By Travis Martin
The remake of “Ben-Hur” is about to release in theaters, releasing almost 46 after the 1959 original one. However, that film was a remake of a 1925 silent film, which was an adaption of Lew Wallace‘s 1880 novel, “Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ.“ However, it was no easy task when making the the 2nd highest-grossing film in history at the time and winning a record breaking 11 Academy Awards.
In 1951, with the success of the Christian-and-lions epic “Quo Vadis,“ Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer decided to remake “Ben-Hur” with “Quo Vadis” producer Sam Zimbalist. It was also announced that Sidney Franklin would direct and that Marlon Brando would be the star. However,The adaption of the book, which was 550 pages, proved as it was rumored that more than 12 versions of the script were written by numerous writers. Karl Tunberg was one of the last to rewrite the script, and was credited as the main scriptwriter for the film. With Zimbalist not producing a finished script and location and budget constantly changing, MGM halted production on the film in 1956.
It was only after the massive success of Cecil B. DeMille‘s “The Ten Commandments” that MGM began production again. After Franklin fell ill, Zimbalist hired William Wyler as the director for the film, even going so far that MGM began pre-production before Wyler confirmed his decision.
Casting then began for the film. While Brando was considered once more, along with Burt Lancaster, Paul Newman, Rock Hudson, and Leslie Neilson. Ultimately, the role of Judah Ben-Hur went to Charlton Heston. Kirk Douglas, who lost the role to Heston, was instead considered for the role of main villain Messala, but turned it down. That role would go to Stephen Boyd, with newcomer Haya Harateet as Judah’s love interest Esther. Finish the cast is Hugh Griffith as Sheik Ilderim and Jack Hawkins as Quintus Arrius. The director also made sure to cast British actors as the Romans and Americans as commoners to show the social divide between classes.
Filming began in Italy’s Cinecittà on October 1957, along with filming in Rome and in Israel. Wyler, who had previously directed “The Big Country,” had to give post-production direction to his editor Robert Swink to make decisions on the final cut. Besides problems Wyler had with Heston’s performance and the work hours of actors and extras, the shoot went over budget. Meanwhile, the famed chariot race of the film was actually directed by Andrew Marton and Yakima Canutt instead of Wyler, and it took almost a ear to plan out the scene. January 7, 1959 was the date that principle photography ended.
Editing began after principle photography had finished, with John D. Dunning the editor of the film. According to him, the very first cut was aroud 4 and a half hours long, and the time Wyler wanted was 3 and a half hours. The most difficult scenes involved Jesus Christ (uncredited opera singer Claude Heater), where there was no dialogue. Miklós Rózsa scored the music for the film.
Despite these problems, “Ben-Hur” released on November 18, 1959 to both critical and financial acclaim. Despite releasing with an overpriced $15.175 million, the film was a hit with the audience at a $146.9 million earn. The film would go on to earn 11 Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Director.
The reboot of the film now stars Jack Huston, Toby Kebbell, Morgan Freeman, Nazanin Boniadi, and Rodrigo Santoro. The new “Ben-Hur” will come out on August 19 this week.