The 300 Spartans (1962)

Film Review

THE 300 SPARTANS

Release Date: 29 August, 1962

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Directors: Rudolf Maté

Starring: Richard Egan, Ralph Richardson

Synopsis

Persian King Xerxes is leading a gigantic army to invade Greece. The representatives of the Greek city-states debate the method of defense, and Richardson of Athens proposes an alliance. Spartan King Leonidas (Egan) pledges his army in support of the Athenians. Egan and Richardson agree that the Spartan army will occupy the pass of Thermopylae and prevent or slow down the Persian advance. However, the Spartan Council refuses to send the army to Thermopylae. Egan leads his personal guard of 300 Spartans to defend the pass. Xerxes expects to easily destroy the few Spartan warriors, but his army is stopped by the Spartans. Defending the small, narrow pass, the Spartans' superior fighting skills and tactics overwhelm the Persian soldiers despite the Persians' vastly greater numbers. After three days of fighting, a treacherous Greek leads Persian soldiers around the position of the Spartans to the other side of the pass. With Persians before and behind them, Egan and the remaining Spartans fight to their deaths. The Persian advance proceeds, but the Spartans have delayed them long enough for the Greek cities to organize their defense. Ultimately, they defeat the Persians and drive them out of Greece.

Discussion

Maté directs an unembellished account of the famous Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC, during which a coalition of Greek forces (not just Spartans but also Thespians and Thebans) delayed the advance of an enormous Persian army, thereby saving the Greek city-states. The film's opening sequences, the debate of the representatives of the city-states and the meeting of the Spartan Counsel, establish the dire situation faced by the Greeks, confirm the bravery of the Spartan King, and explain why only a small force of Spartans met the Persian hordes. The battle scenes are exciting and impressively staged. The Spartans in their red capes stand out among the darkly clothed Persian soldiers. Richard Egan looks the part of the strong and unemotional Spartan leader. Ralph Richardson has a nice scene as an Athenian orator attempting to win support for united Greek action. An unnecessary love story involving two young Spartans slows the progress of the film.