Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Ben-Hur -- 1959

William Wyler's presentation of:



Rated G

Charlton Heston
Jack Hawkins
Haya Harareet
Stephen Boyd
Hugh Griffith
Martha Scott
Cathy O'Donnell
Sam Jaffe

Who hasn't heard of the magnificence of this film? It was the most expensive motion picture of it's time. The actors they picked were the best of their era. The sheer size of this production, the richness, 'old school' filming and the wonderful story.... Ben-Hur is one of a kind.

When General Lew Wallace (author of the book Ben-Hur) began writing his novel, he was neither a believe or an unbeliever in Jesus Christ. But while in the process of writing, his path was thrown in with Robert Ingersoll, “The Great Agnostic” as they refer to him. During a conversation with said Mr. Ingersoll, they argued heatedly against God, Jesus Christ, heaven, etc and Lew Wallace was so taken aback by the agnostic's disbelief, he was forced to review his own beliefs. When he was finished reviewing them, he was not only in disagreement with Mr. Ingersoll, he had become a firm believer in Jesus Christ and the redemption we have in His blood. After that turning point in General Wallace's life, there was a new flavor in his writing.

When Ben-Hur was published in 1880, it wasn't an overnight success. But two years later, sales suddenly increased, so much so that it became a publishing phenomenon. With it came many offers to make his book into a stage production. But it wasn't until someone came up with an idea that treated the God figure in the story with enough reverence that General Wallace agreed to let it be produced on stage.

After that, many audiences were thrilled with the drama of Judah Ben-Hur and his journey from greatness, to the extreme opposite back to greatness... but not before some great spiritual changes had been made in his heart. I suppose this is one of the reasons why this movie is still very well known, and why it always seems to move on with the technology of the times. It's a story with a purpose and it is well told.

The era: Rome had taken over the entire world (as they knew it), Israel being part of it. True to prophecies, Jesus Christ is born in Bethlehem and Herod commands his soldiers to kill every child 2 years old and under in that town.

Years pass and we see Judah Ben-Hur: born a prince among his people with many assets, a mother and sister. In his youth, he had a friend who saved his life once. This friend was a Roman boy named Messala. Over the years, in spite if the differences in their upbringing, they become so close that they are like brothers. But when the boys are still young, Messala had to leave for Rome to train as a soldier and leader.

The story begins when Messala arrives back in Judea. The two friends reunite and all is well... until Messala asks Judah to betray his people. Judah refuses and Messala's true character emerges as he seeks revenge and does his best to completely destroy Judah's life and those he loves.

The most powerful part of the film is the character of Jesus Christ. You never see his face. You never hear his voice. But His life and actions and divinity are apparent in everyone who comes in contact with him... thus, the viewer is given the impression that you saw His face, heard His voice and felt His power in your life.

What I liked:
1: How Jesus Christ is portrayed.
2: The powerfulness of the story.
3: Haya Harareet: beauty, majesty. The only Jew to play a Jewish character on this film... For how inexperienced she was, her skill as an actress is truly amazing. I wish she could have stayed young forever and played in some of my other favorite movies... Fiddler on the Roof, for instance.
4: Hugh Griffith: wonderfully hilarious and yet, so serious. I applaud those who made the decision to award him for his performance in this film... and whoever cast him for the part.
5: How rich and spectacular the entire film is. It takes my breath away.
6: Cleanness. This movie is very good in that aspect too.
7: 99% of this movie is very accurate. They researched for a year before they began building the sets and costumes, etc, and you can tell.

What I Didn't Like:
1: Charlton Heston. I have watched several movies that he acted in: The Ten Commandments, The Little Kidnappers, Call of the Wild, Alaska) and in each, it's frustrating to watch him because he had such potential.. but he can never completely be the character he's playing. He's much Charlton Heston. He's not Moses or Ben-Hur. I wish he could have taken lessons from Hugh Griffith! Because you can just feel and see the potential of the most dynamic actors of all time in Mr. Heston. For the record, my favorite role that Charlton Heston played was in Alaska.
2: The dance by the Ethiopians. They aren't dressed very well. However, I must admit that it's totally accurate for the time. You can't see much but I cover the screen.
3: Some of the things that happen in the story (or the way these things are presented) is unrealistic.

Do I recommend this film? Definitely! If not for the story, then for the quality of production. But the story is one of the great epics of all time. If not for the production, go for the story. :-)

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