumbo and many others, the film that was shown in New York in 1960 was the Corporate Spartacus that had been approved by Universal Studios.
Ever since its release, the film has faced criticism from both Right and Left. We have already considered some of the lukewarm reviews from the mainstream press, but even self-declared Marxists like Jeffrey Tatum can call it “a blockbuster that can have raised no one’s consciousness”  Other leftist critics claim that it is “all over the place“ , and that “Spartacus is a modern hero who did not really accomplish anything.” 
And yet, for all the film’s weaknesses, there is much to love, both politically, and artistically. Spartacus is a film that constantly breaks stereotypes and defies our expectations. “Even the ending was daring. The crucified hero is denied a conventional victory, and has to be consoled with the hope that his ideas will survive.”  Breihan calls this “a stunningly dark ending.”  It is also testimony to the writers’ continued belief that ideas and movements are more important than individual leaders.
Paul says ruefully, that “disagreements among the film-makers splintered key elements of Spartacus’ heroic characterization, so that the finished film offers us only unsatisfactory glimpses of the more complex epic hero lurking behind the scenes.”  Well, as we say up North, that’s as maybe. The Spartacus that was never made may be even better than the one that we have. But even the fact that this 60-year old film can provoke this sort of debate is testimony to its lasting greatness.
Spartacus was made in a peculiar conjuncture of film history. “As the fifties got ready to become the sixties, the seams started to show. Something wasn’t right. Nowhere was this change more evident than in the movies.”  Although Spartacus was used to confirm Cold War prejudices, it also contained the essence of revolutionary change.
Biskind notes that a final film that is released is “mediated by mainstream institutions like banks and studios, which transmit ideology in the guise of market decisions: this idea will sell, that one won’t. The very question ’will it play in Peoria?’ masks a multitude of ideological sins.”  Yet, regardless of the different machinations behind the scenes, Spartacus did play in Peoria. Its time had come.
The political and artistic potential that was to come was already palpable in 1960, when Spartacus was released. Radical change was on its way, and the film is infected by the germ of this change. It is right that we remember Spartacus as the film which broke the blacklist and for the much-parodied scene showing solidarity. But we should also see in it the portent of much greater things to come.
Why does any of this matter?
In the process of creating this article, someone  asked me, “What’s the most important thing (or three things) you would want someone to get from the piece?” This was a very interesting question, as to be honest, all I really wanted to do was to ramble on about a film that had interested and intrigued me for quite a while.
But if you really want to know, here are the four lessons that I think we can learn from watching Spartacus:
1. Every work of art is a product of the time in which it was created. This applies to film as much as any other art form
Films are not just the product of the individual genius of their writers, directors and producers. They also come out of a particular political moment. As Marx says, “Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past.” 
Without McCarthyism, without a resurgence in trade union fights, without the incipient movement against racism, Spartacus may have existed, but not in the form in which it appeared. Works of art do not have to take a side, but they still reflect the political discussions which were prevalent in the time in which they were made.
2. Having said this, the contributions of individual writers and producers make a difference
This may seem to contradict the first point, but they stand in a dialectical relationship. People make history, but not in conditions of their own choosing. In 1960, the conditions were ripe for Spartacus to play in Peoria, but this does not mean that anyone was going to make it.
The reason that Spartacus broke the Witch Hunt and Execution of Private Slovik was never released is not just the result of underlying political machinations. It is also the result of individual decisions taken by Kirk Douglas and Frank Sinatra.
3. The Discussion about Large vs Small Spartacus may seem esoteric, but it affects our general reaction to art and politics
The more I think about Spartacus, the more it becomes apparent that the most interesting discussion is about Trumbo’s “Large Spartacus”, which is, in effect, a call for revolutionary change. It is unclear how much this ideal can be realised using the traditional format of a film named after a great hero who will change everything for us.
Art in general, and film in particular, stands apart from its audience. They show something on the big screen, we consume. There have been attempts to change the relationship between art and its audience, such as the re-enactment of the Russian Revolution in Bradford in 1968, or Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed.  Spartacus does not go so far. But especially in the “I am Spartacus” scene, it at least opens the possibility that art can be communal and actively involve its audience.
4. What ultimately matters for political intervention is the audience response
Most important is Spartacus’s legacy. Some left-wing critics have expressed disappointment at the film’s message. Breihan believes that “In Spartacus, the hero doesn’t learn any personal lessons, except perhaps the one about the futility of his own fight and the one about how it’s worth fighting anyway.”  Similarly, Urbainczyk argues that “just as the Romans nailed up the slaves’ bodies on crosses along the Appian way, the film holds up the consequences of revolution for us to shudder at, and we do.” 
Although there is some truth in Urbainczyk’s point, I tend to share Bornost’s view that her pessimism is excessive: “millions of people have seen the film and read from it a different message: people arise and fight for their freedom – even if the chances seem bad” 
Similarly, I agree with Breihan when he says that “the knowledge that some people do rise up and fight for their freedom is what viewers remember from the film, and what readers remember from Fast’s novel and from Plutarch’s Life of Crassus. That is the legacy of the story of Spartacus, not that he ultimately failed but that he dared to fight.” 
Phil Butland is a British socialist who lives in Berlin and is the speaker of the LINKE Berlin Internationals group. In his spare time, he curates the CinePhil film blog
- Eugene Archer (1960): ‘Spartacus‘: Hailed in Farewell, New York Times October 2, 1960
- Norma Barzman (2005): Hollywood: the red and the blacklist. Simon Basketer interviews Norma Barzman
- Peter Biskind (1983): Seeing is Believing: Or How Hollywood taught us to stop worrying and love the 50s, Bloomsbury
- David Blakeslee (2011): Criterion Reflections #105: Spartacus
- Stefan Bornost: Spartacus unpublished manuscript (my translation)
- Greg Botelho (2016): The day politics and TV changed forever
- Tom Breihan (2019): The Popcorn Champs 19 April 2019: Spartacus
- Phil Butland (2020): RIP Spartacus
- Duncan L Cooper (1996): Dalton Trumbo vs Stanley Kubrick: Their debate over the political meaning of Spartacus
- Bosley Crowther (1960): ‘Spartacus’ Enters the Arena:3-Hour Production Has Premiere at DeMille, New York Times, October 7 1960
- Paul D’Amato (2010): WHO WAS SPARTACUS?
- Kirk Douglas (1988): The Ragman’s Son, New York
- Kirk Douglas (2012): I am Spartacus: Making a Film, Breaking the Blacklist, Open Road
- Roger Ebert (1991): Spartacus
- Howard Fast (1990): Being Red: A Memoir, Routledge
- Neil Faulkner (2020): ‘I’m Spartacus!’
- Michael Herr (2000): Kubrick, Grove Press
- William Keach (2000): Rehabilitating McCarthyism, International Socialist Review Issue 12, June-July 2000
- Brian Kelly (2008): Unfinished business: Martin Luther King in Memphis, International Socialism Issue 118
- Stanley Kubrick (1960): Stanley Kubrick’s guide to the art of film-making, The Observer 4 December 1960
- Karina Longworth and Matthew Dessem (2016): Did Kirk Douglas Really Break the Blacklist?
- Karl Marx (1852): The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte
- Karl Marx (1861): Letter from Marx to Engels In Manchester
- Karl Marx (1865): Karl Marx’s confession https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1865/04/01.htm
- Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels (1970): The German Ideology, Lawrence & Wishart
- Joanna Paul (2013): Film and the Classical Epic Tradition, Oxford University Press
- Ronald Reagan (1982): Address to the British Parliament
- Monica Reid (2020): A deep dive into the workings of Stanley Kubrick masterpiece ‘Spartacus’
- Jonathan Rosenbaum (1991): Hollywood Unchained, Chicago Reader, 9 May 1991
- Michael Scammell (2015): Koestler’s Near-miss in Hollywood, 10 November 2015
- Christopher Sharrett (2004): Genocidal Spectacles and the Ideology of Death in ed. Murray Pomerance Bad: Infamy, Darkness, Evil, and Slime on Screen (2004, State University of New York Press)
- Elizabeth Schulte (2005): From McCarthyism to COINTELPRO
- Jeff Smith (2014): Film Criticism, the Cold War and the Blacklist; Reading the Hollywood Reds, University of California Press
- Martin Smith (2005): Frank Sinatra: When Ol’ Blue Eyes was a red, Redwords
- I.F. Stone (1973): The Truman Era, Vintage Books
- Barry Strauss (2018): Spartacus indeed freed slaves, but there’s more to his complicated story than that says historian
- Jeffrey Tatum (2007): The Character of Marcus Licinius Crassus in ed Martin Winkler (2007), Spartacus Film and History, Malden Press
- TIME (1960): Cinema: The New Pictures, TIME Magazine October 24, 1960
- Megan Trudell (2006): The hidden history of US radicalism, International Socialism Issue 111
- Harry S Truman (1947): Address to Congress, March 12, 1947
- Dalton Trumbo (1959): Notes: Report on Spartacus
- Theresa Urbainczyk (2004): Ancients in Action: Spartacus
- Theresa Urbainczyk (2007): Review: Spartacus: Film and History
- Steven Watts (2016): JFK and the Masculine Mystique: Sex and Power on the New Frontier, Thomas Dunne Books
- Martin Winkler (2007): ‘Culturally Significant and not Just Simple Entertainment’: History and the marketing of Spartacus, in ed Martin Winkler (2007), Spartacus Film and History, Malden Press
- Maria Wyke (1997): Projecting the Past: Ancient Rome, Cinema and History p65
1 Thanks to Bridget Anderson, Carol McGuigan and Tash Shifrin who commented on earlier versions of this text and made very useful suggestions. Special thanks to Stefan Bornost to sending me a copy of his unpublished manuscript on Spartacus. All mistakes are, of course, my own.
2 TIME (1960)
3 Crowther (1960)
4 Douglas (2012)p156
5 Urbainczyk (2004) p118
6 Butland (2020)
7 Biskind (1983)
8 Ibid p3
9 Truman (1947)
10 Biskind (1983) p4
11 Ibid p212
12 Botelho (2016)
13 Watts (2016) p305
14 Longworth and Dessem (2016)
15 Cited in Watts (2016) p305
16 Watts (2016) p300
17 TIME (1960)
18 Cited by Watts (2016) p302
19 Rosenbaum (1991)
20 Marx/Engels (1970) p64
21 Reagan (1982)
22 Winkler (2007) p187
23 Barzman (2005)
26 Bornost p10
27 Stone (1973) p80
28 Keach (2000)
29 Schulte (2005)
30 Trudell (2006) p68
31 Schulte (2005)
34 Fast (1990)
35 D’Amato (2010)
36 Urbainczyk (2004) p96
37 Douglas (1988) p304
38 Marx (1861)
39 Marx (1865)
40 Urbainczyk (2004) pp10-11
41 In DDR times, this monument was open to the public. It is currently behind locked gates in the back garden of some luxury flats. To view it, you need to wait until a yuppie family goes for a walk and sneak through the gates.
42 Urbainczyk (2004) p9
43 Ibid p131
44 Letter (1769), cited in Urbainczyk (2004), p11
45 Urbainczyk (2004) pp12-13
46 Ibid p109
47 Smith (2014) p187
48 Bornost p10
49 Ibid p13
50 Breihan (2019)
51 Douglas (2012) p157
52 Smith (2014) p189
53 Douglas (2012)p156
54 Urbainczyk (2004) p126
55 Smith (2014) p189
56 Urbainczyk (2004) p109
57 Scammell (2015)
58 Cooper (1996)
59 Urbainczyk (2004) p109
60 Paul (2013) p193
61 Cited in Cooper (1996)
62 Strauss (2018)
63 Bornost p8
64 Urbainczyk (2004) p111
65 Ibid p111
66 Trumbo (1959) p6
67 Urbainczyk (2004) p129
68 Herr (2000) p12
69 Kubrick (1960)
70 Cooper (1996)
72 Paul (2013) p203
73 Cited in Cooper (1996)
74 Reid (2020)
75 Urbainczyk (2004) p128
76 Bornost p17
77 Wyke (1997) p65
78 Douglas (2012) p13
79 Ibid p22
80 Douglas (2012) p145
81 Ibid p154
82 Smith (2005) p91
83 Douglas (2012) p153
84 Ibid p153
85 Ibid p154
86 Ibid p154
87 Bornost p13
88 Douglas (2012) p156
89 Ibid p157
90 Ibid p157
91 Ibid p157
92 Ibid p157
93 Ibid p157
94 Kelly (2008) pp78-9
95 Douglas (2012) p91
96 Rosenbaum (1991)
97 Faulkner (2020)
99 Breihan (2019)
100 Bornost p16
101 Paul (2013) p178
102 Watts (2016) p302
103 Douglas (2012) p143
104 Breihan (2019)
105 Urbainczyk (2007)
106 Breihan (2019)
107 Cited by Smith (2014) p187
108 Ebert (1991)
109 Blakeslee (2011)
111 Breihan (2019)
112 Sharrett (2004) p70
113 Blakeslee (2011)
114 Douglas (2012) p171
115 Breihen (2019)
116 Rosenbaum (1991)
117 Breihen (2019)
118 Bornost p9
119 Archer (1960)
120 Urbainczyk (2004) p110
121 Tatum (2007) p143
122 Rosenbaum (1991)
123 Paul (2013) pp198-9
124 Ebert (1991)
125 Breihan (2019)
126 Paul (2013) p205
127 Biskind (1983) p356
128 Ibid p5
129 You know who you are
130 Marx (1852)
131 Theatre of the Oppressed, Augusto Boal 1974
132 Breihan (2019)
133 Urbainczyk (2004) p122
134 Bornost p17
135 Urbainczyk (2004) p130