Film and Food

Movies reviews with matching food – eat, watch, enjoy

Best Picture – Ben Hur (1959)

Starring Charlton Heston, Jack Hawkins & Haya Harareet

Rating 8/10

If any film defined ‘Epic’ this would be it! It is epic long at 3 1/2 hours, it features the ultimate hero, Jesus and it spans time and space… oh and it has a really exciting chariot race! Tick, tick, tick!

You must watch this film in two halves, nicely divided by an intermission, as the second half may pass you by. It is long and a little slow but filled with incredible, though sometimes stiff, performances, amazing sets, action, adventure and heart-felt dialogue.

For those of you who cannot remember what it is all about (as I did), Ben Hur is about the life of Jesus, a wealthy Jew, Judah Ben-Hur and the Roman occupation. The sub-title reads, “A Tale of the Christ by General Lew Wallace”, the author of the novel on which the film was based. It begins with the birth of Christ, then onto Nazareth where Mr Ben-Hur resides. A new Tribune, Messala (Stephen Boyd) arrives in town. He is Judah’s old boyhood pal! Then a new Governor arrives and is nearly killed accidentally by Ben-Hur’s sister.

They all get arrested, Messala refuses to help because of a former agro conversation he had. On his way to the galleys, Judah meets Jesus who gives him a drink of water. On the high seas all hell breaks loose but he saves Consul Quintus Arrius (Jack Hawkins) who then adopts J-Hur as his son. Things are looking up! Then Judah goes home

He meets his former slave’s daughter Esther (Haya Harareet) and falls deeply in love with the rustic beauty. He meets Messala as a son of a Consul and demands to see his mum and sis. They have since contracted Leprosy and have been shipped off to the local leper colony. Esther tells Judah that they have died.

Ben-Hur travels around and meets Sheik Ilderim (Hugh Griffith) who has a set of beautiful and fast horses. The badly made up Griffith looks like he is covered in Vegemite… just looks so wrong. However, he’s a great character, a wheeler and dealer. And then there was the chariot race! Naughty Messala has spikes put on his chariot to give him the upper hand! I won’t spoil it for you but it’s action packed, incredible cinematography!

Things happen, people get hurt and then it’s off to save the family. Jesus pops his head back in for a quick sermon on the mount then Judah grabs the girls and watches Christ’s final walk through the streets of Jerusalem. The death of Jesus brings renewal of all things good and there you have it!

This is an incredible film. It is so engrossing. Though it is long, every part of it is so well crafted it just takes you along for the ride. The chariot race is so exciting, there was no need for a soundtrack, just a few oooo’s and aaaah’s from the crowd. Though it is rated G (in Australia) I wouldn’t recommend it for kids. There are a few gory scenes (sinking of the ship, the chariot race finale and, of course, the crucifiction).

Heston is a standout, believable in every way. Those spectacular blue eyes and broad shoulders, well, you just wanna give him a big old hug! The scenery is spectacular, mostly filmed in Libya or Israel (when they were kicked out by the Muslim Libyans). I loved the Valley of the Lepers, the landscape and the reproduction of Rome.

This is a soulful film. It is filled with truths about relationships, injustice, hope, faith and the power of love. A few fav quotes are: Balthazar says to Judah as he’s on his way back to Rome, “don’t insist on death”; and after encountering Jesus, Judah says, “…and i felt his voice take the sword out of my hand”.

This film is well worth the time. It highly deserves the 11 Oscars it won. It is brilliant. Check it out and let us know what you think!

Ben Hur Trivia:

  • Budget – are you ready? An unprecedented $15 Million. By gum!
  • It was filmed using the MGM Camera 65, one of the widest prints ever, meaning the film could include incredible panoramic shots! Due to this, some theatres had to have their screens widened!
  • Burt Lancaster was offered the role of Judah but turned it down as it promoted Christianity, Paul Newman also said ‘no’ because he felt he didn’t have the legs for tunics (a bit of a pathetic excuse… I bet he was kicking himself with those weedy legs later on)
  • Poor Claude Heater, an opera singer who portrayed the faceless Jesus, didn’t even get credited for it! He had such nice hair.
  • The boats: first the boat was made to original galley design, then it was too heavy, then it was too long, then the oars weren’t heavy enough so they added weights, the cameras didn’t fit down the bottom of the ship, so they had to cut it in half and in the end it was all made up because slaves didn’t row Roman ships.
  • Chariot Race: It was filmed at Cinecitta Studios, near Rome. It took 5 weeks to film, using 15,000 extras and 18 chariots. Heston and Boyd were the only actors willing to learn how to drive the chariots. Dummies were used as the fallen charioteers which was quite shocking for audiences at the time. No people or horses were killed in this sequence but stuntman, Yakima Canutt fell off his chariot and climbed back on. His stuntman father watched, horrified, but Canutt only hurt his chin!
  • This is the only religious film the Pope has approved.
  • MGM was facing bankruptcy. This was a massive gamble for them, that ultimately paid off!
  • Director, William Wyler, noticed one of the extras was missing a hand, so he covered it in blood and used it in the sinking galley scene. He did the same thing with another extra who was missing a foot. Can anyone say “Ewwwww!”?
  • Mr Wyler was Jewish but claimed that he wanted to make a film that would cross religious divides. Interesting!
  • Heston was unable to cry in this film, which is why he covers his eyes in the emotional scenes.
What an adventure! How can we top this? We head uptown to New York City with Shirley MacLaine. Divine Daaarrrling!

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