Happy Birthday Dear Ben-Hur, Happy Birthday to You.
To celebrate the 60th anniversary of its release, here’s my review of “Ben-Hur.”
I honestly doubt today’s generation would watch the original 1959 “Ben-Hur” before seeing the new one. I did, and it deserved the 11 Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Actor (Charlton Heston), Best Supporting Actor (Hugh Griffith), and Best Director (William Wyler). This comes from a time period when CGI has never existed, and yet, everything about it is a visual wonder.
Judah Ben-Hur (Heston) is a wealthy prince in Jerusalem, who was friends with the Roman tribune Messala (Stephen Boyd), and is determined to free his people. They now become enemies after a big disagreement regarding Rome and the Jewish slaves. In retaliation, Messala wrongfully imprisons Ben-Hur for almost killing the new governor, even though he knew it was an accident.
Now, he is engaged in death marches and ship rowings, but after a battle out at sea, Ben-Hur manages to escape and rescues a Roman warship commander named Quintus Arrius (Jack Hawkins), who makes him his adopted son. And then, he meets Sheik Ilderim (Griffith), who is fascinated by his chariot tales, and offers him his quadriga to battle Messala in the arena.
Ben-Hue’s mother (Martha Scott) and sister (Cathy O’Donnell) were also jailed for the accident, and he struggles to find them. Unfortunately, their prison years have led them to become lepers. Ben-Hur is now devastated at the life they are now forced to live.
“Ben-Hur” is a landmark film with real sets, sharp performances from Heston and Boyd, and beautifully shot chariot races. It doesn’t just focus on the races; it also focuses on the freedom, the faith of Jesus Christ, and the horrors of leprosy.
It also comes from a time period when 3-hour movies were given intermissions, and that’s why 2 DVD/Blu-Ray discs are required. Today we barely get those anymore and certain movie goers may not want to sit through a long period of time. But as long as these movies resonate with the classics, like “Ben-Hur” does, you have no reason not to be entertained by it.
For the record, the new version of “Ben-Hur” from 2016 was horrible. A box office bomb that overdid the strengths, and just threw talented people like Toby Kebbell and Morgan Freeman in the mix. I was also appalled by how they altered the ending after the final chariot race. The original version was sincere, but that was obviously too cliche.
Never mess with the classics.
Playing in select theaters April 14 and 17