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The 300 Spartans(1962)
Essentially true story of how Spartan king Leonidas led an extremely small army of Greek Soldiers (300 of them his personal body guards from Sparta) to hold off an invading Persian army now thought to have numbered 250,000. The actual heroism of those who stood (and ultimately died) with Leonidas helped shape the course of Western Civilization, allowing the Greek city states time to organize an army which repelled the Persians. Set in 480 BC.
For more about The 300 Spartans and the The 300 Spartans Blu-ray release, see the The 300 Spartans Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on February 28, 2014 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.0 out of 5.
Starring: Richard Egan, Ralph Richardson, Diane Baker, David Farrar, Donald Houston, Robert Brown (I)
Director: Rudolph Maté
» See full cast & crew
The 300 Spartans Blu-ray Review
'300' circa 1962.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, February 28, 2014
300 was one of those films that seemed to push a certain class of fan to extremes of hyperventilation. Ostensibly based on a graphic novel by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley, Zack Snyder's 2007 film reinvented the historical epic via greenscreen technology, giving birth to a highly stylized approach that seemed to some to overshadow actual character and plot. With the imminent release of 300's sequel, 300: Rise of an Empire, 20th Century Fox returns us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear—in more ways than one—by bringing out a previous generation's iteration of the tale of 300 Spartan soldiers attempting to hold off an incursion by a huge Persian army. The 300 Spartans was a 1962 historical epic that may have a somewhat more prosaic approach toward its subject, but which nonetheless was seen by a young Miller and planted a seed which ultimately blossomed into the iconic graphic novel decades later. Seen now from the vantage point of glossier and more dramatic fare, The 300 Spartans often seems almost laughably stiff and pedestrian, and it lacks the kind of sheer star power that typically tended to fuel films of this ilk. But there's still a decent sweep and, ultimately, some emotional heft to its story of a brave lot of soldiers who sacrificed themselves in the name of freedom. In fact, the film has a certain early sixties subtext of valiant warriors preserving truth, justice and the American—er, the Greek—Way, something that tends to relegate the film to its production era perhaps more resolutely than other historical epics.
Richard Egan was a journeyman actor and Fox contract player who managed to appear in a rather wide variety of films but who never really seemed to be able to grasp the brass ring of stardom. Egan is probably remembered best today for The 300 Spartans, as well as more contemporary fare like A Summer Place, but probably few people could list off more than a couple other of the actor's many films. While Egan had the requisite good looks and commanding voice to be a typical mid-century leading man, he doesn't really have the physical stature—at least the totally buff proclivities of someone like Gerard Butler—to really make a believably aggressive fighter, and that may be one of the central issues hobbling this version of the long ago tale.
Perhaps even more bothersome is the film's emphasis on some silly subplots, especially a romantic angle involving Diane Baker as Ellas and Barry Coe as Phyllon. These two in fact seem to be lifted out of a film like A Summer Place, playing two petulant youths whose love will overcome all the trials and tribulations of their nettlesome elders, not to mention an attacking Persian force. When Phyllon tells Ellas that the coming melée sounds like a "really good war", it's obvious that we're not exactly in the screenwriting pantheon of such respected historical scenarists as Dalton Trumbo.
But probably the singe greatest issue facing The 300 Films turns out to be the Persians themselves—or at least, the scarcity of them until virtually two thirds of the way through the film. While the audience is given lots of scenes involving Xerxes (David Farrar) wreaking havoc with friends and foe alike, and then even more scenes showing Leonidas (Richard Egan) plotting with Themistocles (Sir Ralph Richardson) about how to confront the overwhelming number of enemy forces, and then too many scenes depicting the young love of Phyllon and Ellas, there's no "there" there until the movie's final act, when finally the filmmakers get the bright idea that a film about a battle really probably ought to depict one.
Luckily it's at this point that some real dramatic momentum finally starts to build in the film, as Xerxes becomes repeatedly frustrated by the kind of incipient guerilla tactics of the much less numerous Greeks. Despite these initial successes, Leonidas soon is informed that expected reinforcements will not be arriving, and things become more desperate. Director Rudolph Maté nicely utilizes actual Greek locations (though not the real life place where Leonidas actually fought, due to some changing terrain in the thousands of intervening years). The film feels (probably understandably) a bit like the Italian "sword and sandal" adventures that had become popular in America, and despite its rather hefty budget, The 300 Spartans has a somewhat lo-fi ambience some of the time, never really rising to the majestic heights of the best epics from the major American studios.
While Egan is stalwart and ultimately even moving as Leonidas, the film's acting honors probably belong to Sir Ralph Richardson as the brains behind the brawn. With his impeccable elocution and inherent gravitas, Richardson brings a measure of solemnity to the film which is sorely lacking in such scenes as the ultimately ridiculous Phyllon – Ellas storyline. The 300 Spartans was a rather stunning success story in its day, and it of course left an indelible mark on the mind of a young Frank Miller, but its legacy may indeed be greater than anything actually in the film.
The 300 Spartans Blu-ray, Video Quality
The 300 Spartans is presented on Blu-ray courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 2.35:1. Unfortunately time has not been very kind to the elements used for this transfer, to the point that at times anyway I actually wondered if the typical interpositive had actually been used. While damage is actually negligible, colors have faded in expected ways, with flesh tones looking rather brown, blues and (especially) purples decidedly anemic and reds tipping toward the orange side of things. The film also is almost shockingly soft and gritty looking at times, especially in wide shots, where people often become little more than blobs of (faded) color. This is especially ironic in that the film appears to have been digitally sharpened, resulting in minor but still noticeable ringing. Still, things are certainly watchable here, and Geoffrey Unsworth's cinematography is one of the film's chief assets.
The 300 Spartans Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The 300 Spartans' lossless DTS-HD Master Audio Mono track sounds fine as far as it goes, though many will probably be wishing a more forceful track had been repurposed for Blu-ray. Dialogue is very cleanly presented (though there is a huge variety of accents running rampant throughout the film). Manos Hadjidakis, who had just won an Oscar for Never on Sunday, contributes an occasionally colorful but often anachronistic score that sounds too weirdly contemporary, almost like a modern day bouzouki band at times, to really totally mesh with the film's setting.
The 300 Spartans Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The 300 Spartans Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
The 300 Spartans' quite simply hasn't aged all that well. This is a film with a lot of dialogue—some of it quite risible—with an accompanying dearth of action. That means that by the time the film does finally deliver some nicely staged battle sequences, many will have already been wishing that the Persians would just hurry up and put everyone out of their misery already. Fans of Miller's work and the now burgeoning 300 franchise may well want to go back and see what sparked it all all those decades ago, but this is probably a case where memory may be rosier than actuality.
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