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A Classic Film: Ben Hur

Updated on March 19, 2012

The Movie

This make of the movie “Ben Hur” was released in 1959 and directed by William Wyler. It starred Charlton Heston, Jack Hawkins, Haya Harareet, Stephen Boyd, Hugh Griffith, Martha Scott, Cathy O’Donnell, and Sam Jaffe. The movie was filmed on location in Italy. It was based on a novel written by Lew Wallace in 1880. The novel itself was entitled “Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ”, and was turned into a play and later into a movie several times. The screenplay for this particular filming was done by Karl Tunberg. The 1959 filming has become the most notable over the years.

The story is basically about a Jewish prince who when reunited with a Roman boyhood friend and friend of his family finds himself forced to choose between that friendship and the safety and well-being of his people. As a result of his choice, and being betrayed by his friend, who upon his return to their home in Judea is made a garrison commander of the legions stationed there, he finds himself facing life threatening situations with only his desire for revenge to sustain him. Fortunate friendships and circumstances, which include one or two brief encounters with Christ, bring him to reevaluate his wish for revenge as they bring him finally to a face to face encounter with his boyhood friend.



This movie is categorized as somewhat of an action/adventure film. It views, however, like something of a drama. Being the kind of movie that it is, however, and given the trends for films of the time, I would call it an excellent candidate for the “traditional family movie” category, particularly appropriate for seasons like Easter or Christmas. However, in spite of the appearance of Christ at a couple of points in the film, I would not classify this as a “religious” film. As far as I’m concerned “overtones does not a religious movie make”. Also, this movie has that “great epic” feel that a lot of movies of this kind that were made around the same time often have. For those who enjoy big scene sequences that often require special effects (being what they were during the late 50’s and 60’s), like the galley sequences, and big budget sets, and locations with thousands of extras, like Judah Ben Hur’s visit to Rome and the ever-famous chariot race, there’s more than enough to earn the classification of action/adventure film.

All that being said, I think this film would best be recommended for those with a taste for vintage film making, or what I would call “classic” tales of adventure and revenge. There’s also a good time to be had for those who just find a simple enjoyment and nostalgia in watching vintage classic films (particularly the “old heads” like myself). Now, for those who are staunchly accustomed to film making of the present, I’d have a hard time recommending this film. Those who’ve spoken to me about similar films find it hard to ignore the differences in the filming and special effects technology, to say nothing of things like the writing and cinematography. If someone were to ask me, I would say, “vintage movie fans only”.


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