The numbers speak volumes: 100,000 costumes, 8,000 extras, 300 sets and a staggering budget in its day the largest in movie history. Ben-Hur's creators made it the best, the greatest Biblical-era epic ever. Charlton Heston brings a muscular physical and moral presence to the role of Judah Ben-Hur, a Jewish nobleman in Palestine whose heroic odyssey includes enslavement by the Romans, a bold escape from an embattled slave gallery, vengeance against his tormentors with Jesus Christ. Heston's charismatic performance brought him the Best Actor Oscar; the winner as 1959's Best Picture with the legendary William Wyler earning his third Best Director trophy, the film won a total 11 Academy Awards - a tally unequaled until 1977's Titanic set sail.
Masterfully constructed and magnificently filmed account of the friendship which turned to enmity between a Palestinian Jewish noble and his Roman overlord during the time of Christ. Charlton Heston, with his strong features and grave delivery, is the perfect hero and Stephen Boyd, handsome, sly and duplicitous, is the ideal villain. The scenes in which Jesus appears, although you never see his face, are done with surprising sensitivity. The celebrated chariot race, without the aid of CGI of course, remains one of the most thrilling episodes in all cinema.
Let's get this straight - the chariot race scene towards the end is one of the absolute classic sequences in all of cinema history. Worth watching just for that. And Heston brings his mighty presence to the film and gets his Oscar deservingly. But this is at least 45mins too long, and the "ooh look, it's Jesus!" finale almost ruins the film. I understand it's adaptation of a novel, and that novel had a subtitle of "A tale of the Christ" - so the Jesus story in the background in and out is kinda the whole point of the narrative (and a clear inspiration for Monty Python's Life of Brian, too!). But to be honest, it could have completely been left out and this still would have been a great story of a proud man, sold into slavery and rising again to have his revenge on the Roman who wronged him (Gladiator, anyone?).