Let me be absolutely clear: this is not a film review. There can’t be many people less suited to be a movie critic. I’m merely posing as one.
I can probably count the films that I’ve watched from start to finish on the fingers of one hand – well, both hands, perhaps: Sweet Home Alabama, How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days, Crocodile Dundee. And a few James Bonds, before they made everything far too gritty and believable.
The films that I’ve enjoyed and would watch again are far outnumbered by the ones that I really wish I hadn’t seen. As for violence, I just don’t go there, because I’ve never been able to watch it.
But somehow, this afternoon, I switched on the TV and the 1960 version of Spartacus had just begun, with Kirk Douglas in all his dimple-chinned, tanned and leather-clad glory, rising against the corruption of Rome and doing plenty of ‘damning’ and swaggering in the process.
I stayed watching at first because I was intrigued at how the Roman noblemen walked – slowly and carefully, as if scared their togas might fall off – and then I marvelled at the sheer number of extras they must have had for the panoramic scenes: literally thousands, on foot and on horseback, pouring ant-like over the dusty, barren-looking hills with a very dubious purple-gold sunset as a backdrop.
Then came the story about the gathering of the slave forces, their arduous cross-country trek, and their emergence as a formidable army. Time for some burning of Roman encampments, lots of shouting and plundering and men running for their lives, without too many lives being lost. So I was interested to see what happened when Sempronius Gracchus, the Roman Commander, was captured and brought in front of Spartacus to face his come-uppance. Eeek, I thought, this might be messy.
But no: I was pleasantly surprised. Kirk Douglas strutted and postured and declaimed in the best Hollywood fashion. Obviously wanting to move on, Sempronius Gracchus asked him: “What are you going to do with me?” “I don’t know what I’m going to do with you!” Douglas shouted. Then, after loudly asking his massed soldiers the rhetorical question of what he should do with him, and taking no notice of the replies, Douglas snatched the Commander’s gold baton, snapped it in two and shoved both pieces down the front of his tunic, carelessly tearing the fabric in the process. (You see? No violence committed, but point made.)
However, ten or fifteen minutes later I realised that the film was over three hours long, which, when all the ad breaks were added in, would mean that I’d be watching for another nine years, so I switched it off to make some tea. My only other impressions were that Tony Curtis was young, dark and glowering, and Peter Ustinov was almost too convincing as a corrupt and debauched senator. This is all the comment that I can make about the film Spartacus.
Didn’t I tell you I was unfitted to be a movie reviewer? Yes, well I am!