Before I started this mission of seeing all the Best Picture winners, I had never even heard of William Wyler. But the work this man has done on The Best Years Of Our Lives, Mrs Miniver, and especially Ben-Hur, Wyler has become arguably my favorite director. Ben-Hur was, at the time, the most successful film at the oscars, winning eleven awards, a feat only matched by Titanic and Return Of The King many years later. Usually I’m not a big fan of long films, but with Wyler at the helm, I was blown away by Ben-Hur. It. Is. A. Masterpiece.
Judah Ben Hur (Charlton Heston) is a Jewish Prince visiting an old Roman friend named Messala (Stephen Boyd). Although they were friends when they were young, the two men let their spite get in the way, and Messala sentences Judah to slavery for an accidental crime. And so begins an intense, epic journey that includes a Valley of Lepers, a battle at sea, a fast-paced chariot race, and an encounter with Jesus Christ.
I first heard of Ben-Hur from this review, and a majority of what Matt Guion talks about, I agree with. In particular, I loved the way that Jesus is portrayed, and the fact that the visuals tell the story. However, I fell in love with this movie mainly because it is the textbook definition of the word ‘epic’. You can keep your Gone With The Wind, This is the better film in my personal opinion. The writing is great, the sets are massive, the effects are unbelievable, and the editing goes by in as snap.
The acting, particularly from Heston is well done, but the look and feel of the movie is what really sells it. Audiences in 1959 had never seen a film this big, this powerful, this epic. The film’s famous chariot sequence is a spectacle to behold, and the film is a true wonder. I’d say it’s definitely in the top three, along with All About Eve and Casablanca. It may take me a while to figure out which film is the best, but one thing’s for sure, this is an absolute must see.