Ben-Hur (1959)

G   |    |  Adventure, Drama, History

Ben-Hur (1959) Poster

When a Jewish prince is betrayed and sent into slavery by a Roman friend, he regains his freedom and comes back for revenge.

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  • Charlton Heston and Haya Harareet in Ben-Hur (1959)
  • Charlton Heston in Ben-Hur (1959)
  • Charlton Heston and Stephen Boyd in Ben-Hur (1959)
  • Cathy O'Donnell in Ben-Hur (1959)
  • Charlton Heston and Haya Harareet in Ben-Hur (1959)
  • Charlton Heston in Ben-Hur (1959)

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Did You Know?


In nearly all the main sources the story of the scriptwriting for this movie is told from one of two viewpoints: that of director William Wyler and star Charlton Heston, or that of novelist Gore Vidal. The views of producer Sam Zimbalist, who died in mid-production before the controversy over the screenplay erupted, have been filtered through the views of Wyler, Heston and Vidal in most of the published sources (no memoirs of Zimbalist himself have been published). However, there is another viewpoint based on extensive reading of the sources. Zimbalist had the idea of remaking "Ben-Hur" in the mid-'50s. This remake (the same story had been made twice before as a silent film) was a gamble to rescue MGM from near bankruptcy. Zimbalist engaged screenwriter Karl Tunberg to write the script for the new "Ben-Hur" after Tunberg's success with MGM's historical epic Beau Brummell (1954). Tunberg suggested Sidney Franklin to direct, but Zimbalist insisted on Wyler. Wyler disliked Tunberg's script and brought in other writers during the shooting, including Vidal (who later claimed a large contribution, but this recollection was not supported by the memoirs of Heston or Wyler), Maxwell Anderson, S.N. Behrman and Christopher Fry. When rough cuts were viewed by MGM executives in late 1958, all agreed that many of the scenes were unsatisfactory. At this point Tunberg, despite being primarily involved in Count Your Blessings (1959), was engaged to rewrite Wyler's changed material and compose some added scenes, all of which went into the final version. Many of these changes amounted to restoring what had been in place before Wyler's interventions in the script while on the set. This final script was actually the basis of the film released in theaters. However, Wyler still demanded that Fry get credit for the work he had done on the set. The Screen Writer's Guild conducted a formal arbitration, using no oral testimonies but only experienced writers as judges, each studying all the drafts of the script in the ignorance of the others. These judges ruled unanimously that the final script was essentially Tunberg's work. Their process and rationale for this decision was published in "The Hollywood Reporter" on Friday, November 20, 1959 (p. 5). A careful reading of the Guild's published statement will corroborate the events mentioned above. Wyler, infuriated by this rebuff, used his great influence in Hollywood (helped by Heston) to conduct a publicity campaign against Tunberg. The campaign had its effect--"Best Screenplay" was the only category in which "Ben-Hur" was nominated for an Academy Award, but did not receive it.


Judah Ben-Hur: Why did you tell me they were dead?
Esther: It was what they wanted. Judah, I must not betray this faith. Will you do this for them?
Judah Ben-Hur: Not to see them?
Esther: They are coming... Judah! Judah, love them in the way they most need to be loved: not to look at them! ...
Miriam: ...


Ben-Hur presents Pilate with Arrius's ring, to be returned to Rome. Pilate moves so that he is always facing the camera as the angle reverses.

Crazy Credits

The Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer lion is shown in a still-frame to appear looking peaceful at the beginning rather than roaring.

Alternate Versions

The first DVD release had an "Intermission" title card printed in a different font from the one used in the theatrical film and on the second, 4-disc DVD release.


Fanfare To Prelude / Prelude / Marcia Romana
Composed and Conducted by
Miklós Rózsa


Plot Summary

Synopsis (WARNING: Spoilers)


Adventure | Drama | History

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