18 months ago I posted an odd little riff called “Friends of Varinia,” the most unique observation ever written about Stanley Kubrick‘s Spartacus (and the 1951 Howard Fast novel it was based upon). I’m presuming that a portion of today’s readers missed it or are new arrivals or only know about the downmarket, 300-resembling Spartacus: Blood and Sand TV series, so here’s a re-visit:
“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.
“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 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 themselves inside her, sweating 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.
“Don’t give me the movie version with Spartacus and Varinia consumed by perfect blissful love and rolling around the grass — that was put in for the box-office. Everybody knows how guys get when they’re jealous. They just can’t get the sight of their wives or girlfriends orally pleasuring other men out of their heads.
“Notice that Spartacus’s best friend was Tony Curtis‘s Antoninus, the one guy in his inner circle who hadn’t been at Capua and therefore had never, ever ‘had’ Varinia.”