The chariot race has a 263-to-1 cutting ratio (263 feet of film for every one foot used), probably the highest for any 65mm sequence ever filmed.
During a shot of chariots swinging around the large curve, two of the vehicles smashed into the cameras, which were fortunately protected by a wooden barricade. Nevertheless, production was held up for small repairs and testing on the cameras. No cast, crew or horses were badly injured in the mishap.
Judah Ben-Hur (Charlton Heston) wins the race while Messala (Stephen Boyd) is left bleeding in the dust.
The desert sequences were all set to be filmed in Libya until authorities in the country–a Muslim nation–realized that the film was promoting Christianity. The government ordered MGM out of the country, forcing the studio to shift filming to Spain, which has the only desert in Europe.
According to Charlton Heston, William Wyler was reluctant to change his mind about an approach to a scene or character, resulting in frequently conflicting direction. He also noted in his diary: “I doubt [Wyler] likes actors very much. He doesn’t empathize with them–they irritate him on the set. He gets very impatient, but invariably they come off well. The only answer I have is that his taste is impeccable and every actor knows it.”
This 1959 version of Lew Wallace’s best-selling novel, which had already seen screen versions in 1907 and 1926, went on to win 11 Academy Awards. Adapted by Karl Tunberg and a raft of uncredited writers including Gore Vidal and Maxwell Anderson, the film once more recounts the tale of Jewish prince Judah Ben-Hur (Charlton Heston), who lives in Judea with his family during the time that Jesus Christ was becoming known for his “radical” teachings. Ben-Hur’s childhood friend Messala (Stephen Boyd) is now an ambitious Roman tribune; when Ben-Hur refuses to help Messala round up local dissidents on behalf of the emperor, Messala pounces on the first opportunity to exact revenge on his onetime friend. Tried on a trumped-up charge of attempting to kill the provincial governor (whose head was accidentally hit by a falling tile), Ben-Hur is condemned to the Roman galleys, while his mother (Martha Scott) and sister (Cathy O’Donnell) are imprisoned. But during a sea battle, Ben-Hur saves the life of commander Quintus Arrius (Jack Hawkins), who, in gratitude, adopts Ben-Hur as his son and gives him full control over his stable of racing horses. Ben-Hur never gives up trying to find his family or exact revenge on Messala. At crucial junctures in his life, he also crosses the path of Jesus, and each time he benefits from it. The highlight of the film’s 212 minutes is its now-legendary chariot race, staged largely by stunt expert Yakima Canutt. Ben-Hur’s Oscar haul included Best Picture, Best Director for the legendary William Wyler, Best Actor for Heston, and Best Supporting Actor for Welsh actor Hugh Griffith as an Arab sheik.
Charlton Heston made a big blunder early on by composing a lengthy memo outlining his ideas about his character in the first scene with Messala. He later noted that it took him considerable time to get back in William Wyler‘s good graces after doing that and may have had something to do with the rough time the director gave him during production. He also wrote that Wyler once told him he wished he (Wyler) could be a nice guy on the set but that “you can’t make a good picture that way.”
Ben-Hur (1/10) Movie CLIP – Parade of the Charioteers (1959) HD
The only Hollywood film to make the Vatican-approved film list in the category of religion.
This is the first of three films to have won 11 Academy Awards, including the Best Picture Oscar. The second was Titanic (1997) and the third was The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003). Several of the categories won by “Titanic” and “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” didn’t exist in “Ben-Hur”‘s day, making its 11 wins that much more impressive. It is also the first-ever film to win 10 Academy Awards in competitive categories, with Gone With The Wind having won 8 competitive Oscars and 2 special Oscars.
William Wyler was so impressed with David Lean‘s work on The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) that he asked Lean to direct the famous chariot race sequence. Lean would have received full screen credit for the job–“Chariot Race directed by David Lean.” He declined the offer, knowing that Wyler was a truly talented director and could certainly pull it off himself.
William Wyler was a Swiss-German film director and producer. Notable works include Mrs. Miniver, The Best Years of Our Lives, and Ben-Hur, all of which won him the Academy Awards for Best Director, and Best Picture, making him the only director of three Best Picture winners.
William Wyler was a renowned stickler for detail. Charlton Heston recalled one particular scene where Judah Ben-Hur simply walks across a room upon his return from slavery. Such a simple scene required eight takes before the actor finally asked Wyler what was missing. The director informed him that he liked the first take where Heston had kicked a piece of pottery to give the scene its only sound. Heston, on the other hand, had assumed that Wyler didn’t like the kicking and had therefore deliberately avoided doing it again.
Paul Newman was offered the role of Judah Ben-Hur but turned it down because he’d already done one Biblical-era film, The Silver Chalice (1954), and hated the experience. He also said it taught him that he didn’t have the legs to wear a tunic.
Burt Lancaster, a self-described atheist, claimed he turned down the role of Judah Ben-Hur because he “didn’t like the violent morals in the story” and because he did not want to promote Christianity. In any event, Lancaster, who was 45 when the film eventually went before the cameras, was too old for the part.
Ben-Hur: 50th Anniversary Ultimate Collector’s Edition | Trailer | Warner Bros. Entertainment
When a Jewish prince is betrayed and sent into slavery by a Roman friend, he regains his freedom and comes back for revenge.
Charlton Heston was an American actor and political activist. As a Hollywood star, he appeared in almost 100 films over the course of 60 years. He played Moses in the epic film The Ten Commandments, for which he received his first nomination for the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama. Wikipedia
With features chiseled in stone, and renowned for playing a long list of historical figures, particularly in Biblical epics, the tall, well built and ruggedly handsome Charlton Heston was one of Hollywood’s greatest leading men and remained active in front of movie cameras for over sixty years. As a Hollywood star, he appeared in 100 films over the course of 60 years. He played Moses in the epic film, The Ten Commandments (1956) , for which he received his first Golden Globe Award nomination. He also starred in Touch of Evil (1958) with Orson Welles; Ben-Hur, for which he won the Academy Award for Best Actor (1959); El Cid (1961); and Planet of the Apes (1968). He also starred in the films The Greatest Show on Earth (1952); Secret of the Incas (1954); The Big Country (1958); and The Agony and the Ecstasy (1965). A supporter of Democratic politicians and civil rights in the 1960s, Heston later became a Republican, founding a conservative political action committee and supporting Ronald Reagan. Heston’s most famous role in politics came as the five-term president of the National Rifle Association, from 1998 to 2003.
Heston was born John Charles Carter on October 4, 1923, in No Man’s Land, Illinois, to Lila (Charlton) and Russell Whitford Carter, who operated a sawmill. He had English and Scottish ancestry, with recent Canadian forebears.
Heston made his feature film debut as the lead character in a 16mm production of Peer Gynt (1941), based on the Henrik Ibsen play. In 1944, Heston enlisted in the United States Army Air Forces. He served for two years as a radio operator and aerial gunner aboard a B-25 Mitchell stationed in the Alaskan Aleutian Islands with the 77th Bombardment Squadron of the Eleventh Air Force. He reached the rank of Staff Sergeant. Heston married Northwestern University student Lydia Marie Clarke, who was six months his senior. That same year he joined the military.
Heston played ‘Marc Antony’ in Julius Caesar (1950), and firmly stamped himself as genuine leading man material with his performance as circus manager ‘Brad Braden’ in the Cecil B. DeMille spectacular The Greatest Show on Earth (1952), also starring James Stewart and Cornel Wilde. The now very popular actor remained perpetually busy during the 1950s, both on TV and on the silver screen with audience pleasing performances in the steamy thriller The Naked Jungle (1954), as a treasure hunter in Secret of the Incas (1954) and another barn storming performance for Cecil B. DeMille as “Moses” in the blockbuster The Ten Commandments (1956).
Heston delivered further dynamic performances in the oily film noir thriller Touch of Evil (1958), and then alongside Gregory Peck in the western The Big Country (1958) before scoring the role for which he is arguably best known, that of the wronged Jewish prince who seeks his freedom and revenge in the William Wyler directed Ben-Hur (1959). This mammoth Biblical epic running in excess of three and a half hours became the standard by which other large scale productions would be judged, and it’s superb cast also including Stephen Boyd as the villainous “Massala”, English actor Jack Hawkins as the Roman officer “Quintus Arrius”, and Australian actor Frank Thring as “Pontius Pilate”, all contributed wonderful performances. Never one to rest on his laurels, steely Heston remained the preferred choice of directors to lead the cast in major historical productions and during the 1960s he starred as Spanish legend “Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar” in El Cid (1961), as a US soldier battling hostile Chinese boxers during 55 Days at Peking (1963), played the ill-fated “John the Baptist” in The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965), the masterful painter “Michelangelo” battling Pope Julius II in The Agony and the Ecstasy (1965), and an English general in Khartoum (1966). In 1968, Heston filmed the unusual western Will Penny (1967) about an aging and lonely cowboy befriending a lost woman and her son, which Heston has often referred to as his favorite piece of work on screen. Interestingly, Heston was on the verge of acquiring an entirely new league of fans due to his appearance in four very topical science fiction films (all based on popular novels) painting bleak future’s for mankind.
In 1968, Heston starred as time traveling astronaut “George Taylor”, in the terrific Planet of the Apes (1968) with it’s now legendary conclusion as Heston realizes the true horror of his destination. He returned to reprise the role, albeit primarily as a cameo, alongside fellow astronaut James Franciscus in the slightly inferior sequel Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970). Next up, Heston again found himself facing the apocalypse in The Omega Man (1971) as the survivor of a germ plague that has wiped out humanity leaving only bands of psychotic lunatics roaming the cities who seek to kill the uninfected Heston. And fourthly, taking its inspiration from the Harry Harrison novel “Make Room!, Make Room!”, Heston starred alongside screen legend Edward G. Robinson and Chuck Connors in Soylent Green (1973). During the remainder of the 1970s, Heston appeared in two very popular “disaster movies” contributing lead roles in the far fetched Airport 1975 (1974), plus in the star laden Earthquake (1974), filmed in “Sensoround” (low bass speakers were installed in selected theaters to simulate the earthquake rumblings on screen to movie audiences).
He played an evil Cardinal in the lively The Four Musketeers: Milady’s Revenge (1974), a mythical US naval officer in the recreation of Midway (1976), also filmed in “Sensoround”, an LA cop trying to stop a sniper in Two-Minute Warning (1976) and another US naval officer in the submarine thriller Gray Lady Down (1978). Heston appeared in numerous episodes of the high rating TV series Dynasty (1981) and The Colbys (1985), before moving onto a mixed bag of projects including TV adaptations of Treasure Island (1990) and A Man for All Seasons (1988), hosting two episodes of the comedy show, Saturday Night Live (1975), starring as the “Good Actor” bringing love struck Mike Myers to tears in Wayne’s World 2 (1993), and as the eye patch wearing boss of intelligence agent Arnold Schwarzenegger in True Lies (1994). He also narrated numerous TV specials and lent his vocal talents to the animated movie Hercules (1997), the family comedy Cats & Dogs (2001) and an animated version of Ben Hur (2003). Heston made an uncredited appearance in the inferior remake of Planet of the Apes (2001), and his last film appearance to date was in the Holocaust themed drama of My Father (2003).
Heston narrated for highly classified military and Department of Energy instructional films, particularly relating to nuclear weapons, and “for six years Heston [held] the nation’s highest security clearance” or Q clearance.” The Q clearance is similar to a DoD or Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) clearance of Top Secret.
Heston was married to Lydia Marie Clark Heston since March 1944, and they have two children. His highly entertaining autobiography was released in 1995, titled appropriately enough “Into The Arena”. Although often criticized for his strong conservative beliefs and involvement with the NRA, Heston was a strong advocate for civil right many years before it became fashionable, and was a recipient of the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, plus the Kennedy Center Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2002, he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, and did appear in a film or TV production after 2003. He died in April 2008. Truly, Charlton Heston is one of the legendary figures of US cinema.
– IMDb Mini Biography By: Ray Hamel, firehouse44, and Pedro Borges
TM & © Warner Bros. (1959)
Cast: Charlton Heston, Stephen Boyd, Hugh Griffith, Frank Thring
Director: William Wyler
Producers: Sam Zimbalist, Sol C. Siegel, Joseph Vogel, William Wyler
Screenwriters: Lew Wallace, Karl Tunberg, Gore Vidal, Maxwell Anderson, Christopher Fry, S.N. Behrman
WE&P by: EZorrilla