A review of the 1959 classic film “Ben-Hur”

Astonishingly this movie was nominated for no less than 12 Academy Awards and managed to win 11 of them, a feat not equalled until “Titanic” 40 years later. I say astonishingly because it is really not that good.

The cinematography in Panavision is wonderful and the chariot race is genuinely exciting, but the plotting is slow, most of the dialogue is leaden and a fair bit of the acting is forced, while the appearance of Jesus and the incidence of a miracle appear out of sorts with today’s more secular days. Nevertheless, at the time, the film was a great commercial success which saved MGM from bankruptcy. 

Based on a 19th century novel by civil war general Lew Wallace, it is a strong story of conflict between former childhood friends, Roman officer Messala (Stephen Boyd) and Jewish dignatory Judah Ben-Hur in Roman-occupied Judea at the time of Christ.

At some three and a half hours, the material before and after the chariot race should have been shortened, but the race itself was a triumph for winner of three Best Director Academy Awards, William Wallace. It required 15,000 extras on a set constructed on 18 acres at Cinecitta Studios outside Rome and it took five weeks to film.


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