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 Post subject: Ben-Hur (1959)
PostPosted: Wed Nov 10, 2010 5:50 am 
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Prince Judah
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Directed by: William Wyler

Production year: 1959

Starring: Charlton Heston, Stephen Boyd, Jack Hawkins

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Plot:

MGM's three and a half hour, wide-screen epic Technicolor blockbuster - a Biblical tale, subtitled A Tale of the Christ. Director William Wyler's film was a remake of the spectacular silent film of the same name (director Fred Niblo's and MGM's Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1925)). Wyler had been an 'extras' director on the set of DeMille's original film in the silent era. Both films were adapted from the novel (first published in 1880) by former Civil War General Lew Wallace. Prince Judah Ben-Hur (Heston) was betrayed and enslaved by a Roman tribunal friend (Boyd), but then returned years later to seek revenge in the film's centerpiece, a chariot race. Ultimately, he would find redemption and forgiveness in the inspiring and enlightening finale.



Surprisingly, this isn't my favorite Heston film; it's not even my favorite of his epics. I know it won 11 Academy Awards, but that's not really a barometer for finding favorite films. Still, this one is so big - the sequence that first springs to mind for me when I think of Ben-Hur is the title character (Heston) as a galley slave, meeting Roman Consul Quintus (Jack Hawkins), the sea battle & aftermath, and the spectacular entrance into Rome. I guess it's rather sad that certain sequences such as this will never be matched - it will all have to be computer FX.

Here's a collection of stills from an old book, 70 Years at the Movies (1988); I won't spell out what the scenes are; the members here should already know (if not - tsk, tsk, time to brush up on your Ben-Hur/Heston know-how). :oops:
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Also, it's not just Heston who dominates this film; actor Stephen Boyd steals a lot of scenes as the villain Messala. I know Heston is great and possibly no one could have played the main lead as well, but Boyd manages to impart something extra every time he's on screen and here's the thing: there are a lot of detractors of this film, even fans of Heston and his work; they say it's too long, has a slow pace or it's just a backlash against all the Oscar wins.

But something was crystallized for me when, a few years ago, I watched a screen test of actors Cesare Danova & Leslie Nielsen as the main characters - Danova was playing Heston's part and Nielsen as Messala (I think it's on a documentary, on the DVD). It was seeing this screen test that made me realize, more than before, how Heston & Boyd were so much more superior in the roles and how they contributed to the success of the film with their stature. It was an incredible example of different levels to star power and presence on screen. It just goes to show - certain films - big great films - needed that extra star power, it really is true.


Last edited by Chrysagon on Sat Oct 08, 2011 8:23 pm, edited 5 times in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Ben-Hur (1959)
PostPosted: Wed Nov 10, 2010 6:16 am 
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NOTE: This thread will be used for general talk of the movie Ben-Hur. If there's anything specific you'd like to discuss, please start a new topic in this section.

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 Post subject: Re: Ben-Hur (1959)
PostPosted: Wed Nov 10, 2010 7:02 am 
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Perfectly put, Chrysagon. Thanks for the pictures, they're wonderful!

I have a hard time grasping how someone could find this movie to be dragging at parts. There's not a single minute in this movie that is dull to me. There's always something happening, whether it's great dialogue, great actng, beautiful settings, great music, spectacular scenes etc etc.

I know Heston made a movie called The Greatest Story Ever Told, but I'd like to say that as far as movies go, Ben-Hur is the greatest story ever told.

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 Post subject: Re: Ben-Hur (1959)
PostPosted: Fri Nov 12, 2010 12:16 pm 
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This is one of my all-time favorite movies. Even though it is so long, I never really feel bored watching it. One of my favorite parts is when Esther tells Judah that he has become Messala. That really is powerful to me. I also love all the symbolism with the water.


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 Post subject: Re: Ben-Hur (1959)
PostPosted: Sat Nov 13, 2010 10:23 am 
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That is a great scene, the more I think about it; that theme has been used quite a bit in various stories, novels, epics, parables and so on - the hero becomes what he has been chasing, whether it's dragons or monsters or evil; or, when you look into the abyss and the abyss looks back at you... or when you become that which you despise. It's always a key turning point in the great stories and a classic theme for heroic models and tales, as well as an incisive commentary on human nature, the human condition.

That may be why this story of Ben-Hur stands out for many - that's the quest; it's more than just the chariot race, though that race also becomes a metaphor for the whole concept I just outlined.


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 Post subject: Re: Ben-Hur (1959)
PostPosted: Sat Nov 13, 2010 10:28 am 
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amyk wrote:
This is one of my all-time favorite movies. Even though it is so long, I never really feel bored watching it. One of my favorite parts is when Esther tells Judah that he has become Messala. That really is powerful to me. I also love all the symbolism with the water.

Agreed. Another great scene, and probably my favorite in the whole movie is when Judah is hiding behind the rock when he is/was determined to visit his mother and sister in the leper colony. Outstanding acting in that scene, you could just see how it was breaking his heart because they were so close yet so far away. He wanted nothing more than to see them, hug them and talk to hem, but he couldn't. Powerful scene.

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 Post subject: Re: Ben-Hur (1959)
PostPosted: Sat Nov 13, 2010 2:53 pm 
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As far as favorite scenes, definitely for me the funniest scene is the sheik saying goodnight to his horses. I believe he calls them his "beauties" or something along those lines. Good comic relief and yet it also helps move the plot along, in preparation for the chariot scene later.


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 Post subject: Re: Ben-Hur (1959)
PostPosted: Sat Nov 13, 2010 6:54 pm 
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Another good "comic relief" is when the shiek is wondering if Ben-Hur didn't like the meal because he didn't belch! :lol: And then he belches, a very funny scene.

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 Post subject: Re: Ben-Hur (1959)
PostPosted: Sat Nov 13, 2010 11:10 pm 
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Yeah, the belch scene is a hoot. I also love the way Heston says "Indeed" in that same scene. Whenever I say, think or type that word, I think of how Heston delivered that line in Ben-Hur.

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 Post subject: Re: Ben-Hur (1959)
PostPosted: Thu Nov 18, 2010 4:24 pm 
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On 18 November 1959, "BEN-HUR," had its premiere in New York. :D

Heston described about the the film and the premier:

In 'The Actor's Life (on page 1959-p80)'

November 18, 8;00 P.M. -- BEN-HUR premier.
BEN-HUR opened in a beautifully refurbished State Theater, and
seemed as good on second viewing as it had at first. I liked
Lydia's comment: "With his film I don't care what the others think."
Actaully, they think very well. Crowther wrote a great notice,
others ranging down to fair, but most are raves. For the
record, I still think this is my best film work.


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