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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The senator was undermined

This week is taking place across the blogosphere For The Love Of Film, The Film Preservation Blogathon, hosted by Campaspe at Self-Styled Siren and by Marilyn at Ferdy On Films. The event is meant to raise awareness (and funds) to help the National Film Preservation Foundation prevent the further disappearance of old celluloid (for those of you willing to contribute with a donation here's the link for donations).

I thought that would be a good occasion to finally finish a post on Charles Laughton's lost scenes from Spartacus whose draft I have kept in the fridge for months. So here it goes:

Gracchus and Caesar's walk through the streets of Rome: a scene deleted from the last edit of the film, but still present in some early lobby cards

The restoration of Stanley Kubrick's Spartacus (1960) a few years ago, which released a carefully reconstructed version of the film, received much publicity about recovered scenes such as as the "oysters and snails" one between Laurence Olivier/Crassus and Tony Curtis/Antoninus, yet the sad fact remains that, although a good deal of Spartacus' footage has been saved and reincorporated, there were many scenes which have been lost forever: we could say we have oysters without pearls. Among those vanished scenes (some surviving only as stills) there were a few featuring Gracchus, played by Charles Laughton, who didn't precisely have a lot of screen time in the film to start with.

The incredible shifting script
In Howard Fast's novel, the (third) Servile War is recalled by those who were involved, Romans and slaves alike. Spartacus is thus only present in their memories, haunting them. A main theme is the impact of war in Rome and its society and in the balance of power in the high spheres of the republic: Crassus' final victory over Spartacus triggers the transition from a Republican democracy to the dictatorship of the patrician elite, eventually to become the Roman Empire.

Leading the opposing political factions of Rome, Fast presents Sempronius Gracchus, a senator and leader of the plebs and Marcus Licinius Crassus, a wealthy patrician general. While Crassus revels in his victory, and the new order resulting from Spartacus' defeat, Gracchus ponders if the slaves weren't right, after all: the senator recalls a time when the citizens Roman republic were not as decadent as they are now, and stood for themselves the way Spartacus and the slaves stood to fight for their freedom. Both men become obsessed with Varinia, but to Crassus, Varinia is just a trophy: he just wants to possess her. Gracchus, on the other hand, wants to understand her, and Spartacus' cause, realising that the slaves lived for a set of worthy values which for Romans are a long-lost memoir. Empathizing with their cause, Gracchus will orchestrate Varinia's escape and sacrifice himself to honour the old Republican virtues after a lifetime of corruption... and also, of course, because he gets a kick out of screwing Crassus' plans.

Fast presents Gracchus and Crassus as political archetipes which have a continuity in our days. For him Gracchus resembles an old Irish politician like Tip O'Neill , and Crassus resembles those born with a silver spoon, like George Bush... I hope it is clear, by now, that in Howard Fast's original novel, Gracchus and Crassus are presented as two main characters in the plot, equal in importance: How come then, that in the final film, Crassus is one of the principals and Gracchus a secondary character? One reason might lie in the convoluted gestation of the script.

Once Kirk Douglas and producer Edward Lewis set their eyes on Fast's novel, they felt they had to secure the property, for there was talk of United Artists producing a film titled The Gladiators, starring Yul Brynner, and there were even promotional stills of Brynner dressed as a gladiator. They saw that getting big names for the production would be good way to beat the rival project: thus, a script needed to be produced without delay.

Howard Fast was initially asked to adapt his novel, but since the producers weren't enthusiastic about the script he was writing, they requested the services of one of Hollywood's most expert writers, Sam Jackson: actually a nom de plume of Dalton Trumbo, unable to sign scripts with his real name because he was in the blacklist (1). Trumbo wrote the script in three weeks, and later considered that the further changes brought over by the adventurous making of the film didn't significantly improve his first draft.

As soon as the script was ready, copies were sent to the chosen stars, who agreed to work in the film.

A promotional still from the same street scene: notice the grafitti here and in the previous image

Backstage manoeuvres in the dark
One of the challenges Trumbo faced in adapting the novel was that, since Spartacus was the protagonist and was played by the producer of the film, the use of the recollections and flashbacks in the novel had to be changed from past tense to present, and Spartacus' actions narrated in chronological order: if Spartacus now was no longer a ghost, the rest of the story (and subplots) had to be squeezed accordingly to leave space. Simon Callow wrote in his Laughton biography that Kirk Douglas, in order to secure his dream cast, sent different versions of the script as a bait to the actors he wanted to be in the film, in which their characters seemed to be the most interesting part of the movie. John Baxter, in his Kubrick biography, denies it.

I am of the opinion that Callow is nearer the truth... for one, it well might be that there could be early rewrites, considering that Trumbo claimed to have written over 1400 pages of rewrites of the script. On the other hand, Peter Ustinov also stated the tension when, during the first rehearsal, Charles Laughton realized that the script he had read wasn't apparently, quite the same Laurence Olivier and the others were working with. Ustinov also said that Olivier came a week before the rest of principals, and it seems that he didn't waste time in suggesting improvements on his character. It is alleged that Olivier was interested in playing Spartacus: if so, it's not unlikely that Douglas, in order to secure the interest of the knight, guaranteed the importance of his role as Crassus.

Another factor was that, while Trumbo was the main writer, he wasn't the only one involved: as he puts it, the final script was the result of a comitee's work. It is obvious that the star/producer and the director, whose own opinions over the story differed, would have their say, and besides, all the performers would ask their parts to be improved.

Now Laughton may have been in disadvantage for many reasons: one being the fact that his own working schedule only allowed him to work for three weeks in the film. Obviously, those who were available for a longer time were in better position to add scenes and phrases that improved the roles they were playing. Still, it may be not well known that when Laughton played Captain Bligh in Mutiny On The Bounty (1936), he had a similarly tight schedule due to contractual obligations with Alexander Korda. But then producer Irving Thalberg and director Frank Lloyd were aware of the relevance of his character to the film, so Bligh's part wasn't cut or reduced while Laughton was away working in other films. Sadly, in Spartacus he wasn't in serious, contract-abiding company, so neither his character or himself received the respect he had got from Thalberg or Lloyd.

One of the characters which is the most benefited from the novel to film transition is Lentulus Batiatus, played by Peter Ustinov. In the novel, Batiatus is only relevant in the part of the story where Spartacus is trained at the gladiatorial school, disappearing once the slave revolt takes place. The scenes which Ustinov/Batiatus shares with Laughton/Gracchus in the film do not exist in the novel: Cracchus confidants and assistants are his political lackeys. Not that melting all this characters in one, as Trumbo did, is bad for the film: Batiatus is left as an entertaining, multilayered character capable of evolution in the course of action. The bad side is, this overshadows even more Gracchus' role. When Laughton felt crossed about the way his character had been diminished, Ustinov offered to rewrite his part, and Laughton was rather satisfied with that: there is, in fact, a great chemistry in their scenes together.

Dalton Trumbo was ambivalent about Ustinov's rewrites: on one side, he thought they bring considerable wit and humour to the script, thus balancing the tragedy and drama in the film. The bad side, Trumbo believed, was that Ustinov's rewrites belittled Gracchus, something Trumbo suspects Ustinov did on his own best interests to boost his part at the expense of Laughton's. Trumbo wrote that "Charles put himself into Peter's hands for certain rewrites in this scene. He could not have bee unluckier in his choice since Peter was determined to give Charles a screwing, and did so". Trumbo resented certain humoristic additions to the character, as Gracchus character "is far more important to the film as a whole than a few cheap laughs from the audience (...) The part of Gracchus can be amusing by reason of the character's wit and attitude, but it cannot be called truly comic" as Batiatus part is meant to be.

Still, I believe that Trumbo's complaints about the final script diminishing Gracchus' intelligence, for not feeling the change of tide (i.e. as when he is caught by surprise when his pupil Caesar defects him to join the cause of Crassus) should be somewhat mellowed by the fact that Laughton was perfectly capable to suggest what the written script had taken away from him. If you remember the scene in which Crassus leaves Rome to fight Spartacus you'll see that Laughton suggests, with just a glance, that Gracchus is perfectly aware that the winds no longer blow on his sails.

Laughton's Gracchus: far more perceptive than the final script allowed him to be

Lillian Gish, being interviewed about The Night of The Hunter, declared that in her view "an artist is like a six-moth kitten in business matters usually, and he needs someone he can trust, someone to manage the business for him". Preston Neal Jones believes that she must have had Laughton in mind when she said that... The truth is, Laughton was never apt at backstage manoeuvring and backstabbing: he was of the innocent opinion that, if one should strive to do the best possible work, one's efforts should receive recognition... But for this to be possible, one's efforts must reach the light, and what we can now see of his Gracchus is what survived a fierce behind-the-cameras war for the best lines and the greater screen presence.

The vestal and the strumpet
Ustinov liked to recall the events under a jocose light: he laughs at everyone and particularly seems to enjoy poking fun at Laughton. Mind me, not that this isn't fun to watch, but he often makes remarks about Charles which I find dangerously reductive. Ustinov states that Laughton would be in an intensely morose attitude throughout the shooting. These statements have been often isolated to highlight Laughton's "difficult temperament", as if, you know, he was pouting just because. In fact, Ustinov himself explains some reasons for Laughton's sulk which, curiously enough, are not highlighted half as often (2).

As opposed to a stereotyped image of a non-commital, whimsy prima donna, Laughton had done his homework: he was knowledgeable on classic history (at school he excelled in Latin) and had played two caesars earlier in his career. Laughton was always thorough in his preparation, and would usually read the original literary sources of a script (as well as any related books), so it is highly likely that he had read Howard Fast's novel. At any rate he was certainly aware of the importance of Gracchus in the original story, and according to Ustinov, "Laughton was very unhappy with what they had done to his part (...) it really didn't give him ammunition to deal with the other things. He had many ideas of his own which were incorporated vaguely into the mass of the thing: He felt he'd been taken advantage of and got to play this part which, to his mind was a really minor part by means which were not absolutely fair". In fact, Laughton would have agreed with Trumbo that the final script seriously downgraded Gracchus intelligence. Kirk Douglas used to tell with amusement, that Laughton would come and say he was going o sue him, pretending, in genuine "who? meee?" fashion that he would not know what Laughton was talking about.

There's another famous statement by Ustinov in which he compares Olivier and Laughton, seeing Olivier as a a pure vestale devoted to the art of Thespis, and Laughton as a Hollywood whore. It is true that one may share some disappointment about what could be felt as Laughton's waste of his talents in certain lesser films, but regardless of the quality of the film he might be working in, Laughton would generally toil to get the best possible performance. Besides, the comparison is hugely unfair considering what Laughton did in 1933, saying no to opulent Hollywood offers in order to be able to work for months at the Old Vic with much lesser wages. More examples? He would struggle to stage Brecht's Galileo (in 1947!), and making The Night of the Hunter isn't precisely the kind of film one does to get big bucks. After Spartacus, incidentally, Laughton would devote months to prepare for the part of King Lear... Honest, none of this makes me think of Laughton as the rent-by-the-hours type.

Whorish or not, Laughton's performance was certainly well appreciated by the writers: it certainly pleased Dalton Trumbo, and Howard Fast declared that Laughton "elevates whatever he's in, wherever he is"

Gracchus gives Caesar a few practical tips about buying votes at the public house: another scene lost forever

The film expands in Spain
Saul Bass said that "as the picture went along, it tended to expand". In fact, after the film was considered nearly finished, Dalton Trumbo issued a scene-by-scene memo analising the film and suggesting improvements. Trumbo complained that, while the life of the Romans was depicted in rich detail, the slaves were treated as a generic group of anonymous, undifferentiated people, and no clues as to their way of life and beliefs were given. To keep the balance, and strenghten Spartacus' reasons for revolt, he felt that the film needed extra scenes depicting the life of slaves.

So the crew and part of the cast went to Spain for further shooting (3). It is sadly ironic that the shooting of these scenes about slaves fighting for their freedom was done in a country living under a dictatorship not unlike the kind Crassus wanted for republican Rome. Edward Lewis recalls, not without compunction, that in order to be in the dictator's good graces, they donated money to the favourite charities of Franco's wife.

Spain became a popular location for big Hollywood productions during that period (4), mostly because of the weather and the benefits of monetary change, which helped to keep the budgets tight. The availability of trained Spanish conscripts for mass and/or battle scenes also came handy in the case of Spartacus. George Sanders, shooting Solomon and Sheba in Spain around the same period, was seriously concerned about the poor Spanish boy soldiers, often being used for dangerous stunts without proper protection and without getting any of the profits their generals got for hiring them (5).

Once the Battle scenes and the extra slave footage were added to the early edit, the film had swelled considerably and Kubrick was asked to reduce footage. Ironically enough, among the first scenes to be cut away were the depictions of Roman life Trumbo had praised to demand an equal treatment of slaves, and along with them, the scene where Gracchus/Laughton gives Caesar/Gavin practical lessons of how to earn votes (basically, by buying them). Kirk Douglas recalled that as a wonderful scene, whose cutting could only be explained for time reasons.

John Baxter writes that Kubrick didn't give much thought to cutting away Laughton's scenes, and maybe he relished that as well, not having found Laughton as a cooperative, or even worse, obedient performer. Peter Ustinov remembers how Laughton and him would rehearse the scene thoroughly at home, and on the following day, they would arrange the furniture of the set and perform the scene in such a perfectly finished way, that Kubrick had little option but film them as they had contrived. "It was difficult" said Ustinov "for even Kubrick to start from scratch and suggest we should do something different". Not that Kubrick would easily forget such breach of directorial authority: when the time came, Stanley grinded his ax and started to chop Gracchus footage mercilessly: "Here's Johnneeee!"

Any scene with Laughton that was cut is lost forever, except for a sound clip of Gracchus' suicide and last instructions to one of her liberated slaves. Nothing more.

Laughton would play a senator again in his last film, Advise and Consent: on that occasion, the director respected the actor's performance and the film certainly benefited from that. And certainly Spartacus could have be a better movie with a bit more of Gracchus in it. I certainly agree with Trumbo that the loss of importance of the senator's role is a great loss to the picture.

(1) But not for long, Trumbo was credited with as the author of the script of Otto Preminger's Exodus (1960), and Kirk Douglas would acknowledge him as well as the writer of Spartacus.
(2) There's something which is not mentioned by Ustinov and may explain further Charles' feeling annoyed... Remember I mentioned in the previous post someone didn't allow Don Juan in Hell to be played in London? Well, that someone was present in the shooting of Spartacus: The nimble reader will no doubt be able to deduce the identity of the culprit.
(3) Something rather evident for any Spanish viewer of Spartacus who recognizes in the background village houses as the ones in which their grandparents and parents dwelled, and many still live in: frankly, these rural buildings hardly look Roman.
(4) As many other producers did, as Stanley Kramer (i.e. The Pride And The Passion, 1957) or Samuel Bronston (i.e. El Cid, 1962).
(5) Sanders remembered when he accidentally ran over a young soldier with a chariot. Fortunately the soldier's injuries weren't too bad, but Sanders noticed that they wore no protection apart from their costumes, and were given no choice about wheter they wanted to be in a film or not, being under military orders. Incidentally, Yul Brynner (who wouldn't make The Gladiators, after all) was playing King Solomon susbtituting the recently deceased Tyrone Power.

:: Spartacus Special edition DVD (Criterion's version, released in Zone 2 by Universal), containing a Peter Ustinov interview; Track with comments by Kirk Douglas (actor and producer), Peter Ustinov (actor), Howard Fast (writer), Edward Lewis (producer), Saul Bass (designer) and Robert Harris (film restoration expert); Track with Dalton Trumbo's notes to the script read by actor Michael McConnohie.
:: "Spartacus" by Howard Fast
:: "Charles Laughton. A Difficult Actor" by Simon Callow
:: "Stanley Kubrick: A Biography" by John Baxter
:: "Dear Me" by Peter Ustinov
:: "Heaven and Hell to Play With" by Preston Neal Jones
:: "Memoirs of a professional Cad" By George Sanders

Some links
:: A review of the Criterion DVDA edition at Filmsondisc.com
:: Review by Roger Ebert
:: Review at Bear, Schmear!
:: Promotional illustrations by Tom Van Sant
:: Article by SuperSantiego in La realidad Estupefaciente (in Spanish)
:: Review by Jonathan Rosembaum
:: Review by CSE Cooney
:: Review at Dynamic 01
:: Review at American left History
:: Review at Cinema Debate (in Portuguese)
:: Review at aVoir-aLire.com (in French)
:: Mark Farnsworth reviews Spartacus at Global Comment
:: Review by Major Reisman (in Spanish)
:: Review by Pepe Gutierrez-Álvarez in Kaosenlared.net (in Spanish)
:: Review by Bob Aldrich in The Great Unmade Robert Aldrich Romantic Comedy


Joe Thompson said...

Thank you for the detailed write-up on "Spartacus." I now think considerably less of Peter Ustinov. The intrigue around the picture and against Charles Laughton in particular reminds me of late republican Rome as described in Livy and other histories. Thank you for all the effort. I learned from this.

Vanwall said...

Wonderful post! I wondered about all the backstabbing that must've been going along. And Ustinov comparing Olivier to Laughton in the manner of role choices - it would be viewed in reverse nowadays!

Gloria said...

Hi Joe,

I don't think bad of Ustinov: in this regard, he was no worse that the other performers. I think he writes very well and his mano-a-mano with Laughton is truly delightful to witness. I believe the trouble was that the film became difficult to control, even for the director and producers: so everyone looked after himself and, in fact, considering the "everyone for himself" attitudes, the resulting movie is quite solid (it is certainly a personal favourite). The trouble is that there was no-one keeping a balance between the characters, and either Trumbo or fast were, at best, only able to suggest changes to their employers.

Laurence Olivier's tension with Laughton was not unlike Charles' with Clark Gable during the shotoing of Mutiny on the Bounty, and I believe that this tension transpires to the character (for good: the rivalry between those men feels more real): still, the difference remains that in Mutiny on the Bounty, the screen presence of the rivals is more balanced. While in Spartacus we get a lot of what Crassus does and wants while we're left with a mere thumbnail of his political rivals' actions, beliefs and motives.

The equivalent would be as if in Mutiny on the Bounty, the final editing had been all about Fletcher Christian, and Bligh had been left with just two or three scenes to keelhaul people around.

Gloria said...


At the time Spartacus was done, Laughton was certainly less prestiged actor that Ustinov or Olivier, and I think these two regarded Laughton as a has-been: there's in fact, a very amusing anecdote by Ustinov of the first reading rehearsal, in which Olivier tries to explain his view on a scene, stating -somewhat venomously- that Crassus represents the future while Gracchus represents the past.

I think that Laughton's work has stood the test of time quite brilliantly, and, you're right, those who criticised him about wasting his talent, have afterwards been as guilty (if not more) of it, and their prestige suffered consequently... But then I don't like to be harsh in this regard, as it is quite usual for actors to have their share of hits and duds: even the finest performers aren't free of having a performance with terrible reviews.

In this regard I always think of Maria Falconetti: she did only three films (that we know), and two are forgotten (and probably lost) while the other is one of the best films ever done. So we could say that she's sublime in a 33% of her film career, and forgettable in the remaining 66% (which of course, would be terribly reductive ;D)

David said...

Voy comentándote el post a medida que lo leo.
¡Ostras sin perlas! Eres genial, Gloria. No había visto esas fotos. Muy curiosas.
No voy a tener que leer las biografías de Callow y Baxter para ver quién me convence más. Tengo verdadera fe en esta Iglesia y su representante. Se enviaron varios guiones distintos, estoy seguro...
¡Qué defensa de Laughton y cómo redujeron su papel!
Por curiosidad, ¿de dónde has sacado los comentarios de Trumbo?
Joder! Qué comparación la de Peter... Ahí hay mala idea.
Cómo te gustará el comentario del novelista, eeeh?
Ah! Ese detalle de la dictadura franquista, la película y "la collares". Otra genialidad.
Y esa irónica referencia a El resplandor
Sobre las notas.
En su autobiografía, Kirk dice que Otto se le adelantó con lo de Trumbo de "mala manera", siendo Kirk el primero que a hacer público lo de Dalton (al que tenía por amigo).
Olvida lo de Dalton, ya he visto de dónde lo has sacado.

Y en los comentarios incluso perdonas a Peter (nuestra Iglesia es benévola (je,je)).

Por cierto, no estoy tan de acuerdo con Vanwall en lo de que el comentario de Olivier y Laughton se vería hoy día al revés. Olivier también arriesgaba y se mojaba por el teatro, ¿no?

Por último, yo aún diría más que Vanwall. Wonderful, wonderful wonderful post.

Un cordial saludo.

PD: Me encantó tu comentario sobre la sabiduría popular. Estoy bastante de acuerdo en eso también.

2ª PD: Si no te hacen gracia los comentarios eclesiásticos, prescindiré de ellos en mis futuros comentarios.

Steve Paradis said...

"If you remember the scene in which Crassus leaves Rome to fight Spartacus you'll see that Laughton suggests, with just a glance, that Gracchus is perfectly aware that the winds no longer blow on his sails."


"They can't censor the gleam in my eye."

Gloria said...

Hola David,

Las fotos las tenía en mi colección: la primera vez que las vi me dije: Uy! esto me parece que no salía en la película... Pues resulta que no salía, no. Claro que tampoco había visto la escena en la que Antonino llega al campamento de Espartaco y Espartaco le pregunta si puede hacer desaparecer los romanos, pero esto era culpa de la distribuidora por estos lares, que tienen la costumbre de añadir cortes a los montajes originales.

Pues claro que Olivier se arriesgaba, lo que pasa es que, durante bastante tiempo parecía haber la percepción de que era el único que lo hacía, y una falsa percepción de que Laughton había "traicionado" al arte dedicándose al cine (parece mentira, pero hubo bastantes años en que dedicarse al cine no tenía nada de prestigio), lo cual no era cierto, ya que Charles hacia bastantes más cosas -y bastante teatro-, y por otro lado, aparte de Olivier había otros actores como Michael Redgrave o Alec Guinness que no se ponían tantas medallas. El comentario de Vanwall, aparte, puede ir en el sentido de que hoy el prestigio de Laughton ha remontado bastante, y que Olivier, que tuvo en vida un gran prestigio (y lo mantiene bastante) tal vez no lo debería haberse mirado a CL tan por encima del hombro, y más cuando, echando un vistazo a su biografia, tambien tienen su porcentaje de películas maluchas de esas que se hacen para pagar las facturas.

Ustinov, ciertamente, tiene muy mala idea, pero la verdad es que es muy coñón, y sí, claro que me gustó la apreciación de Fast, y más siendo el "padre" del personaje que interpreta CL ;D

Te aseguro que mi primer impulso era escribir "la Collares", pero luego pensé el el público angloparlante no lo iba a pillar, ja

Lo de Trumbo es curioso, tantos años escondido y luego tiene a los responsables de dos superproducciones dándose de bofetás para darle crédito. La verdad es que Douglas lo hubiera podido hacer desde un principio... ¿Tal vez no lo hizo para minimizar los ataques de las megacotillas de Hollywood y lod Carcas de siempre? La verdad es que ya había gente afilando cuchillos y metiendo caña desde sus columnas en cuanto se supo que se adaptaba la novela de Fast, con tanto esclavo antisistema suelto.

Sobre la primera PD: Hablando de sabiduría popular, ahora que ya no quedan cines de reestreno echo un poco de menos las "críticas" que a viva voz solían realizar los públicos de barriada, ja.

Sobre la segunda PD: Que no hombre, que no molestan ;D... Eso sí cualquier dia llega alguien googleando y llega aquí pensando que este blog es de la conferencia episcopal o algo así :p

P.S.: Te recomiendo irte pasando por los muchos posts del Blogathon. la verdad es que son para degustarlos poco a poco

Gloria said...


Good one! ;D

Arts and Crafts said...

Hay una entrevista a Ustinov sobre lo de Espartaco en youtube en el que cuenta, más o menos, lo mismo que en los extras de la remasterización de la película pero sí afirma que a cada actor le habían dado un guión diferente, y que se dieron cuenta en la primera lectura. Claro, por eso Laugthon, cuando Olivier le díce "querido, Craso es el presente y tue eres el pasado", y le intenta explicar de qué va todo, él responde algo así como "ahora sí que estoy totalmente perdido". No era una actitud petulante por parte de CL, es que Dios sabe qué historia le dieron... una mala jugada de Douglas, hecha con el fin de llevarselos todos al huerto.

Geniales las fotos Gloria, yo recuerdo que hace 100 años recorté una de un fotogramas en la que salían Olivier y Ustinov, en un descanso del rodaje, fumándose unos pitillos... ¿dónde la tendré?...

No nos cansemos, que ya lo decía Guinness, actuar en cine y en teatro tienen el mismo valor, a nivel profesional. Otra cosa es que los actores se sientan a veces más felices en el teatro, porque ahí ni los cortan ni los editan. Pero el cine tiene su magia, y si no fuera por el cine el trabajo de muchos grandes actores no sería casi recordado.

Gloria said...

Efectivamente, en aquella primera lectura, yo creo que Laughton estaba sorprendido de la situación: hay muchas ocasiones, en las que, como en la narración que hace Ustinov de esta anécdota, parece que Laughton ponga dificultades por tocar las narices... pero es evidente que si tus líneas no son las que te habían facilitado previamente, Laughton tenía sus motivos para estar un poco mosca, y no se si el comentario de Olivier de que el personaje de Graco representaba el pasado no iría con segundas (que me parece que sí...).

Por cierto, que Laughton consideraba que el estilo de Olivier como actor Shakespeariano era muy decimonónico, lo veia más como un continuador del viejo estilo declamatorio de Henry Irving, que no como proponente de un nuevo estilo más apropiado para el siglo XX. En este aspecto, podria decir que a Laughton, por ejemplo, le gustó mucho el Hamlet que hizo Alec Guinness en el teatro en los 30.

Como tu bien dices, el hecho de que un actor prefiera el teatro (y Laughton era muy teatrero) no quiere decir que el trabajo actoral en el cine carezca de valor... Aunque es cierto que en el teatro es más dificil disimular la falta de aptitud bajo una nube de efectos especiales.

Alceo said...

Magnífico post, excelentemente documentado y, por el cual, podemos ver realidad más allá de los que cortaban el bacalao: Douglas y cia. Es lo que yo siempre he dicho, que al final se recuerda lo que decía el que más hablaba. ¿Por qué quedó la famosa frase de Hitch acerca de Charles? Porque no hubo réplica, al menos resonante de Charles, porque después se llega a la conclusión de que , al estilo de Lang, nuestro amigo Alfred era más sádico que un torturador aburrido. Si no, ahí están las palabras de Newman, Hedren, de Havilland...
Quizás lo más sorprendente del asunto de Spartacus es, al margen del abuso de poder de Douglas y Kubrick, era la postura sibilina en ocasiones de Ustinov. Demasiado aguantó la criatura... con arpías a su alrededor.
Excelente trabajo, Gloria. Por cierto, ese lobby card posteado me lo escaneaste y mandaste al principio de nuestra relación laughtoniana, en donde la amistad es un hecho.

ANRO said...

Querida Gloria, ¡chapeau!...lo tuyo con Laughton es de leyenda y conociendo tu estilo literario (en ambos idiomas) mereces un puesto en cualquiera de las mejores librerías. Te aseguro que yo sería el primer cliente y esto no es pasarte la mopa.
El amigo David ya se me ha adelantdo en algunas cuestiones. Me llamaron la atención esas curiosísimas fotos que ciertamente no recordaba haberlas visto.
Respecto a todos los "sources" que aconsejas hay uno que voy a seguir al pie de la letra y es comprar la version de la peli publicada por Criterium.
Enhorabuena amiga!

Gloria said...

Hola Alceo,

Yo al tema le pondría los atenuantes de que el difícil parto de la película, el continuo aumento de presupuesto y innumerables cambiso de guión, no ayudaban precisamente a la situación particular de Charles. Kirk Douglas, siendo el productor (con las dificultades y dolores de cabeza que eso supone) estaba en su perfecto derecho de darle importancia al papel protagonista y sin duda le interesaba que "Espartaco" fuera tan buena como fuera posible... Estoy convencida que, de no haber mediado exigencias de distribución, Douglas hubiera preferido la película original con todas las escenas. Eso sí, el backstage debía ser un escenario digno de "Eva al Desnudo".

Otro tema es que al ser Laughton el menos "político" de los contendientes en el plató, por así decirlo, perdió terreno (y metraje) ante otros más dispuestos a salir en cuantos más metros de película fueran posible... Sinceramente, pienso que si en el aspecto "Espartaco contra Craso" la película está bien equilibrada, ésta cojea bastante por la pata "Graco contra Craso", en la cual del patricio Craso sabemos casi hasta como se corta las uñas de los pies, y en cambio se nos escamotea la figura política de Graco y la plebe de Roma: creo sinceramente que la película hubiera sido mejor si los dos bandos políticos en Roma se hubieran visto reflejados en igualdad de condiciones, y más cuando lees la novela original, en la que las opiniones de Graco, así como sus reflexiones sobre una plebe cada vez más perezosa, empobrecida y corruptible, hacen que el senador acabe sintiendo como suya la causa de los esclavos... Evidentemente, de eso al reducido (aunque no irrelevante) papel que Graco tiene en la película hay un buen trecho.

Gloria said...

Hola Antonio,

Gracias por el piropo, aunque personalmente preferiría que en nuestras librerias se pudieran ver libros excelentes sobre Charles inéditos en España, como los de Simon Callow o Preston Neal Jones. Las fuentes son ampliables: me he limitado a consignar las principales que he utilizado para el post... Por supuesto, falta la biografia de Kirk Douglas, que miré hace tiempo, (aunque no tenía a mano), aunque sus comentarios sobre la película son básicamente los mismos que se pueden escuchar en las pistas de comentarios de la edición de Criterion: por cierto, que se puede encontrar por nuestros lares (y en Zona 2) en una edición de dos discos publicada por Universal.

Harpo said...

Hola Gloria! No sé si te has enterado de que ha muerto Peter Graves, el actor que hizo de Ben Harper en 'La noche del cazador'. Te dejo el enlace por aquí por si quieres echarle un vistazo. Un saludo!