Ben-Hur is a 1959 American religious epic film directed by William Wyler, produced by Sam Zimbalist, and starring Charlton Heston as the title character. A remake of the 1925 silent film with a similar title, it was adapted from Lew Wallace's 1880 novel Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ. The screenplay is credited to Karl Tunberg, but includes contributions from Maxwell Anderson, S. N. Behrman, Gore Vidal, and Christopher Fry.
Ben-Hur had the largest budget ($15.175 million), as well as the largest sets built, of any film produced at the time. Costume designer Elizabeth Haffenden oversaw a staff of 100 wardrobe fabricators to make the costumes, and a workshop employing 200 artists and workmen provided the hundreds of friezes and statues needed in the film. Filming commenced on May 18, 1958, and wrapped on January 7, 1959, with shooting lasting for 12 to 14 hours a day and six days a week. Pre-production began in Italy at Cinecittà around October 1957, and post-production took six months. Under cinematographer Robert L. Surtees, executives at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer made the decision to produce the film in a widescreen format. Over 200 camels and 2,500 horses were used in the shooting of the film, with some 10,000 extras. The sea battle was filmed using miniatures in a huge tank on the back lot at the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios in Culver City, California. The nine-minute chariot race has become one of cinema's most famous action sequences, and the score, composed and conducted by Miklós Rózsa, was at the time the longest ever composed for a film, and was highly influential on cinema for over 15 years.
In A.D. 26[b] Jerusalem, Judah Ben-Hur, a wealthy Jewish prince and merchant, lives with his mother, Miriam, and younger sister, Tirzah. The family's loyal steward, Simonides, arrives with his beautiful daughter, Esther. Judah grants Simonides' request for Esther to marry a freeman and gives Esther her freedom as a wedding gift. Apart since childhood, Judah and Esther quickly fall in love.
After years away from Jerusalem, Judah's Roman boyhood friend Messala returns as commander of the Fortress Antonia. Their joyful reunion is short-lived, however, as Messala fully embraces Rome's glory and imperial power while Judah remains devoted to his faith and the Jewish people's freedom. When Messala demands that Judah surrender potential rebels to Roman authorities, Judah refuses. He tells his family they will never see Messala again.
As the new Judea governor and his procession enter the city, loose roof tiles fall from Judah's house, spooking the governor's horse and throwing him off. Although Messala realizes it was accidental, he condemns Judah to the galleys and imprisons Miriam and Tirzah. Simonides attempts to intervene but Messala arrests him as well. Judah vows revenge upon Messala. As he and other slaves are marched to the galleys, they stop in Nazareth to water the Romans' horses. Judah begs for water, but the Roman commander refuses. Judah collapses, but is revived when a local man gives him a drink.
After three years as a galley slave, Judah is assigned to Roman Consul Quintus Arrius' flagship. Arrius notices Judah's determination and self-discipline and offers to train him as a gladiator or charioteer, which Judah refuses. When the Roman fleet encounters dangerous Macedonian pirates, Arrius orders Judah to be unchained (as a chance of survival) before the battle. The ship's hull is rammed, flooding the galley. Judah frees the other rowers, then rescues Arrius, who was thrown overboard. Clinging to wreckage and believing his fleet lost, Arrias attempts suicide, but Judah stops him. After being rescued, Arrius learns he was victorious. He later petitions Emperor Tiberius to free Judah, and adopts him as his son. While staying in Rome, Judah becomes a champion charioteer.
While returning to Judea, Judah meets Balthasar and Arab Sheik Ilderim. Seeing Judah's prowess as a charioteer, the sheik asks him to drive his four horses in a chariot race before the new governor of Judea, Pontius Pilate. Judah declines, even after learning that Messala is competing. Balthasar tells Judah he has been seeking a prophet who preaches love and forgiveness; he urges Judah to cast off his consuming hate and vengeance.
In Jerusalem, Judah returns to his abandoned house. He finds Esther, who never married, living there with her debilitated father. Simonides says that Messala imprisoned and tortured him, but he has protected Judah's fortune. Presenting himself as Quintas Arrias' son, Judah confronts Masala and demands his mother and sister be released. They are freed but have contracted leprosy in prison and are secretly expelled from the city. The women find Esther but beg her to conceal their condition from Judah, so Esther tells Judah they are dead.
Seeking revenge, Judah competes against Messala in the chariot race, driving Sheik Ilderim's horses. The sheik has goaded Messala into making an enormous wager on himself. During the race, Messala drives a chariot with blades on the wheel hubs to disable competitors. He attempts to destroy Judah's chariot, but wrecks his own instead. He is dragged behind his horses and trampled by another chariot, while Judah wins the race. Before dying, Messala cruelly tells Judah to search for his family in the Valley of the Lepers.
Judah goes to the leper colony where he encounters Esther as she brings supplies to Miriam and Tirzah. Esther persuades Judah to conceal himself from them as they would wish. The two then follow a crowd to hear what is possibly Jesus Christ's sermon on the mount.
Judah meets with Pontius Pilate and rejects his patrimony and Roman citizenship. He returns with Esther to the leper colony and reveals himself to Miriam who says that Tirzah is dying. Judah and Esther take Miriam and Tirzah to hear Christ, but the trial of Jesus has begun. As Jesus carries his cross through the streets, he collapses. Judah recognizes him as the same man who gave him water years before. As Judah witnesses Jesus' crucifixion, Miriam and Tirzah, sheltered in a cave with Esther, are miraculously cured.
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) originally announced a remake of the 1925 silent film Ben-Hur in December 1952, ostensibly as a way to spend its Italian assets.[c] Stewart Granger and Robert Taylor were reported to be in the running for the lead. Nine months later, MGM announced it would make the film in CinemaScope, with shooting beginning in 1954. In November 1953, MGM announced it had assigned producer Sam Zimbalist to the picture and hired screenwriter Karl Tunberg to write it. Sidney Franklin was scheduled to direct, with Marlon Brando intended for the lead. In September 1955, Zimbalist, who continued to claim that Tunberg's script was complete, announced that a $7 million, six- to seven- month production would begin in April 1956 in either Israel or Egypt in MGM's new 65mm widescreen process, MGM Camera 65. MGM, however, suspended production in early 1956, following Franklin's resignation.
One notable change in the film involved the opening titles. Concerned that a roaring Leo the Lion (the MGM mascot) would create the wrong mood for the sensitive and sacred nativity scene, Wyler received permission to replace the traditional logo with one in which Leo the Lion is quiet.
Lew Wallace's 1880 novel, Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ, ran to about 550 pages. Zimbalist hired a number of screenwriters to cut the story down and turn the novel into a script. According to Gore Vidal, more than 12 versions of the script had been written by various writers by the spring of 1958. Vidal himself had been asked to write a version of the script in 1957, refused, and been placed on suspension for his decision. According to Vidal, Karl Tunberg was one of the last writers to work on the script. Other sources place Tunberg's initial involvement much earlier. Tunberg cut out everything in the book after the crucifixion of Jesus, omitted the sub-plot in which Ben-Hur fakes his death and raises a Jewish army to overthrow the Romans, and altered the manner in which the leperous women are healed.[d] According to Wyler, Vidal, their biographers (see bibliography below) and the sources that follow them, Zimbalist was unhappy with Tunberg's script, considering it to be "pedestrian" and "unshootable".
The writing effort changed direction when director Sidney Franklin fell ill and was removed from the production. Zimbalist offered the project to William Wyler, who had been one of 30 assistant directors on the 1925 film, in early 1957. Wyler initially rejected it, considering the quality of the script to be "very primitive, elementary" and no better than hack work. Zimbalist showed Wyler some preliminary storyboards for the chariot race and informed him that MGM would be willing to spend up to $10 million, and as a result, Wyler began to express an interest in the picture. MGM permitted Wyler to start casting, and in April 1957, mainstream media outlets reported that Wyler was giving screen tests to Italian leading men, such as Cesare Danova.
Wyler did not formally agree to direct the film until September 1957, and MGM did not announce his hiring until January 3, 1958. Even though he still lacked a leading man, Wyler took the assignment for many reasons: He was promised a base salary of $350,000 as well as 8 percent of the gross box office (or 3 percent of the net profits, whichever was greater), and he wanted to work in Rome again (in Hollywood on the Tiber, where he had filmed Roman Holiday). His base salary was, at the time, the largest ever paid to a director for a single film. Professional competitive reasons also played a role in his decision to direct, and Wyler later admitted that he wished to outdo Cecil B. DeMille, and make a "thinking man's" Biblical epic. In later years, William Wyler would joke that it took a Jew to make a good film about Christ. 041b061a72