For, May 2, 2014

"Ben-Hur" (1959), winner of 11 Oscars, including best picture, best director (William Wyler) and best actor (Charlton Heston), is a biblical-era classic that holds up wonderfully as one of the best epic films of the 1950s and '60s.

The drama is solid and the cast is perfect, with Heston at the peak of his considerable powers. Coming as close as it does after Cecil B. DeMille's "The Ten Commandments" (1956), it's easy to see how the style of Old Hollywood was giving way to the more naturalistic style of New Hollywood at the end of the 1950s and into the early 1960s.

Heston's performances in the two films offer a textbook example of the change in acting styles. Where Moses is more flamboyant and perhaps a bit over the top, Judah Ben-Hur is more internalized in his struggles and the subtlety Heston brings to his performance pays off.

There's also an interesting directing choice from Wyler. When the title character meets up with Jesus, Wyler wisely declines to show us His face, instead letting Heston's reactions tell us all we need to know.


"Ben-Hur" also has several memorable action scenes, in particular the battle between galley-slave ships and the unforgettable chariot race. No CGI here, kids. And seeing the real thing makes the sequence enormously exciting.

If ever there was a movie that deserves to be seen on the big screen, it's "Ben-Hur," which is part of Cinemark's Classic Series, to be shown Sunday (May 4) and Wednesday (May 7).