From the book "Tony Curtis - the autobiography" (you can thank my mother for pointing this out to me):
Spartacus (1960) was an epic and a milestone for everybody involved: $12 million budget, shot in Super-Technirama, three hours long, a hundred sets, and eight thousand extras. Spartacus freed ninety thousand slaves and led the two-year revolt in which they defeated nine armies sent by the Roman Senate. It was Dalton Trumbo’s first Hollywood screenplay under his own name, since being blacklisted during the McCarthy era.
Anthony Mann was supposed to direct it, but Kirk Douglas replaced him with Stanley Kubrick. Some people though Kubrick was an odd choice because he had a kind of cynical approach. I thought he was brilliant. He understood human frailty, very much like Billy Wilder-only Billy saw everything humorously. Kubrick’s films are not funny. Dr. Strangelove and Lolita had a great deal of humor, but always with that bizarre, black view underneath.
Most of the actors and the crew in Spatacus thought of Kubrick as an upstart. It was Kirk’s production company and it was Kirk’s idea to hire him, but Kirk became ambivalent about him after a while. He had to keep defending him to the studio, and, consequently, he started to put pressure on Stanley, and they got somewhat antagonistic towards each other. The pressure had to do with the shooting schedule. They wanted him to shoot quicker, and they wanted him to make cuts and not to cover as much as he did in every scene. They wanted the standard over-the-shoulder and two-shots; nothing complicated. Stanley was asking for shots where the camera moved creatively, Kubrick-style, and the studio didn’t want him to do that.
Universal was so heavy-handed about everything, including production values. It wouldn’t give him room to move, and so Kubrick became obstreperous. He always wanted that scope, and he had to really maneuver to get Spartacus made. He was a genius with the camera, but as far as I was concerned, Stanley’s greatest effectiveness was in his one-on-one relationships with actors. He was so good with actors in general-and with me in particular-so appreciative. He was a very fine person. My favorite director, in fact.
Spartacus started out rather modestly. I was only supposed to do a short time on it. It would eat up one of my Universal commitments, and that was the pleasure of it as an outside project. The next thing I knew, it was a nine-month production, and it eventually stretched into a year. This picture went on and on, with the slaves and the Romans and the armies and the gladiators and the battles. One day Jean Simmons and I were sitting on the back lot, up in the hills somewhere, waiting to do a shot. Kubrick was down below with fifteen hundred men charging up the mountain. I’d been on the movie five months by that time, when I was supposed to be on it only twelve days. I turned to her and said, “Who do you have to fuck to get off this picture?”
Finally we started doing night shootings. This was the sequence where the slave army has been captured, and they’re all being crucified, and Kirk and I-Spatacus and Antoninus-are waiting for our turns the next morning. The Laurence Olivier character is coming down to officiate. We are the last two to be crucified, and we have this heavy, philosophical discussion about it.
“I don’t want to die this way.”
“Well, that’s the way it’s going to be.” No one knows he’s Spatacus yet.
So we’re sitting at the foot of this big hill by a wagon. Off in the background, just out of camera range, is the freeway. This is going to disillusion a lot of people who think it was shot at the gates of Rome, but it wasn’t. It was on Barham Blvd. and the 101 Freeway, with a straight view maybe fifteen hundred feet or more all the way to the top of the hill. We shot that scene from nine to five or six in the morning. Night shooting, believe me, is the pits in the picture business. Everybody is exhausted.
As far as the eye could see, from that wagon where Kirk and I were sitting to the horizon on top of that hill, stood a long row of crosses with bodies on them, diminishing as they got higher up-all of Spartacus’s friends who were being crucified. Kubrick insisted on having live people on most of them, with a few mannequins here and there because he wanted people to see them writhe and moan while Kirk and I were sitting at the foot of that steep hill, doing our scene. “What is it all about, Spartacus?” “Well, Antoninus, life is not a bowl of cherries.” Moans and groans from above. “Then what is life?” “Ah! Well may you ask...” More moans and groans. Kubrick wanted the moans and groans and writhing bodies on film during this dialogue so it wouldn’t look static in the back.
As we rehearsed it, Kubrick didn’t pay much attention to them. He just kept giving orders to Marshall Green, the first assistant director, a huge man whose father was a film director I had worked with [Alfred E. Green, director of Sierra]. “Do this, Marshall, do that!” Marshall’s real job was to make sure Kubrick got his night’s work done. Kubrick hadn’t picked Marshall to work with. He was just the A.D. assigned by the studio, which meant he didn’t care about Kubrick, only about Kubrick getting his work done. Everybody knew it. That’s the way it worked. Universal was watching Kubrick like some mad creature from outer space, and Marshall was their point man.
We rehearsed and rehearsed until Kubrick got the men writhing and groaning pretty much the way he wanted. Finally he said, “Let’s start shooting.”
“Spartacus, what is the meaning of life?”
Moans and groans.
“Life is not a bowl of cherries, Antoninus.”
Kubrick says, “Cut.” He looks up and says, “On the cherries line, the man on the third cross on the left is supposed to move. You didn’t move.” The guy says, “I’m sorry.”
This went on and on. Forty minutes of starting and stopping and starting and stopping. Almost right, but not quite. Finally he says, “Let’s do it,” and we start the take again.
“Spartacus, what is the meaning of life?”
Moaning and groaning from up the hill.
“Life is not a bowl of-”
Kubrick says, “Cut! Son of a bitch...” Some mild obscenity-nothing overwhelming. Stanley never lost his temper. I’m sitting only four feet from Kubrick. We all thought it was a perfect take. Kubrick says to Marshall, “Come here.” Marshall, this huge man with huge feet, schleeps over. It’s the middle of the night, he’s dead tired, he been eating lousy, he’s been standing around and smoking for eight hours.
“Marshall, the guy up there on the twentieth cross on the left is supposed to struggle, but he didn’t move at all. I want you to go up there and tell him that on the ‘cherries’ cue and the handkerchief signal from you, he’s got to move. I can’t use the megaphone to tell him during the shot because it’ll screw up the dialogue.”
Marshall looks at him with daggers. If looks could kill, Kubrick is dead. So Marshall turns around and starts walking up this incredible incline-like a Stairmaster, it’s so steep-to the highest point of the hill. It took him three minutes to trudge all the way up to a cross right near the end. There must have been 35 crosses on either side, and this was just about the farthest one. Marshall schlepped all the way up and stood at the foot of that crucifix and looked up. The moonlight silhouetted him. I was watching him, and I distinctly remember thinking, God, that eerie light- that’s the way it must have been when Jesus was on the cross.
Marshall stood there for about thirty seconds, looking up at this guy on the cross and walking around it. The way he was changing position, it looked like he was saying, “What’s the matter with you? You fucked up the last take. Why didn’t you move?” And the guy must have been saying, “Listen, I’ve been strapped up here for an hour now. It’s getting uncomfortable.” And Marshall is saying something like, “Well, I’ll talk to Stanley, but please-in the next shot, move!” The guy says, “Okay, okay.” That’s the dialogue I imagined.
Marshall turns around and walks away slowly back down that hill, never looking right or left, just down at his feet. It takes him another three minutes, but it seems like an hour. He doesn’t look at anybody or anything along the way. He just lumbers straight up to Kubrick and says, “It’s a fucking dummy.”
Stanley took that information with the same grace with which he took everything else. No display of surprise or regret. Just some calm reply like, “Oh. Then put on wires and wiggle it.”
There's another story, but my fingers are tired from typing right now. Maybe tonight or tomorrow.