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Directed by: William Wyler
Starring: Charlton Heston, Jack Hawkins, Stephen Boyd, Hugh Griffith
Ben-Hur ranked # 72 on the American Film Institute's Top 100 American Films list.
Ben-Hur is a 1959 film directed by William Wyler, and is the most popular live-action film version of Lew Wallace's novel, Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1880). It stars Charlton Heston as Judah Ben-Hur and Stephen Boyd as Messala. It premiered at Loews Theater in New York City on November 18, 1959. It went on to win eleven Academy Awards, including best picture for 1959, a feat equaled only by Titanic (1997) and The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (2003).
Ben-Hur was an extremely expensive production, requiring 300 sets scattered over 340 acres. Its production was a gamble made by MGM to save itself from bankruptcy at $15 million; the gamble paid off when it earned a whopping total (in its time) of $75 million.
Even by current standards, the chariot race in Ben-Hur is considered to be one of the most spectacular action sequences ever filmed. Filmed long before the advent of computer-generated effects, it took over three months to complete, using 8000 extras on the largest film set ever built, some 18 acres. The action captured by cinematographer Robert Surtees and the MGM Camera 65 process made the chariot race a touchstone of modern cinema.
Charlton Heston spent four weeks learning how to drive a chariot, where Stephen Boyd had to learn in just two weeks, due to late casting.
To give the scene more impact and realism, three lifelike dummies were placed at key points in the race to give the appearance of men being run over by the chariots. Most notable is the stand-in dummy for Stephen Boyd's Messala that gets tangled up under the horses for about 45 seconds getting battered by the hoofs of the horses. This resulted in one of the most grisly death scenes in motion pictures at this time and shocked audiences.
Top 100 Greatest Films - AFI 100 - DVDs
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