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Ben-Hur (1959)



212 minutes

Adventure / AFI Top 100 / Biography / Classics / Drama / Epic / History / Religious

Directed by William Wyler


Charlton Heston as Judah Ben-Hur
Stephen Boyd as Messala
Martha Scott as Miriam
Cathy O'Donnell as Tirzah Bat-Hur
Haya Harareet as Esther Bat-Simonides
Sam Jaffe as Simonides
Jack Hawkins as Quintus Arrius
Terence Longdon as Drusus
Hugh Griffith as Sheik Ilderim
Frank Thring as Pontius Pilate
Claude Heater as Jesus
Marina Berti as Flavia
Jose Greci as Mary
Laurence Payne as Joseph
Richard Hale as Gaspar
John Le Mesurier as Chariot Race Surgeon
Reginald Lal Singh as Melchior
Michael Dugan as a seaman
Finlay Currie as Balthasar and Narrator

Winner of eleven Academy Awards, this film tells the conventional story of the Nativity of Jesus Christ. It is set in AD 26, where Prince Judah Ben-Hur is a rich vendor in Jerusalem. Messala, his friend from childhood returns as the new commanding officer of the Roman fortification. They are thrilled to be back in each other’s live, but politics separate them. Messala is devoted to Rome and believes in its domineering strength, whereas Ben-Hur is dedicated to his religion and the independence of the Jewish people. Messala wants Ben-Hur to reveal any names that scrutinize the Roman government. Ben-Hur refuses to name any names, yet advices his people to not rebel.

Ben-Hur, along with his mother and sister help their trustworthy slave Zaimonides and his daughter Esther, who is in line to get married. As a wedding present, Ben-Hur gives Esther her independence and discovers their love for one another.

While a large procession for the new governor of Judea, Valerius Gratus is going on, a tile comes down from Ben-Hur’s house, scaring the governor’s horse, causing to overthrow Gratus, almost killing him. Messala sentences Ben-Hur, his mother, and sister to prison, even though he knows it was all an accident. He does this to dishearten the obstinate Jewish people, for he knows they will be surprised at him for sending someone like Ben-Hur to prison. Ben-Hur promises he will come back and has revenge on his mind. During his trip to sea, he is not given water and faints. A carpenter sees this and provides him with water. This is Jesus, for his face is hidden and he gives him the ammunition to keep going.

Ben-Hur is finally enlisted to the head of Consul Quintus Arrius after serving three years as a gallery slave. He is ordered to extinguish a vessel of Macedonian pirates. The commander takes notice of his control and is open to teach him the ways of a gladiator . Ben-Hur rejects his offer, acknowledging that God will be the only one to help him.

Arrius declares the rowers to be chained, yet Ben-Hur to be free as he gets ready to fight. The fight does not go well for them, for the pirates sink their ship. Since Ben-Hur is unchained, he saves Arrius’s life and stops him from killing himself. Arrius is commended with the Roman vessel’s success, and in response asks Tiberius Julius Caesar to free Ben-Hur. He then adopts him as a son, teaching him the ways of Roman life. Ben-Hur becomes a winning charioteer, yet misses his family and country.

Ben-Hur encounters Balthasar in Judea and Arab sheik Ilderim, owner of four beautiful white Arabian horses. He has Ben-Hur meet his children and requests for him to compete in Ilderim’s quadriga in front of Pontius Pilate, the new Judean governor. Ben-Hur rejects his offer, but thinks about it once he discovers Messala will be in the competition. Ilderim tells him, "There is no law in the arena. Many are killed."

Ben-Hur discovers that Esther never got married and is still in love with him. He decides to pay Messala a visit to propose he let his mother and sister free and forget about his deception. Yet when the Romans realize his mother and sister have been infected with leprosy, they ask Esther to hide their state and she informs him they have passed away.

Infuriated with this news, he decides to fight against Messala, defeating him at the end. At the end of the film he is reunited with his mother and sister, who are saved by a miracle. He sees the Crucifixion with his own eyes and is thankful for everything falling into place the way it was supposed to.      

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