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Monday, August 15, 2016

ANOTHER Ben-Hur Movie!

Silent movie version. Public Domain.

I stumbled across the trailer when I was reading a newspaper article on-line - about Donald Trump, of all things! It was the advertising added to the video footage about Trump.

I never thought it could be done, considering how expensive the first one was, but ... I guess that in this day and age, you can do an awful lot with CGI, making it less expensive.

The movie hasn't had much of a rating in IMDB, but how can I let it go, when it comes out?

I've seen the original, made in 1907, one day in the city. It was Easter and they showed the 1907 version, the 1925 version and the chariot race from the Charlton Heston version.

The original movie was only ten minutes long. I vaguely recall, it had a cast of dozens and ended with the (two-chariot) chariot race. It's actually played a part in history by having gotten its makers into trouble for copyright breach,  so they created a law to make sure it didn't happen again.

And it was hilarious, by our standards. I don't know if it's on YouTube, but worth looking.

The 1925 version, with Ramon Navarro, was actually not bad. I think it went for about two hours, quite impressive for that day and age.

Francis X Bushman played Messala. I read somewhere that he went for advice to Will S Hart, who'd played the role in the Broadway play(and who later became a well-known cowboy star in silent movies). Hart advised him to take the role, saying something along the lines of, "It's the best part in the play! They made me play Ben-Hur once and it made me sick - I couldn't wait to get back to playing Messala again!"

Carmel Myers, who played the vamp, Iras the Egyptian(left out of the later movie) was a rabbi's daughter. Iras is the daughter of Balthasar, one of the Three Wise Men. He has come back looking for the child he once gave presents in that stable, and brought his daughter with him. She falls in love with Messala, abandons her Dad and later regrets her choice.

I remember that from the book, which I read as a child, because it had all that spectacle in it and lots of horses and I was, after all, a little girl longing for a pony... In the novel, as I recall, Ben-Hur's chariot team were bays, not white. But white does look more spectacular in a film - wonder what they'll do in this version? From the looks of the trailer they may be white again, or maybe dapple-grey?

The 1950s version was amazingly beautiful to watch, and that chariot race was breathtaking. It's also the version where, so we heard in The Celluloid Closet, Stephen Boyd, the Irish actor playing Messala, asked how he should handle the scene where he and Ben-Hur first meet again after all those years and was told, "Play it like he's your lover - but don't tell Chuck!"

Is it apocryphal? I don't know, but it makes a good story, and it was told in the film by one of the script-writers. And every time I've watched that scene again, I can't help noticing it - Stephen Boyd really does look as if he's gazing at his lover!

The thing is, I had been enjoying it for the spectacle and for the distinguished cast members such as Jack Hawkins and Frank Thring. Sorry, I know he got an Oscar for the lead role, but Charlton Heston, in my opinion, was very pretty, but not the best actor in the world. His Moses was just as awful. Just my personal opinion, so please, any Heston fans out there, don't kill me! But oh, he was pretty! In all fairness, the lines he got were not that good; he actually did well in Planet Of The Apes, where he had a decent script. And yes, he did make quite a good Michelangelo in The Agony And The Ecstasy, although I'm remembering it from a long time ago.

I went to see the movie one day at the wonderful Astor Cinema, which has the biggest screen in Victoria, and took along my friend Bart, a Catholic, who had never seen it before. Afterwards, discussing it with him, I realised that in his eyes, it was just a Sunday school lesson, not one of the great epics of cinema history.

It hasn't had quite the same feel for me ever since.

The novel was indeed a Sunday school story.  I think it could probably do with some pruning, beginning with the opening scene, where the shepherds see a great light, etc. and the Wise Men come along looking for that stable. It began with a long description of the territory where the shepherds were watching their flocks by night, then the shepherds themselves, then the Wise Men's camels...

It was also interesting in that it's the first time I read the word "voluptuous" applied to a young man, Ben-Hur as a teenager (oh, yes, in the novel he and Messala were teenagers in the early chapters). I asked my English teacher the meaning of the word and she described it as being big, perhaps a little bit too big, ie overweight. So I tend to snicker when slush stories I read describe a character as being "slim but voluptuous."

Nevertheless, it does have a lot of dramatic set pieces. There's the fight at sea. The chariot race. The drama of the Crucifixion. Even reading it, I could almost hear the music, see the crowds...

Hey, I was a child who loved ancient history - anything to read a historical novel!

Just saying, by the way, there weren't any galley slaves in ancient Rome - as I discovered in my reading. The rowers were free sailors, though one of the lower ranks in the Roman navy.

So much for one of the most famous scenes in Ben-Hur!

Ah, well, I guess I'll go see the new one anyway. Morgan Freeman plays Sheik Ilderim and I gather he gets to do a lot more than Hugh Griffith did in the Heston version, though guess what? He got Best Supporting Actor in the Oscars that year and he was delightful in the role. But if Morgan Freeman is playing it, it's going to be dignified, as the trailer seems to suggest. Anything with Morgan Freeman!

I'll see if I can get someone other than Bart to come along, unless, as usual, he's read some interesting things about it. I couldn't put him through another Sunday school story.

Anyone else thinking of going?


Unknown said...

I'm intending on seeing the new Ben Hur :)

Sue Bursztynski said...

Good, let's see it together! I might consider doing Gold Class for this one.

Pamela said...

I'm really curious about the new version! I've not seen the oldest one, but have seen the Charlton Heston version many times. I had (have?) such a crush on Stephen Boyd. I've not read the novel but I did know about the Christian aspect of it before I saw the film. However, I always felt like the ending Crucifixion scene felt a bit tacked on. It may just have to do with the tone of the movie, which is like EPIC SHIRTLESSNESS and then you have "and also, Jesus."

Also, I'll pretty much watch Morgan Freeman in anything.

Sue Bursztynski said...

Morgan Freeman is playing the role played by Hugh Griffith in the Stephen Boyd/Charlton Heston version, only they're not making it comic relief this time. From the look if the trailers, he's a sort of Obi-Wan Wise Mentor type, probably more suited to Morgan Freeman. ;-)

Hmm, so it was the shirtlessness, eh? Well, Heston looked pretty good without his shirt, I have to agree. :-) But again, from what I have seen and read, Jesus actually gets some lines in this version and they're not from the NT. When he's giving poor Judah that water and the young man gasps his thanks, he says, "You'd do the same." And other lines...