Cast: Kirk Douglas, Laurence Olivier, Jean Simmons, Charles Laughton, Peter Ustinov, John Gavin, Tony Curtis, Nina Foch, John Ireland, Herbert Lom, John Dall, Charles McGraw, Joanna Barnes, Harold J. Stone, Woody Strode, Peter Brocco, Richard Farnsworth, Paul Lambert, Robert J. Wilke, Nick Dennis, John Hoyt, Frederick Worlock, Jil Jarmyn, Louise Vincent, Dayton Lummis, Gil Perkins, Brad Harris, Aron Kinkaid, Joe Haworth, Vinton Hayworth, James Griffith, Paul E. Burns
In 73 B.C., Lentulus Batiatus (Ustinov) brings recently-bought slaves to his gladiatorial school in Capua. Among the arrivals is a Thracian slave, Spartacus (Douglas). The newcomers are told they will be trained by experts to fight in pairs. Care will be taken that they suffer no harm while training. They will fight to the death only after they are sold, for gentlemen and ladies of quality who appreciate a fine kill. The trainees are told that approximately half of the school’s graduates live for five or ten years. Some even attain their freedom. Training is arduous and methodical. Batiatus’ overseer, Marcellus (McGraw), instructs the apprentice gladiators on the fine points of maiming, killing and defense with a variety of weapons. Trainees are sometimes rewarded with the companionship of a girl, and in this way Spartacus meets Varinia (Simmons), a slave girl in Batiatus’ estate. One day Marcus Licinius Crassus (Olivier) comes to visit Batiatus’ gladiatorial school. Traveling with Crassus are two Patrician women, Helena Glabrus (Foch) and Claudia Marius (Barnes). They are celebrating Claudia’s engagement to Helena’s brother and wish to have a private showing of two pairs of gladiators. Batiatus is elated at the opportunity to entertain the wealthy Crassus and his companions, until they tell him they wish to see the pairs fight to the death. Batiatus explains that gladiators-in-training are expensive assets. They will fight to the death only after they are sold. But the ladies insist, and Crassus tells Batiatus he will pay any cost. Batiatus has Marcellus line up the gladiators and the ladies pick the four men to fight. Spartacus is one of them. The unexpected fight to the death causes ill feelings to spread through the school. The gladiators’ discontent and the failure of the trainers to sense the seriousness of the situation lead to insurrection. Spartacus, a natural leader, takes control of the revolt. The gladiators kill Marcellus and several guards and manage to escape. They roam the countryside, looting and ravaging at will, their numbers increased by other slaves they set free. The gladiators, led by Spartacus, make camp in the escarpments of Mount Vesuvius. The continued existence of any society that practices slavery demands that it deal ruthlessly with a slave revolt. Rome’s Senate sends Marcus Publius Glabrus (Dall), the head of the garrison of Rome, with six cohorts (about 3,000 men) to suppress the revolt. But Spartacus develops into a clever and charismatic leader. His gladiator-trained warriors, complemented by freed slaves, fight well against the Roman cohorts and defeat them. Spartacus plans to take his growing force to the south of Italy, where they can escape by sea. Tigranes Levantus (Lom), a Cilician pirate, offers to provide naval transport in exchange for a fortune in gold and jewels that the rebels have appropriated from their former masters. In the Senate, political factions led by Crassus and Sempronius Gracchus (Laughton) seek to use the slave revolt to further their own ends. Rome’s political infighting allows Spartacus and his armed force to make their way to the south, easily overcoming the uncoordinated efforts to stop them. A close relationship develops between Spartacus and Varinia. They become a couple. Crassus arranges for two Roman armies, one led by Lucullus and another by Pompey, to move to either side of the southern port where the Cilician fleet was to pick up the gladiator army. Spartacus is forced to abandon his plan for escape. His only choice is to move against Rome itself. With the gladiator army approaching Rome, Crassus obtains the Senate’s authority to deal with the emergency on his own terms; he is elected First Consul and assumes de facto dictatorship. The final battle pits the vigor, skill, and fervor of Spartacus’ army of freed slaves against Crassus’ cunning and the disciplined expertise of his Roman legions. Based on the novel of the same name by Howard Melvin Fast.