Ben Hur (1959) Film Review B

Ben Hur
DIRECTOR: William Wyler
BOTTOM LINE: It’s the big one! William Wyler’s religious epic “Ben Hur” starring Charlton Heston and Stephen Boyd as best friends who have a falling out and then must battle it out in a spectacular fashion – although some would argue that the chariot race in the 1925 Fred Niblo/Ramon Navarro silent version is superior – to Miklos Rozsa’s pounding score. If you believe Gore Vidal, it was all because of a lover’s spat. Wyler and Boyd were in on the ruse, and Boyd played his scenes that way, but Heston was not.

I persuaded the producer, Sam Zimbalist (this was an MGM film and the writer worked not with the director but the producer; later the director, in this case William Wyler, weighed in) that the only way one could justify several hours of hatred between two lads–and all those horses–was to establish, without saying so in words, an affair between them as boys; then, when reunited at picture’s start, the Roman, played by Stephen Boyd, wants to pick up where they left off and the Jew, Heston, spurns him.


The fact that two gay writers, Vidal and Christopher Fry, gave Karl Tunberg’s script its final polish (both went uncredited, with Tunberg getting sole authorship) and that Fry was at Wyler’s side through most of the filming process at Cinecitta Studios in Rome lends some credence to Vidal’s quote. But, more importantly, you feel that there is more here than just a bromance. If Wyler hadn’t yelled CUT, Heston and Boyd would have become very intimate indeed!
The final irony: of its 12 Oscar nominations, only Tunberg came away empty-handed. The Best Adapted Screenplay Award for 1959 went to Neil Paterson for adapting John Braine’s “Room at the Top.”
Adapted from the novel by Lew Wallace

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