1001 Flicks

Regularly updated blog charting the most important films of the last 104 years.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

349. Ben-Hur (1959)

Directed By William Wyler


Ben is in Judea minding his own business when Messala, his childhood friend, comes back from Rome. It all goes to shit. Ben is sent to the galleys, but comes back and defeats Messala. Oh Jesus Christ fits in there somehow as well.


I know I promised that I would continue reviewing films while I was out getting a new house. Well this didn't happen because the only TV I had was hipster-tiny, meaning that Ben-Hur being the epic that it is and being cut at the top an bottom would look like coloured toilet paper unrolling on the wall. So I opted to wait and watch it in my considerably larger TV here to make it justice.

Ben-Hur is an epic's epic. It is a great film that keeps you riveted for two thirds of its very long running time. Frankly after Messala dies you lose interest in the story. The religious element is clearly tacked on, and I couldn't care less for his leprous mother and sister. So it goes on for too long, Hur needs to redeem himself, but all that makes you watch is the revenge story and the great, and very violent, galley and chariot race sequences.

Unlike the Ten Commandments, Hur is a successful epic. Its set pieces are superbly directed and set up. It is not, for the most part, boring, and you are really impressed by the work put into it. Heston is not a great actor, but the part is so larger than life that he doesn't need to be. So yeah a great epic which could be a 10 if not for the religious stuff tacked on with spit.

Final Grade



From Wikipedia:

In interviews for the 1986 book Celluloid Closet, and later the 1995 documentary of the same name, screenwriter Gore Vidal asserts that he persuaded director Wyler to allow a carefully veiled homoerotic subtext between Messala and Ben-Hur. Vidal says his aim was to explain Messala's extreme reaction to Ben-Hur's refusal to name his fellow Jews to a Roman officer. Vidal suggested that Messala and Ben-Hur had been homosexual lovers while growing up, but Ben-Hur was no longer interested, so it is the anger of a scorned lover which motivates Messala's vindictiveness. Since the Hollywood production code would not permit this to appear on screen explicitly, it would have to be implied by the actors. Vidal suggested to Wyler that he would direct Stephen Boyd to play the role that way, but not tell Heston. Vidal claims that Wyler took his advice, and that the results can be seen in the film. However, Vidal is the only person ever to make this claim, and Heston insisted that Vidal had little to do with the final film.

You can watch it all online, here's part 1:


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