There are scenes in Gladiator that were directly lifted out of this Stanley Kubrick classic. The story of a slave who becomes a gladiator who becomes a general, and eventually faces off with the bad-guy emperor has apparently been done before, and I might say that this original film has the upper hand on Russell Crowe’s version.
Though Kirk Douglas, dimpled chin and all, is a bit bland as the title hero, the rest of Spartacus is filled with memorable performances by Laurence Olivier as his Roman nemesis, Jean Simmons as the love interest, hot young Tony Curtis as a poet warrior, and especially scene-stealing Peter Ustinov (who won the Supporting Actor Oscar) as the man who buys and sells slaves for profit.
The cinematography is lush, completely filling the widescreen, especially in an excellent and tense battle scene, which must have been astonishing in its day and is still extremely effective. This amazing scene in Spartacus has been mirrored not only in Braveheart, but even in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace.
Despite the action sometimes being drowned out by a thunderous and a bit overdone soundtrack, Spartacus has aged surprisingly well. The action scenes are high class. The acting is overall excellent, and not campy at all (despite the cult following). And it builds to a surprisingly emotional finale that is both devastating and triumphant.
Spartacus easily holds it own against that other sword-and-sandals flick… though why should one have to choose, really? One can like both snails and oysters!