Here’s a re-posting of a classic HE essay titled “Friends of Varinia.” It originally appeared on 2012, and was reposted on 3.14.14 — almost exactly seven years ago. HE will probably re-post again in 2028.
“Nobody and I mean nobody in the history of film criticism has mentioned what I’m about to bring up. It’s about a hidden aspect of Spartacus, although it’s really a question for Howard Fast, who wrote the original 1951 “Spartacus” novel. But Mr. Fast is long gone so let’s just kick it around. It’s about sex and territoriality and rage that would have been unstoppable.
“The issue would have been about the animal anger and resentment that Kirk Douglas‘s Spartacus would have felt over the fact that Jean Simmons‘ Varinia, the love of his life, had been forced to have relations with several of his fellow gladiators, as was the custom during captivity in Lentulus Batiatus‘s gladiator school in Capua. The result would have been heavily strained friendships between Spartacus and his slave-revolt comrades after they’d broken out and become free men.
Tony Curtis, Jean Simmons, Kirk Douglas during filming of Spartacus.
“If Spartacus was anything like Detective James McLeod, whom Douglas portrayed in William Wyler‘s Detective Story (’51), he would have been an intensely jealous guy and no day at the beach. No matter how he intellectually rationalized what had happened — all slave women at Capua were ordered to have weekly sex with gladiators at the direction of Peter Ustinov‘s Batiatus and Charles McGraw‘s Marcellus, the sadistic gladiator boss — he still wouldn’t be able to handle it in his gut.
“Any ex-gladiator who had ‘known’ her would be on Spartacus’ shit list, and he would have given them dirty looks and subliminal attitude and maybe even put them into forward skirmishes with Romans in the hope that they’d get killed.
“Matrimonial relations between Spartacus and Varinia wouldn’t have been very pleasant either. Every time Spartacus looked at her he would see Heironymous Bosch fantasies that would torture him to no end. He would see John Ireland‘s Crixus or Nick Dennis‘s Dionysus or Harold J. Stone‘s David thrusting and groaning like lions.
“Remember when Warren Beatty‘s Ben Siegel said to Annette Bening‘s Virginia Hill, ‘I was just wondering if there was somebody you haven’t fucked?’ That’s how it would be almost all the time between Spartacus and Varinia.