Ben-Hur, 1959

Ben-Hur was originally a novel by Lew Wallace. This film followed much of what was in the book, which was a look at the life of Judah Ben-Hur, a wealthy Jew who, when thrown into slavery in the galley of a ship for a crime he didn’t commit, vowed revenge. The fictional Judah Ben-Hur crossed the path of Jesus a few times, as well as other famous people of that day. In that sense, he had an almost Forrest Gump-ish life. The scenes with Jesus were carefully played, believable, and important. The movie began at the birth of Jesus with the wise men worshipping, and it stopped at the crucifixion of Jesus, not as an ending, but as a victory.

This powerful film showed passionate love and passionate hate. It showed what revenge looks like on the face of a friend. It showed his loyalty to people he’d known all his life and a bonding with people he’d just met.

The scene with the crowd going up the hillside to hear Jesus preach gave us an opportunity to imagine ourselves in that crowd. Would we follow and listen or turn and be about our business?

The most famous scene in Ben-Hur is the chariot race. The set was enormous and included a few hidden cameras. MGM spent $15 million on the film, and they were glad they did because the film earned $75 million. The chariot race alone had 15,000 extras during the five weeks they filmed it. There were many rumors about stunt men dying a violent death under the hooves of horses. However, I saw the interviews in the special features which verified that the rumors were false. When you look at the “trampling deaths” in the race, you can tell that the body was a dummy (that is, wasn’t alive to begin with).

Directed by William Wyler, this film boasted that it had the biggest cast, the biggest crew, and was the biggest film of its time. It was also a big winner during the Academy Awards where it won 11 Oscars. Four of the winning categories were: Best Picture, Best Actor (won by Charlton Heston), Best Actor in a Supporting Role (won by Hugh Griffith), and Best Director (won by William Wyler). Other Ben-Hur Oscars include: Best Art Direction-Set Direction, Color; Best Cinematography, Color; Best Effects, Special Effects; Best Film Editing; Best Music, Scoring of a dramatic or Comedy Picture; and Best Sound.

With a length of 214 minutes, I was surprised at how well the movie kept my attention throughout, except when I fast-forwarded through the overture and intermission music. The music was gorgeous, but I was more interested in checking out the plot and the superb acting.

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