Ben-Hur is a 1959 epic film directed by William Wyler, the third film version of Civil War vet Lew Wallace's 1880 novel Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ. It premiered at Loew's State Theatre in New York City on November 18, 1959. The movie's reputation as a classic is primarily based on two spectacular action sequences: the great chariot race and a Roman naval battle, along with lavish production values and strong performances. The plot of Ben Hur revolves around a Jewish prince who is betrayed and sent into slavery by a Roman friend and how he regains his freedom and comes back for revenge. However, instead he finds redemption in Christ, the theme is ultimately about being saved in the Christian sense. The film went on to win a record of eleven Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Actor (Charlton Heston as Ben Hur). This record-setting Oscars sweep has since been equaled by Titanic in 1998 and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King in 2004, but never broken.
ActorsStarring: Charlton Heston, Jack Hawkins, Haya Harareet, Stephen Boyd, Hugh Griffith, Martha Scott, Cathy O'Donnell, Frank Thring, Sam Jaffe, Ady Berber, Finlay Currie, André Morell, Terence Longdon, Lando Buzzanca, Giuliano Gemma, Marina Berti, Robert Brown, Liana Del Balzo, Enzo Fiermonte, Richard Hale, Duncan Lamont, John Le Mesurier, Ferdy Mayne, May McAvoy, Aldo Silvani, Ralph Truman, George Relph, Joe Canutt, Richard Coleman, Antonio Corevi, David Davies, Mino Doro, Michael Dugan, Franco Fantasia, José Greci, John Horsley, Howard Lang, Stevenson Lang, Tutte Lemkow, Cliff Lyons, Tiberio Mitri, Remington Olmsted, Laurence Payne, Aldo Pini, Diego Pozzetto, Stella Rho, Edwin Richfield, Hector Ross, Maxwell Shaw, Gianni Solaro, Pietro Tordi, Raimondo Van Riel, Dervis Ward, Joe Yrigoyen, Nazzareno Zamperla, Jerry Brown, Eddie Jauregui
In AD 26, Judah Ben-Hur (Charlton Heston) is a wealthy prince and merchant in Jerusalem, who lives with his mother, Miriam (Martha Scott); his sister, Tirzah (Cathy O’Donnell); their loyal slave, Simonides (Sam Jaffe) and his daughter, Esther (Haya Harareet). Esther loves Judah but is committed to another. Judah’s childhood friend, the Roman citizen Messala (Stephen Boyd), is now a tribune. After several years away from Jerusalem, Messala returns as the new commander of the Roman garrison. Messala believes in the glory of Rome and its imperial power, while Judah is devoted to his faith and the freedom of the Jewish people. This difference causes tension between the friends, and results in their split after Messala issues an ultimatum to Judah.
During the parade for the new governor of Judea, Valerius Gratus, loose tiles fall from the roof of Judah’s house. Gratus is thrown from his spooked horse and nearly killed. Although Messala knows this was an accident, he condemns Judah to the galleys and imprisons Miriam and Tirzah. By punishing a known friend and prominent citizen, he hopes to intimidate the Jewish populace. Judah swears to take revenge.
After three years as a galley slave, Judah is assigned to the flagship of the Roman Consul Quintus Arrius (Jack Hawkins), who has been charged with destroying a fleet of Macedonian pirates. Arrius admires Judah’s determination and self-discipline and offers to train him as a gladiator or charioteer. Judah declines the offer, declaring that God will aid him in his quest for vengeance. When the Roman fleet encounters the Macedonians, Arrius orders all the rowers except Judah to be chained to their oars. Arrius’ galley is rammed and sunk, but Judah unchains the other rowers, and rescues Arrius. In despair, Arrius wrongly believes the battle ended in defeat and attempts to atone in the Roman way by “falling on his sword”, but Judah stops him. They are rescued, and Arrius is credited with the Roman fleet’s victory.
Arrius successfully petitions Emperor Tiberius (George Relph) to free Judah, and adopts him as his son. Another year passes. Wealthy again, Judah learns Roman ways and becomes a champion charioteer, but still longs for his family and homeland.
Judah returns to Judea. Along the way, he meets Balthasar (Finlay Currie) and an Arab, Sheik Ilderim (Hugh Griffith). The sheik has heard of Judah’s prowess as a charioteer, and asks him to drive his quadriga in a race before the new Judean governor Pontius Pilate (Frank Thring). Judah declines, even after he learns that Messala will also compete.
Judah returns to his home in Jerusalem. He meets Esther, and learns her arranged marriage did not occur and that she is still in love with him. He visits Messala and demands his mother and sister’s freedom. The Romans discover that Miriam and Tirzah contracted leprosy in prison, and expel them from the city. The women beg Esther to conceal their condition from Judah so that he may remember them as they were before, so she tells him that they died. It is then that he changes his mind and decides to seek vengeance on Messala by competing against him in the chariot race…