So, here comes the Easter holiday once more, and in keeping with one of my favorite film traditions, I thought I would write a review of “Ben Hur”. I have watched this movie almost every Easter since I was born. At least, that is how it seems to me. I can even remember “accidentally” watching it at a friend’s house one day at the beach – and suddenly realizing that it was Easter!
Arguably one of the greatest movies ever made, “Ben Hur” is brilliant all over. You can stand back and think “my God, they really made movies like this once upon a time?” I mean seriously, people. This movie is beautifully shot for starters. The Director of Photography is Robert L. Surtees with Art Direction by Edward Carfagno. Gentleman, my hat is off to you both. This film has a look and feel to it that simply is divine. It doesn’t get any better than the clean look of this film. It’s sharp! How much of this is due to Director William Wyler? I doubt it was very much, as I believe the Director was hard at work on directing the film itself (which he does a fantastic job with!).
Then there is an incredible score to accompany it – loud and powerful stuff! Miklos Rozsa has written a beautiful score that just has so much to offer that it is incredible. He gets to write the rousing music for the chariot race and the sea battle, but also the sweet and soulful nature to Judah Ben-Hur’s first encounter with Christ. Let’s face it: more movies should be written with scores like this in mind. Hey, there’s even a Prelude and an Intermission piece! What’s not to like here?
Then there’s Charlton Heston in his most magnificent role ever. I know, I know: that’s saying a lot! As great as he was in “The Ten Commandments” and “Planet of the Apes”, he blows by all of that with his performance here. I have a tremendous respect for this man’s quality as an actor because he shows his range and depth in this film. His character, Judah Ben-Hur, is smooth, dignified, believable, and very realistic. He’s a flawed man, not some perfect fellow. He’s motives are a little less than savory towards the end of the film. Judah Ben-Hur is a great character to see come to life as interpreted by Heston. You’d swear that he was just born to play this role! His opponent in the film is Messala, played wonderfully by Stephen Boyd. Messala is just an absolute perfect portrait of how a young man can be molded by military and the political life. The conflict of this movie that revolves around these two fine actors with a killer script is acted to a “T”. I have heard some other reviews speak of this movie having a “homo-erotic” subtext. Maybe it’s just me, but I fail to see what they are talking about.
This film has so much going for it, it is absolutely no wonder it was a powerhouse at the Oscars. It won 11 Oscars, one for every person I mentioned herein – save for Stephen Boyd. The Best Supporting Actor went to Hugh Griffith for his lovable role as Sheik Ilderim. I watched this movie over this past Easter (go figure), and I hadn’t watched it in years (why, I don’t know). I had purchased the uber-edition on DVD and my goodness, is it ever worth it! It’s crammed with brilliant material, but if you are not into that kind of thing, no problem: just enjoy the movie! I do not profess a whole lot of love for the craziness that goes with religion, especially Christianity, but this film’s portrayal of Jesus is a masterstroke. It is both moving and simply done. I always feel moved when I watch this film. I think for me it has a lot to do with Judah’s mother & sister. The amazing part of this is that the movie is actually titled “Ben Hur: a Tale of the Christ”, and yet Jesus isn’t in the film but a few moments. Wyler was a genius for his treatment of Christ, never showing his face and having given him no dialogue whatsoever. For some reason, that makes it more meaningful to me. I guess it’s the idea that God – or any deity for that matter – is unknowable.
So, sit back with the family this Easter weekend and enjoy this movie for all it is worth. It is so powerful and brilliant that I dare anyone to point out a real “flaw” in it.
This is without question one of my most recommended films EVER.
…and that’s it for this edition of THE REEL VOICE