Predictable but magnificent and satisfying. In remaking the silent 1927 classic, which starred Ramon Novarro and Francis X. Bushman, quality-conscious director Wyler shines the old chestnut up. Highlights include the galley ship and climatic chariot race with Heston--in a tour de force
performance--besieged by the sexy but evil Boyd. (This sequence was actually helmed by action expert Andrew Marton.) Even with the western overtones, the actors make stunning rivals. Majesty is in almost every frame of this film thanks to Wyler, who tells the story in human, understated terms.
Everything about BEN HUR was enormous; more than 300 sets were employed, covering more than 340 acres. The arena housing the chariot race consumed 18 acres, the largest single set in film history. The five-story stands were packed with 8,000 extras, and 40,000 tons of sand were taken from beaches
to make the track. Scores of Yugoslavian horses were imported for the spectacular 20-minute race, which took three months to shoot. More than 1000 workers labored for a year to build the colossal arena. Rome's Cinecitta Studios were gutted of more than a million props, and sculptors made more than
200 giant statues. Also unique were the wide-screen cameras employed, 65 millimeters wide, to achieve sharp, deep focus. MGM lavished about $12,500,000 on this stupendous production, which brought them near bankruptcy, but the returns were staggering: a gross of $40 million.
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