Pocket Review, Title Ben-Hur, Studio MGM/UA, Rating 4.0, Charlton Heston
I first saw this big screen spectacle as an eight year old, and loved it. It was full of action, more believable than most of today’s over-cooked technological wizardry (just think of the disappointing Sherlock Holmes series with Robert Downey Jr; massively ridiculous stunts and special effects, which ruined the stories and minimized the otherwise good acting).
The chariot race is still the one of the best action scenes ever, even when compared to todayâ€™s efforts; for example, the chariot race in the 4th Star Wars movie, which was a futuristic ripoff of the Ben-Hur scene done with modern CGI technology, pales in comparison.
The story takes place around the time of Christ, a story full of pathos and revenge and empire and even religion, although the movie is so much fun that the religion does not distract.
Ben-Hur is a big movie, traveling to and from Palestine via the Sinai, across the Mediterranean and Rome, and tells the story of the rulers and the ruled in the great Roman Empire, along with the story of hope and redemption that Christ offered the down-trodden. Some of the scenes are at once large in scale and intimate in character. The great chariot race, of course, is an example, but another striking instance is the sea battle fought by a Roman galley seen almost entirely from the perspective of the galley slaves, the rowers.
Two superb performances buoyed the movie: Jack Hawkins portrayal of a Roman aristocrat and Hugh Griffith’s turn as a worldly wise Arab sheik. These performance masked the oddest thing about the movie: The ordinary performances in the two largest parts. Judah Ben-Hur, the persecuted Jew, was played by Charlton Heston in his usual exaggerated and sometimes wooden fashion. His boyhood friend, a Roman officer, was played by Stephen Boyd in his usual fashion: As if he suffered from chronic hemorrhoids.
Despite that, the movie’s strengths far exceed what would ordinarily sink most movies: mediocre performances in the lead roles.