Wednesday, July 1, 2015

349. BEN-HUR (1959)

Running Time: 212 minutes
Directed By: William Wyler
Written By: Karl Tunberg, from novel by Lew Wallace
Main Cast: Charlton Heston, Jack Hawkins, Haya Harareet, Stephen Boyd, Hugh Griffith
Click here to view the trailer


Man, what a chore this was! My wife and I started this last night, but after about thirty minutes, I was dozing. We picked it back up this morning and scooted through it pretty effortlessly, but it's still a damn long movie, that barely provides enough reward. Read on...

Because it's nearly four hours in length with over 100 speaking parts, I certainly can't be asked to relay the whole plot here. So I'll give you the cliff notes version and we'll all get on with our lives. Judah Ben-Hur (Heston) is a Jew from Judea - a humble, kind man, who adores his sister & mother and holds his fellow people in high regard. Ben-Hur grew up with a boy named Messala (Boyd), who, now grown, is a Roman tribune. After several years apart, the two reunite and don't miss a beat of their brotherly love (early versions of the script actually had the two engaging in a homosexual relationship). However, when Messala asks Ben-Hur to become his informant and betray any Jews who even speak ill of the Roman empire, Judah refuses and the two are almost immediately sworn enemies. In fact, when a ceramic tile accidentally falls off of a roof and kills a Roman governor, Messala orchestrates the imprisonment and death sentence of Ben-Hur. On his way to his death, via ship, Ben-Hur is admired by Roman Consul Arrius (Hawkins) and when their ship falls under attack and sinks, it is Judah who saves the life of the Roman Consul. The two are eventually rescued and Arrius pledges his life to Ben-Hur, naming him his new son and dubbing him Arrius, the younger. The two are thick as thieves, but Ben-Hur decides to return to Judea and find his mother and sister (who were also imprisoned at the same time Ben-Hur was). On his way home, Judah meets a horse owner named Shiek Ilderim (Griffith), who begs Ben-Hur to race his four prize, white horses in an upcoming chariot race that Messala will also be involved in. Yada yada yada, we'll leave it at that...


Look, I know you film snobs turn your noses at those who are fans of professional wrestling, but here's the deal: I'm a big professional wrestling fan - ever since I was a little kid - and one of the reasons I liked this is because it's basically all one big professional wrestling angle! In one corner, you have Judah Ben-Hur, the Jew with a heart of gold, firm but fair. In the other corner, you have Roman tribune Messala, wanting to make a name for himself and make examples of the Jews. Boyhood friends, turned bitter enemies. I mean, this is the same type of thing that I've been watching since I was a kid. If you're completely unfamiliar with pro wrestling (which most reading this probably are), I promise this is just the types of stories that they were telling on a weekly basis, on Saturday mornings, in the squared circle. In fact, you could book Ben-Hur, changing a few things so that they'd transfer from the days of Caesar to current times, but almost word for word and build the whole thing to one big showdown at WrestleMania! Here, WrestleMania is the chariot race, which serves as the big blowoff to the feud, complete with handshake from the loser to the victor (that scene where Messala is dying, but tells Ben-Hur where to find his mom & sister). Okay, okay, I'll stop with the wrestling talk.

With all that being said, I still can't go too terribly high on the rating here. I mean, this damn thing is long and that's an understatement. Another thing I really, really didn't care for was all the Jesus stuff. I mean, was it really relevant? Especially at the end, it was so uncalled for. The big ending SHOULD have been the chariot race and then maybe Judah going back home to reunite with Esther and his mother & sister. However, after the chariot race ends, we still get something like forty more minutes of movie, with Ben-Hur going to the leper colony not once, but twice to search for his family and then the whole Christ crucifixion scene. It all felt so tacked on and unnecessary and completely irrelevant to the main story, which was the life of Ben-Hur and the feud between he and his once friend, now enemy Messala. The scenes depicting Jesus Christ throughout are fine, as they don't take away from the main story that much, but then it comes down to the end and it should and DID make this audience member say, "What, I thought we were done at the chariot race?". Let's look at it like this: Suppose there's SOMEONE out there who doesn't know the about the Bible AT ALL. Doesn't know who Christ is, doesn't know anything about it. If that ignorant son of a bitch watched this movie, then that ending would be REALLY unnecessary. I mean, they took the most minor character in the movie (in the context of the film, Jesus Christ was a very minor character) and revolved the whole ending around him. I'll end by saying that chariot race was freakin' awesome!! Had they just ended there, I'd have been hard pressed to get this movie into '7' territory. As it is...

RATING: 6.5/10  Can't get it higher than that. Not something I'd really ever want to see again, however, I'll happily watch clips of the chariot race anytime you want to show em.


July 1, 2015  7:49pm


  1. Difficult one to call. After all, it is a big spectacular achievement.
    On the other hand it is big, pompous, far too self important, about 5 hours too long (what? you say? It's only actually 4 hours?) ad .. well, lets admit it.. BORING. You cannot sustain interest that long with just a bit of sniggering about Chuck being made to play the Homoerotic subtext to keep you entertained.
    Ry and seek out the silent version.. even if just for the chariot race.

    1. Yeah, it is long, but I'd say for the most part enjoyable. Had they clipped off even an hour or 45 mins, it would've made a world of difference.

      I've added the silent version to my IMDB watchlist, on your recommendation.


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