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Kirk Douglas was miffed not to have been chosen for the lead in Ben-Hur, so he found his own epic to star in. Uploaded by

I don’t think it’s a spoiler for a 50-year-old film to mention the greatest part of the film. When members of the losing army are promised no punishment if they’ll identify Spartacus in their midst, they all stand one by one and say, “I’m Spartacus.” It’s one of the great scenes in the history of film.

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Spartacus was Stanley Kubrick’s second feature film. And it was the only one in which he didn’t write all or part of the screenplay, had no final cut, received, no producing credit, and had no say in casting. He took over after the first director was fired only a week into filming, and never agreed with Kirk Douglas and his team about the vision for the film. Even though it won four Academy Awards and helped establish his reputation, Kubrick never had much good to say about Spartacus. Not a pleasant memory for him.

It was for Kirk Douglas, however. Shunned by director William Wyler for the lead in Ben-Hur, Douglas wanted to make a “cast of thousands” epic, and bought the rights to Spartacus as soon as he read Howard Fast’s book. He made a good choice, as the AFI’s 10th Anniversary of 100 Years…100 Movies ranked Spartacus number 81, and the number 5 epic film.

My favorite Spartacus reference: In That Thing You Do, as the Wonders are about to appear on the Hollywood Television Showcase, guitarist Lenny turns to drummer Guy Patterson and asks, “How did we get here?” Guy answers, “I led you here, for I am Spartacus.”

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