Friday Flicks February 14: “Spartacus” & “The Brother from Another Planet”

M.V. MoorheadFebruary 14, 2020
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Playing at 1 p.m. Saturday, February 15, at several Harkins Theatres Valleywide:

Spartacus (1960)—One of the last great leading men of Hollywood’s Golden Age, Kirk Douglas, departed last week at the age of 103. In his honor, Harkins Theatres is showing one of the best and most famous Douglas films, Stanley Kubrick’s 1960 epic Spartacus. If you haven’t seen the movie, or not in a long time, or if you’re a benighted post-Boomer who doesn’t know why the father of Michael Douglas is a big deal in himself, you probably shouldn’t miss a chance to see it on a big screen.

Needless to say, Douglas plays the enslaved gladiator of the title, a historical figure who led a massive slave rebellion in the Roman Republic in 73 B.C. The script, adapted from Howard Fast’s novel by Dalton Trumbo — hired by Douglas, the film’s executive producer, in defiance of the Blacklist — loaded this ancient episode with lefty resonance, especially in the classic scene in which our hero’s fellow gladiators shout “I’m Spartacus!” to the Roman soldiers in protective solidarity with their leader.

The movie is full of wonderful character players who have fun with Trumbo’s ripe dialogue. Among them are Laurence Olivier in one of his more memorable roles as the steely revolt-breaker Crassus; Jean Simmons at her most beautiful as our hero’s lover Varinia; Tony Curtis as the sheepish “singer of songs” Antoninus; Charles Laughton as the calculating old senator Gracchus; Woody Strode as the noble gladiator Draba; and maybe best of all Peter Ustinov in his Oscar-winning turn as the unctuous gladiator-broker Batiatus.

Above all of them, however, is the furiously intense presence of Douglas, who seems to carry the baffled rage of all oppressed humanity coiled in his body and face. Yet the performance isn’t all pain; when the character gets to experience the pleasures of love or comradeship, he shows a tremendously touching lust for life.

Playing 8 p.m. Wednesday, February 19, at Film Bar:

The Brother from Another Planet (1984)—Another worthwhile revival this week is this charmingly low-tech sci-fi indie written and directed by John Sayles. The title character, played by Joe Morton, is an escaped alien slave who falls to Earth in New York, and wanders around mutely observing and making himself useful with his otherworldly powers.

This gentle, episodic immigrant story features one of the earlier depictions of “Men in Black” in the movies, played here by David Strathairn and Sayles himself, a decade and a half before Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith donned the suits. In this film, they’re the bad guys.