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The 11-Oscar Mistake — 16 Comments

  1. Very interesting, Jim. I'm one of those that thinks "Ben-Hur" is one of the greatest movies ever made, and I find myself engrossed every minute of its almost four hour running time. Looking forward to watching the new Blu-Ray in my friend's home theater.

    Being a huge Miklos Rozsa fan, and since I think this is his masterpiece, and one of the great symphonic achievements of the 20th century, maybe it goes down smoother for me than you.

    After the chariot race, my favorite scene is the one in the desert when Christ gives Ben-Hur the water, to the consternation of the Roman centurion. It's a beautifully acted – and yes, scored -scene.

    I do agree with you about the model ships and how much better the Lydeckers could have done it. Aren't the models in "Sink the Bismarck" just beautiful to look at?

    For me the film deserved its 11 Oscars, but one. Hugh Griffith for Supporting Actor? No, I would have given it to George C. Scott for "Anatomy of a Murder." I don't get that award at all. Never have and never will.

    I also don't mind Haya Hareet that much, but fortunately she's not in the movie that much. I do remember her in a Stewart Granger spy flick called "The Secret Partner" but can't remember if she made an impression there either.

    Despite my disagreeing with you, I did enjoy your piece immensely. It's always interesting to read and hear conflicting opinions about favorite films.

    I'm in the same position about "The Dark Knight" which for me may be the most overrated movie ever made. I don't begin to undestand the acclaim that movie received. I had that same sinking feeling watching that you did watching "Ben-Hur" all those years ago.

  2. Kevin, we can agree to disagree about Ben-Hur (I much prefer the silent version), but we're of one mind on Dark Knight; don't get it and never have. (We may both be asking for trouble on that; Dark Knight has an emotional following that Ben-Hur can only envy.)

    I agree too about the performance of the actor playing the Roman soldier when Ben-Hur's slave gang stops in Nazareth (I believe the man's name was Noel Sheldon). In fact, I'd venture to suggest that he gives one of the best performances in the picture.

  3. Jim, I didn't have the critical eye you had already developed when I was a child and first viewed "Ben-Hur" – I was swept up into it – though I don't remember anything about the experience other than that the theater was packed and that I had some sort of – spiritual? – dream later that night. However, when I saw the movie again years later on TV I was underwhelmed. I doubt that I've watched it all the way through since, so there isn't anything I can add or debate on the subject of its merit or Oscar-worthiness.

    I enjoyed "accompanying you" to the theater and reliving your youthful viewing experience. And your shot-by-shot tale of Joe Canutt's chariot near-disaster is spellbinding. You present a very interesting and compelling take on why "Ben-Hur" may have been so popular and award-winning…

  4. Thanks, Eve; I'm glad you enjoyed going back in time with me to the lost, lamented Alhambra to see the still-with-us Ben-Hur. I tried to recreate the experience for those who may disagree with other parts of my post.

  5. Jim, your BEN-HUR post "The 11-Oscar Mistake" was a fascinating read! I enjoyed your "The Emperor has no clothes" approach, as well as your scene-by-scene approach to Yakima and Joe Canutt's choreographing of the chariot race, the one scene that was unquestionably worth the price of roadshow admission prices! 🙂 Amazing how that one scene (and the drama surrounding how it came to be) really brought BEN-HUR to life. Your description of seeing BEN-HUR in a mammoth movie palace with a packed house brought me back to the days when I was a kid and going to a movie was truly an event — back when TV and TiVO weren't readily-available options! 🙂 And for the record, I'm a huge fan of Miklos Rosza's music. Great article, Jim!

  6. The Cannutts were full-goose-bozo crazy, but unlike so many patently insane people, they found a way to turn a profit on it.

    The chariot race is certainly the dramatic high point of the film, and the bit that everyone talked about. Twas ever thus; in every production of the story, the most time was spent in getting the race right. IIRC, the stage production had live horses on stage, running on a treadmill. So like a real chariot race, theatergoers were presented with a very real chance of seeing someone reduced to hamburger and kindling right in front of them.

    I do not think it's nearly as poor a film as you do, and people who sit down with a "Get to the effing monkey" (After the song by Tripod about Peter Jackson's King Kong) mindset miss out on one heck of a film.

    One thing that a great deal of people don't grasp is that Ben Hur is not the star of the story; Jesus is, tho he appears on screen barely at all, and does not speak. The film is not about Judah's revenge, but his conversion. If it were about revenge, the chariot race would be at the end of the film, he'd be carried off the field by his friends, his family would appear from the crowd, Massala would fall in mud, and reprise the theme song and roll the credits. Instead we get another hour or so (it seems) of him seeing Christ again, finding his family, and becoming quite a different person by the film's end.

    One of my favorite scenes is Boyd's last – he brings Judah to his bedside, just as he thinks he's won a moral victory, and says "Your family is alive, they've been alive all along, and I'm not telling you where they are.

    If they were to do a remake today, there would be more than one company exec asking "Could we take out the religious subplot? It's only dragging the film down"