(director/producer: Rudolph Mate; screenwriters: story by Gian Paolo Callegari & Giovanni D’Eramo/George St. George/ Remigio Del Grosso/Ugo Liberatore; cinematographer: Geoffrey Unsworth; editor: Jerry Webb; music: Manos Hadjidakis; cast: Richard Egan (King Leonidas of Sparta), Ralph Richardson (Themistocles of Athens), Diane Baker (Elias), Kieron Moore (Ephialtes, Greek Traitor), David Farrar (Xerxes, Persian King), Barry Coe (Phylon); Runtime: 114; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: George St. George; 20th Century Fox; 1962)

The poor Spartans, all 300 of them, are in a supercilious film.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Rudolph Mate directs a lively sword-and-sandals epic based on a true historical event that has some saving graces such as the accuracy of its narrative despite wooden acting and a limp script. Also, Mate does a great job filming the battle scenes. But, alas, the poor Spartans, all 300 of them, are in a supercilious film.

The film centers around Sparta, under King Leonidis, defending a mountain pass for the ancient Greek states against Persia’s attack at Thermopylae (located about 85 miles from Athens and known as the Gates of Fire) in 480 B.C., as the 300 Spartans bravely defend themselves against a much greater force estimated to be of at least 360,000 soldiers by modern historians (though the ancient historian Herodotus gave the number as 5 million). By holding off the Persians led by King Xerxes for three days, a greater Spartan army was able to amass and enter the combat to save the day. The Spartans were considered the best soldiers of their time and this heroic battle added to their legend.

Sir Ralph Richardson as Themistocles of Athens guides the Athenians as their military strategist, and comes off as the thespian who could best say his trite lines with a straight face and still come out of this pic with his dignity intact–no small task.

History also notes Leonidas’ famous saying to the Persian emissary when asked to surrender: “Molon Labe,” which roughly means come and take my army, if you can.