I can’t think of a better film to watch on Palm Sunday. Ben-Hur is everything a Sunday movie should be.
Ben-Hur was directed by William Wyler, a man who was already well-respected for films like Mrs. Miniver and Roman Holiday. Wyler, who happened to be Jewish, used to joke that it took a Jew to make the ultimate film about Jesus Christ. (I heard* Wyler make that joke many, many times during the scads of Hollywood parties I used to frequent.)
*This is a lie. I read it on IMDB.
MGM gambled $15 million on this film, which was a massive amount back then. It paid off, though, because Ben-Hur ended up earning something like $75 million, making it the second-highest grossing movie in history at the time. (Darn that Gone with the Wind for stealing first place…We’ll JUST SEE how many more parties I attend at Clark Gable’s house.)
Ben-Hur was also the first film to win 11 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor. A couple of others recently won 11 as well, but there were less categories back in 1960 so the Benster’s Oscar sweep is still more impressive…like the high number of celebrity party invitations that continue to cascade upon me.
Wyler assembled an epic cast for this epic film:
- Charlton Heston (The Ten Commandments) delivers a superior performance. And you know he’s superior to most people because his name is “Charlton” instead of Charles or Chuck. I’m sure to him the rest of the planet looks like a bunch of apes.
- Jack Hawkins (Lawrence of Arabia) was not in Planet of the Apes, so I don’t really have any jokes I can build up to for him.
- Hugh Griffith (How to Steal a Million—also directed by Wyler) has borderline-illegal eyebrows.
- Martha Scott (Cheers for Miss Bishop) appears to have perfectly approachable eyebrows.
OH, SOMETHING YOU SHOULD KNOW: [cough!]it’s three and a half hours long[cough!]
Usually MGM opened its films with its trademark lion roaring ferociously at the rows of unsuspecting civilians sitting quietly in the dark. This time, though, you’ll notice the lion sits silently as the movie opens. This subtle departure was an intentional effort by filmmakers to set a special atmosphere for a special opening scene depicting the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem.
Quietly but powerfully, we as the audience are given tastes of the greatness of the Savior of mankind throughout the film. The climax, of course, comes with His death on the cross. I like this interaction between Ben-Hur and Balthasar, one of Christ’s devoted disciples:
Balthasar: He has taken the world of our sins onto Himself. To this end He said He was born, in that stable where I first saw Him. For this cause, He came into the world.
Ben-Hur: For this death?
Bathasar: For this beginning
As we now look back 2,000 years later to celebrate the Atonement of the Messiah, we know that sacred event was indeed the beginning.
And because Christ’s death was just the beginning, so will our deaths be but a beginning. There is life after death. There is joy after death. And through repentance and obedience to the will and commandments of God there can be joy now in this very moment.
As we exercise faith in Jesus Christ, we will no longer see through a glass darkly, but rather, the mists of darkness will dissipate before us and our testimonies of the life, mission, and divinity of Jesus Christ will be anchored with a hope for a better world.
“Wherefore, redemption cometh in and through the Holy Messiah; for he is full of grace and truth.
“Behold, he offereth himself a sacrifice for sin, to answer the ends of the law, unto all those who have a broken heart and a contrite spirit; and unto none else can the ends of the law be answered.
“Wherefore, how great the importance to make these things known unto the inhabitants of the earth, that they may know that there is no flesh that can dwell in the presence of God, save it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah, who layeth down his life according to the flesh, and taketh it again by the power of the Spirit, that he may bring to pass the resurrection of the dead, being the first that should rise.” — 2 Nephi 2:6-8