Why Do They All Say 'I'm Spartacus'? Meaning Of The Movie Line
Tony Curtis and Kirk Douglas in 'Spartacus.' Source: IMDB
“I’m Spartacus!” was more than a famous movie line from Spartacus, the 1960 historical epic starring Kirk Douglas, Laurence Olivier and Tony Curtis, but symbolism for something much deeper happening in politics at the time. The film’s screenwriter Dalton Trumbo had experienced the wrath of America for identifying as a Communist, an act that seemed to have ruined his career. However, his fame was reinstated with Spartacus and the famous movie line helped viewers sympathize with Trumbo when they realized what it truly represented.
Communist Paranoia Throughout America
Tensions were high in October 1947 when Americans were overly paranoid about communists residing within the country. This led to a “communist witch hunt” with people trying to turn others in who they thought could be a part of the party, especially in Hollywood where communism was more common among artists and intellectuals. Successful screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, along with nine others in the entertainment industry that identified as communists, were asked to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee to obey the government and identify other communists in the field. All of the “Hollywood Ten” refused to comply and were thus imprisoned and -- even worse for the directors, producers, and writers -- they were blacklisted by all major studios.
When Trumbo was released after spending almost a year in prison, he did not give up on his passion for writing. However, because of his public identification it was impossible for Trumbo to be hired. Even those who did not have a problem with communism knew that their films would cause a scandal with Trumbo’s name in the credits. That’s when Trumbo began writing and pitching under pseudonyms like Robert Rich and his career secretly picked up again without anyone knowing it was Trumbo behind these successful films until many decades later.
“I’m Spartacus” Shows The Solidarity Of The Hollywood Ten
Trumbo’s secret identity was finally revealed with his 1960 work Spartacus, directed by Stanley Kubrick. The film is based on the 1961 novel Spartacus written by Howard Fast, who was also imprisoned for identifying as a communist. The story revolves around the life of the slave leader Spartacus circa 1 BC in the Roman Republic, when slaves were ordered to perform harsh labor while being treated dreadfully. Spartacus, trained as a gladiator, leads an army of slaves on a revolt out of Italy to get them back home. Kubrick knew this film would be a success and made the brave decision to credit Dalton Trumbo, without any false name, as the screenwriter. Although advised against it, Kubrick felt it was time to break the blacklist.
The film features a powerful scene famous for its symbolism of the communist witch hunt in Hollywood. Roman General Crassus announces to a huge group of slaves that they will all be killed unless they identify which one among them is Spartacus. Unwilling to give up their leader, the slaves stand up, one after another, claiming “I’m Spartacus!” Unfortunately, their solidarity and refusal to identify the real Spartacus -- a refusal to "name names" that had landed Trumbo in jaul -- meant they would be given the same fate. Crassus stands by his word and orders all of these slaves to death by crucifixion. Although this scene was fiction, Trumbo felt it was crucial to the entire plot as it alluded to solidarity in the face of anti-communism, exactly what he was experiencing in Hollywood. The slaves portrayed true heroism and loyalty by not revealing Spartacus, just as Trumbo and the rest of the “Hollywood Ten” showed dignity in refusing to identify fellow Communists in the industry. This helped the audience, along with the top names in the film industry, gain a greater understanding of what The Hollywood Ten were facing.
Spartacus Breaks The Communist Blacklist
When Spartacus was released as a film written by Dalton Trumbo, the blacklist was officially broken just as Kubrick had hoped. The rest of the Hollywood Ten were allowed back to work in the major studios, and Trumbo would be given back the credit for all of his films released with his pseudonyms. Although his credit would take a lot of time as his 1953 award-wining film Roman Holiday was credited to John Dighton and Ian McLellan Hunter and it wasn’t until 1993 that Trumbo finally received his Oscar. Spartacus won four academy awards and brought in more money to Universal Studios than any film in its history (it would be passed by Airport in 1970). The film was also selected to join the United States Film Registry by the Library of congress in 2017 where it would be preserved forever. All of these accomplishments proved that Communism could not stop a film from achieving a mass amount of success.
Tags: Kirk Douglas | Movie Quotes | Spartacus | Stanley Kubrick | Tony Curtis
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