Ben-HurDirector: William Wyler
Own the definitive version of the 1959 classic Ben Hur in this lavish box set that includes a new feature-length documentary on the film's production, an exclusive production art book, and a 128 page replica of Charlton Heston's journal and sketches.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.This 1959 version of Lew Wallace's best-selling novel, which had already seen screen versions in 1907 and 1926, went on to win 11 Academy Awards. Adapted by Karl Tunberg and a raft of uncredited writers including Gore Vidal and Maxwell Anderson, the film once more recounts the tale of Jewish prince Judah Ben-Hur (Charlton Heston), who lives in Judea with his family during the time that Jesus Christ was becoming known for his "radical" teachings. Ben-Hur's childhood friend Messala (Stephen Boyd) is now an ambitious Roman tribune; when Ben-Hur refuses to help Messala round up local dissidents on behalf of the Emperor, Messala pounces on the first opportunity to exact revenge on his onetime friend. Framed on a charge of attempting to kill the provincial governor, Ben-Hur is condemned to the Roman galleys, while his mother (Martha Scott) and sister (Cathy O'Donnell) are imprisoned. But during a sea battle, Ben-Hur saves the life of commander Quintus Arrius (Jack Hawkins), who, in gratitude, adopts Ben-Hur as his son and gives him full control over his stable of racing horses. Ben-Hur never gives up trying to find his family or exact revenge on Messala. At crucial junctures in his life, he also crosses the path of Jesus, and each time he benefits from it. The highlight of the film's 212 minutes is its now-legendary chariot race, staged largely by stunt expert Yakima Canutt. Ben-Hur's Oscar haul included Best Picture, Best Director for the legendary William Wyler, Best Actor for Heston, and Best Supporting Actor for British actor Hugh Griffith as an Arab sheik.
- Release Date:
- Warner Home Video
- [Wide Screen]
Disc 3: New feature-length documentary "Charlton Heston and Ben-Hur: A Personal Journey," featuring never-before-available images and footage from the Heston family's archives; The Thames Television-restored 1925 silent version of Ben-Hur with stereophonic orchestral score by Carl Davis; vintage special features including the documentaries "Ben-Hur: The Epic That Changed Cinema" and "Ben-Hur: The Making of an Epic"; and "Ben-Hur: A Journey Through Pictures," an audiovisual recreation via stills, storyboards, sketches, music, and dialogue; screen tests; highlights from the 1960 Academy Awards Telecast; newsreels, and trailers.
Collectible elements include a reproduction of Charlton Heston’s personal diary from January 1958 to April 1960, chronicling his time before production started through the Academy Awards ceremony; Exclusive book with rare photos, production art, and reproductions from the original theatrical pressbook.
Cast & Crew
|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|
|Gore Vidal||Source Author|
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