Just as The Ten Commandments (1956) was the apotheosis of Eisenhower conservatism, this 1960 blockbuster, which broke the Hollywood blacklist by crediting screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, seems the quintessence of Kennedy liberalism. Anthony Mann directed the first sequence but then was replaced by Stanley Kubrick, who said he enjoyed the most artistic freedom in the scenes without dialogue. Kirk Douglas and Jean Simmons are appealing as the eponymous rebel slave and his love interest; no less juicy is the Roman triumvirate of Charles Laughton, Peter Ustinov, and Laurence Olivier, playing one of the first bisexual characters in a major Hollywood film (unfortunately one also has to put up with the embarrassing accents and performances of Tony Curtis, John Dall, and Nina Foch, among others). This may be the most literate of all the spectacles set in antiquity. This restored version, including material originally cut, runs 197 minutes, including Alex North's powerfully romantic overture.
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