Ben-Hur

Ben-Hur

Director: William Wyler

Cast: Charlton Heston, Stephen Boyd, Jack Hawkins

     
 

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The advertising tag "four years in the making" is usually so much press-agent puffery. In the case of the 1926 silent version of Ben Hur, it was the unvarnished truth--and the filmmakers had the scars to prove it. The story behind the film is now part of Hollywood folklore: the cast and production crew changes (star George Walsh summarily dumped in favor ofSee more details below

Overview

The advertising tag "four years in the making" is usually so much press-agent puffery. In the case of the 1926 silent version of Ben Hur, it was the unvarnished truth--and the filmmakers had the scars to prove it. The story behind the film is now part of Hollywood folklore: the cast and production crew changes (star George Walsh summarily dumped in favor of Roman Novarro, director Charles J. Brabin replaced by Fred Niblo, writer-supervisor June Mathis-who'd spearheaded the project in the first place-abruptly fired); the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on the troublesome location shooting in Italy--money that was lost when most of the footage proved unusable; the extra expenditure of refilming in Hollywood; and the huge chunk of the film's profits eaten up by the 50% royalty deal set up with theatrical producers Klaw and Erlanger, who controlled the rights to General Lew Wallace's novel. The end result reflected the turbulent production conditions: Ben Hur is an extraordinarily uneven experience, with moments of cinematic brilliance and pulse-pounding thrills alternating with long stretches of stagey boredom. The film follows the original Wallace story to the letter: Judah Ben-Hur (Novarro), a wealthy Jew living under the reign of the Caesars, is betrayed by his best friend, ambitious Roman centurion Messala (Francis X. Bushman). Ben-Hur's family is sent to prison, while he himself is condemned to the galleys. During a violent sea battle, Ben-Hur saves the life of galleon commander Quintus Arrius (Frank Currier). The grateful commander adopts Ben-Hur as his son and bankrolls his desire to become a champion charioteer. Thirsting for revenge, Ben-Hur agrees to race against his old nemesis Messala. The latter is fatally injured during the race; with his dying breath, Messala reveals that Ben-Hur's family, previously reported dead, are actually alive--but living as lepers. The story is subtitled A Tale of the Christ because, at various junctures in his life, Ben-Hur has been touched by the hand of Jesus. Ben-Hur must totally embrace Christ's edict of love and forgiveness before he can be reunited with his family. As Jesus is crucified in Jerusalem, Ben-Hur's mother (Claire McDowell) and sister (Kathleen Key), having also embraced the Christian philosophy, are miraculously cured of their leprosy. Most of these plot elements, together with the romance between Ben-Hur and the lovely Esther (May McAvoy), reappeared in the 1959 remake of Ben-Hur--which, fortunately, did not include the ridiculous subplot involving the alluring Iras (Carmel Myers), who attempts to seduce Ben-Hur just before the big race. The film's highlights--the sea battle, the now-legendary chariot race--were produced on a far grander scale than in the 1959 version; unfortunately, both highlights took place in the first half of the picture, leaving the viewers with a rather dreary, drawn out denouement (the remake wisely placed the sea battle in part one, and the race in part two). The Technicolor Nativity sequences were condemned in 1926 as being in poor taste, but when seen today are beautifully handled and restful on the eye (oddly, no one complained about the nude female revellers during a later Technicolor pageant scene!) Ben Hur cost $4 million and grossed $9 million on its first release. The aforementioned royalty arrangement left MGM with only a $1 million take.

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Editorial Reviews

Barnes & Noble - Ed Hulse
After more than 40 years, one of the few biblical epics that doesn’t sacrifice humanity for spectacle, Ben-Hur -- an international box-office smash of legendary proportions and the winner of a then-unprecedented 11 Academy Awards -- still retains its power to enthrall viewers. This third movie adaptation of Lew Wallace’s bestselling novel provided Charlton Heston with perhaps his most memorable role: proud Jewish aristocrat Judah Ben-Hur, falsely accused of a crime and sold into slavery, later to confront his Roman enemies and have his life transformed by contact with Jesus Christ. Director William Wyler (Best Years of Our Lives) ensured success by surrounding himself with some of the industry’s greatest artisans, many of them rewarded with Oscars for their contributions to this flawlessly produced movie. Technical perfection aside, Wyler rated his Best Director Oscar for his superb handling of a fine cast including Jack Hawkins, Stephen Boyd, Haya Harareet, and Sam Jaffe. But Ben-Hur’s undisputed highlight remains the climactic, breathtaking chariot race, for which Heston and Boyd did most of their own stunt work. That race, and the film’s other spectacular sequences, can now be fully appreciated by home viewers in the newly mastered, wide-screen DVD edition, which augments the film with an illuminating commentary by Heston. Other extras include a documentary on the production ("The Making of an Epic"), a gallery of stills, a theatrical trailer, and recently discovered screen tests.
New York Times - Dave Kehr
By hiring William Wyler...MGM hoped to restore some dignity to a genre that had known its greatest triumphs thanks to the enthusiastic vulgarity of Alessandro Blasetti and the inimitable Cecil B. DeMille. The magnificently produced four-disc version of "Ben-Hur" ... ably advances that claim to respectability. It's an exhaustive, almost scholarly textural compendium, with a gorgeous, crisply detailed new two-disc transfer of the 1959 film.

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Product Details

Release Date:
09/13/2005
UPC:
0012569676695
Rating:
NR
Source:
Warner Home Video
Region Code:
1
Presentation:
[Wide Screen]
Time:
3:42:00

Special Features

Closed Caption; Discs 1 and 2: The 1959 Movie; New digital transfer [16x9 2.76:1] from restored 65mm elements; Commentary by film historian T. Gene Hatcher, with Charlton Heston; Music-only track showcasing Miklos Rozsa's score; Languages: English & Français; Subtitles: English, Français & Español (Feature film only); Disc 3: The 1925 Silent Version; The Thames television restoration with a stereophonic orchestral score by Carl Davis; Disc 4: About the Movies; 2005 documentary Ben-Hur: The Epic That Changed Cinema; 1994 documentary Ben-Hur: The Making of an Epic; Bue-Hur: A Journey Through Pictures:; Audiovisual recreation via stills, storyboards, sketches, music and dialogue; Screen tests; Vintage newsreels gallery; Highlights from the 4/4/60 academy awards ceremony; Theatrical trailer gallery

Cast & Crew

Performance Credits
Charlton Heston Judah Ben Hur
Stephen Boyd Messala
Jack Hawkins Quintus Arrius
Haya Harareet Esther
Hugh Griffith Sheik Ilderim
Sam Jaffe Simonides
Martha Scott Miriam
Cathy O'Donnell Tirzah
Finlay Currie Balthasar
Frank Thring Pontius Pilate
Terence Longdon Drusus
Andre Morell Sextus
Marina Berti Flavia
George Relph Tiberius
Adi Berber Malluch
Stella Vitelleschi Amrah
Jose Greci Mary
Laurence Payne Joseph
John Horsley Spintho
Richard Coleman Metellus
Duncan Lamont Marius
Ralph Truman Aide to Tiberius
Richard Hale Gaspar
David Davies Quaestor
Dervis Ward Jailer
Mino Doro Gratus
Robert Brown Chief of Rowers
Maxwell Shaw Rower No. 43
Emilio Carrer Rower No. 28
Tutte Lemkow Leper
Howard Lang Hortator
John Le Mesurier Doctor
Stevenson Lang Blind Man
Hector Ross Officer
Al Silvani Man in Nazareth
Enzo Fiermonte Galley Officer
Tiberio Mitri Roman at Bath
Pietro Tordi Pilate's Servant
Jerry Brown The Corinthian
Cliff Lyons Lublon
Joe Yrigoyen Egyptian
Joe Canutt Sportsman
Michael Dugan Seaman
John Glen Rower No. 42
Ferdinand "Ferdy" Mayne Captain of Rescue Ship
Reginald Lal Singh Melchior
Karl Tunberg Actor
Raimondo Van Riel Old Man

Technical Credits
William Wyler Director
Edward C. Carfagno Production Designer
John D. Dunning Editor
Arnold A. Gillespie Special Effects
Elizabeth Haffenden Costumes/Costume Designer
William Horning Art Director
Robert MacDonald Special Effects
Andrew Marton Asst. Director
Miklós Rózsa Score Composer
Robert Surtees Cinematographer
Karl Tunberg Screenwriter
Ralph Winters Editor
Sam Zimbalist Producer
Gore Vidal Source Author

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Scene Index

Disc #1 -- Ben-Hur, Pt. 1 (1959)
1. Overture [6:31]
2. Nativity Prologue [5:04]
3. Credits [2:07]
4. March Through Nazareth [2:15]
5. Messala in Command [1:58]
6. Fighting an Idea [3:37]
7. Still Close in Every Way [3:40]
8. A Toast [3:26]
9. Gifts Exchanged [2:36]
10. Judah's Choice [5:14]
11. Esther's Request [4:01]
12. Ring for a Kiss [4:35]
13. March Into Jerusalem [2:49]
14. The Accident [3:41]
15. Jailbreak Attempt [2:45]
16. Making an Example [3:36]
17. Bondage [3:01]
18. Water From a Sranger [4:33]
19. Quintus Arrius [3:34]
20. Ramming Speed [1:00]
21. Strange, Stubborn Faith [3:50]
22. Sea Battle Begins [3:16]
23. Galley Rescues [3:59]
24. Saving Arrius [2:50]
25. Victory [2:04]
26. Divine Emperor [4:24]
27. Son of Arrius [3:41]
28. Thinking of Judea [4:08]
29. Balthazar and Ilderim [2:43]
30. Arabians Night [4:23]
31. Many Paths to God [4:41]
32. Homecoming [3:39]
33. Survivors Reunited [4:06]
34. "We Stood Here Before." [4:21]
35. Confronting Messala [3:23]
36. Finding Miriam and Tirzah [4:09]
37. Vow in the Darkness [2:44]
38. "Forget Messala." [6:03]
39. Intermission [2:26]
Disc #2 -- Ben-Hur, Pt. 2 (1959)
40. Entr'Acte [3:49]
41. A Wager [4:45]
42. Chariot Practice [2:12]
43. "This Is the day." [4:17]
44. Chariot Procession [3:34]
45. Entrants [2:00]
46. Early Eliminations [4:29]
47. Neck and Neck [3:50]
48. Fallen Driver [1:37]
49. Judah Triumphant [2:04]
50. The Race Goes On [5:28]
51. Valley of the Lepers [2:15]
52. "Is Judah Well?" [4:28]
53. Thirsty Still [3:42]
54. "I Am Jubah Ben-Hur." [3:54]
55. Becoming Messala [:50]
56. Recovering Miriam and Tirzah [3:20]
57. Young Rabbi Sentenced [5:26]
58. Offer of Water [3:12]
59. The Crucifixion [4:14]
60. Cleansing Rain [3:04]
61. "Hallelujah." [4:45]
Disc #3 -- Ben-Hur (1925)
1. Credits [2:44]
2. Weary Travelers [5:31]
3. Signs in the Sky [4:32]
4. The Nativity [2:22]
5. Godspeed, Simonides [3:57]
6. Judah and Esther [3:47]
7. Welcoming Messala [3:52]
8. To Be a Few [4:39]
9. The Accident [3:13]
10. Arrested [2:58]
11. Water From the Carpenter [5:08]
12. The Galley [3:44]
13. "I Live for Revenge." [2:05]
14. Battle Stations [2:17]
15. Under Siege [5:26]
16. Rescuing Arrius [2:05]
17. Adopted Son [3:40]
18. Idolized and Forgotten [4:07]
19. Nazorene's Preaching [1:55]
20. A Shiek and a Miser [4:00]
21. Last of the Hurs [3:25]
22. Offered the Reins [4:09]
23. Iras the Egyptian [4:36]
24. Seduction [2:51]
25. True Identity [3:41]
26. Messala's Curse [3:37]
27. Entering the Arena [4:21]
28. The Race Begins [5:05]
29. Victory [4:15]
30. Cause of the King [5:05]
31. Arrival in Jerusalem [2:44]
32. Unclean [1:50]
33. Nearly Reunited [7:44]
34. Vow of Silence [3:28]
35. The Condemned [4:05]
36. Route to Cavalry [3:10]
37. Her Family Miracle [2:31]
38. Morning Joy [2:36]
39. End Credits [1:25]
Disc #4 -- Ben-Hur - Bonus Features
1. Opening [1:30]
2. First Intimate Epic [7:53]
3. Product of the Fifties [6:11]
4. Expanding the Cinematic Experience [7:47]
5. Setting New Standards in Design [10:16]
6. Costume Design: Revealing Character [4:57]
7. Musical Score [8:38]
8. Chariot Race [7:42]
9. One for the Ages [1:42]
10. End Credits [1:00]
1. Introduction [1:38]
2. Publishing Phenomenon [4:00]
3. Major Stage Production [2:49]
4. 1907 Short Film [1:39]
5. 1925 Silent Epic [2:16]
6. Italian Production Woes [5:13]
7. Chariot Race [3:53]
8. 1959: Zimbalist and Wyler [3:04]
9. Italian Locations [3:29]
10. Sea Battle; No Script [3:20]
11. Lovers Quarrel; Rewrites [4:18]
12. Celebrity Visitors [1:09]
13. Casting an Epic [6:04]
14. "Ben-Hur Killed Him." [1:09]
15. Religious Aspects [2:21]
16. The Score; Matte Shots [2:21]
17. Chariot Sequence [6:06]
18. P.R. Campaign; Academy Awards [:59]
19. Crowning Achievement [1:16]
20. End Credits [:59]

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