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Saturday November 17th 2018

Spartacus | 1960

Spartacus location: Hearst Castle, San Simeon, California
Spartacus location: the villa of Crassus: Hearst Castle, San Simeon, California

One of the best, if not the best, of the great epics of the 50s and 60s, scripted by Dalton Trumbo, one of the Hollywood Ten, blacklisted in the 50s (the machinations of the Roman senators clearly echo the politics of the times). The insistence of producer Kirk Douglas on using Trumbo's name signalled the end of the blacklist.

Filming was begun by Anthony Mann, responsible for the opening sequence, of dealer Batiatus (a wickedly scene-stealing Peter Ustinov) picking Spartacus (Douglas) from the 'Sicilian' mines (actually the parched landscape of Death Valley, California) for his gladiator school.

After two weeks of work, Mann was fired and the frantic search for a new director eventually turned up trumps with Stanley Kubrick. Lacking total control of the production, Kubrick, though, virtually disowned the film.

Mann, however, proved his skill with the genre by going on to direct two other classic epics, El Cid and The Fall of the Roman Empire.

Much of Spartacus was shot on the Universal lot in Hollywood, although the spectacular battle sequences were filmed in Spain, with the Spanish army brilliantly executing the complex manoeuvres of the ancient Romans.

The sound was something else. The roar of battle was the sound of 76,000 football fans attending a game between Michigan State and Notre Dame.

The exterior of the villa belonging to scheming patrician Crassus (Laurence Olivier) is the white marble Neptune Pool on the estate of newspaper magnate William Randolph HearstHearst Castle, 750 Hearst Castle Road, San Simeon, on California’s Pacific Highway 1, between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

The inspiration for Charles Foster Kane’s 'Xanadu' in Orson WellesCitizen Kane, the estate is open to the public. Like 'Xanadu', it's a collection of architectural details and art pieces from around the world, assembled into a whole by architect Julia Morgan – who also designed the Herald Examiner building in Downtown Los Angeles, now frequently used as a film location.