Ben-Hur (1959)

35mm film, 65mm film (shooting format), 70mm film, Panavision, “photographed in MGM Camera 65” (anamorphic), Technicolor, 2.76:1 (70mm anamorphic prints), 2.20:1 (70mm non-anamorphic prints), 2.35:1 (35mm film anamorphic prints)
stereo, English

An American religious fantasy film directed by William Wyler.

Plot Summary

Wealthy Jew Judah Ben-Hur has a comfortable life as a merchant in first century Jerusalem and is delighted at the return of his old friend Messala, now commanding officer of the Roman legions and right hand man to the new governor. But when Ben-Hur is wrongly blamed for an assassination attempt on the governor, he sees his mother and sister thrown in jail and he himself ends up on a slave galley. Ben-Hur swears


* = uncredited

Directed by: William Wyler
© MCMLIX [1959] by Loew's Incorporated
Presented by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. A Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer picture
Produced by: Sam Zimbalist
Screen Play by: Karl Tunberg; Maxwell Anderson *, Christopher Fry *, Gore Vidal *
[Based on] A Tale of the Christ by General Lew Wallace
Director of Photography: Robert L. Surtees
Film Editors: Ralph E. Winters, John D. Dunning
Music by: Miklos Rozsa
Recording Supervisor: Franklin Milton
Sound Recordists: Sash Fisher, William Steinkamp
Costumes Designed by: Elizabeth Haffenden
Color Consultant-Costumes: Joan Bridge
Make-up by: Charles Parker
Hair Styles by: Gabriella Borzelli
Special Photographic Effects: A. Arnold Gillespie, Lee LeBlanc and Robert R. Hoag
Art Directors: William A. Horning and Edward Carfagno
Color Consultant-Settings: Charles K. Hagedon
Studios: Cinecitta Studios, Italy *
Locations: Fiuggia, Italy *; Folliano, Italy *; Nettuno, Italy *; , Lazio, Italy *

Charlton Heston (Judah Ben-Hur)
Jack Hawkins (Quintas Arrius)
Haya Harareet (Esther)
Stephen Boyd (Messala)
Hugh Griffith (Sheik Ilderim)
Martha Scott (Miriam)
Cathy O'Donnell (Tirzah)
Sam Jaffe (Simonides)
Finlay Currie (Balthasar)
Frank Thring (Pontius Pilate)
Terence Longden (Drusus)
George Relph (Tiberius)
André Morell (Sextus)

Remake of
Ben Hur (1907)
Ben-Hur (1925)

Extracts included in
100 Years at the Movies (1994)
1,001 Movies You Must See (Before You Die) (2014)
Academy Awards: Oscar's Best (no date)
AFI's 100 Years… 100 Movies (1998)
The Celluloid Closet (1995)
Precious Images (1986)
Screen Test: 25 November 1970.

Production Notes

On 2 January, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer announced that Ben-Hur had grossed $1,000,000 in just 11 locations, the first time that so much had been taken by a single film in so few cinemas. The company estimated that around 235,000 people were seeing the film each week in the States.1Daily Variety vol.10 no.19 (4 January 1960) p.3

Along with On the Beach (1959), Ben-Hur received an unexpected boost when California's Episcopal Bishop James Pike used them as texts for his sermon at Grace Cathedral “In Ben-Hur,” he said, “we see a moving portrayal of the answer. There, linked to God's redemption of us through Christ, is our capacity of bringing healing and help to one another, thus serving God as a ‘means of grace' to others.” 2Daily Variety vol.10 no.20 (5 January 1960) pp.1, 11

The film was launched in Dublin on 8 September 1960 with a charity gala in aid of the Centenary Fund of Blackrock College at the Ambassador Cinema in Parnell Street 3The Daily Cinema no.8328 (6 July 1960) pp.1, 5

Television Broadcasts
In the UK, independent network ITV were reported to have offered as much as $800,000 for the rights to broadcast the film for just two screenings, making it the most expensive film-to-TV deal in British television history to that date. The claim was made to British trade journal Screen International by Alan Sapper, head of the technicians' union ACTT but was denied by ITV. 4Screen International no.70 (15 January 1977) p.1



  • The Daily Cinema no.8253 (11 January 1960) p.1 – note (Ben-Hur' is best of the year)
  • The Daily Cinema no.8328 (6 July 1960) pp.1, 5 – note (Ben-Hur' for ABC)
  • The Daily Cinema no.8332 (15 July 1960) p.11 – note (Ben-Hur' in Dublin)
  • The Daily Cinema no.8335 (22 July 1960) pp.7; 8 – note (Over 40 titles in big M-G-M line-up); note (More showings of ‘Ben-Hur' to meet demand)
  • Daily Variety vol.10 no.19 (4 January 1960) p.3 – note (Ben' Has Carted In $1 Mil So Far, Metro Calculates)
  • Daily Variety vol.10 no.20 (5 January 1960) pp.1, 11 – note (Hur', ‘Beach' Get Plugged in Pulpit)
  • Entertainment Weekly no.587 (16 March 2001) p.49 – review (New to DVD: Ben-Hur (A-) by Steve Daly)
  • Kine Weekly vol.512 no.2727 (7 January 1960) pp.14; 19-23 – note (MGM coins it with ‘Ben); illustrated article (Preparing The Empire for ‘Ben-Hur': Special Problems required drastic alterations)
  • Kine Weekly vol.512 no.2728 (14 January 1960) p.6 – note (News of the week: ‘Ben-Hur' tops its first million)
  • Kine Weekly vol.512 no.2729 (21 January 1960) p.13 – note (Your films by Josh Billings)
  • Kine Weekly vol.512 no.2730 (28 January 1960) p.13 – note (Your films by Josh Billings)
  • Kine Weekly vol.518 no.2753 (7 July 1960) p.1 – note (ABC takes ‘Ben-Hur' to provinces)
  • Kine Weekly vol.51 no.2750 (16 June 1960) p.15 – note (Your films by Josh Billings)
  • Kine Weekly vol.51 no.2751 (23 June 1960) p.11 – note (Your films by Josh Billings)
  • Kine Weekly vol.51 no.2752 (30 June 1960) p.11 – note (Your films by Josh Billings)
  • Monthly Film Bulletin February 1960 p.18 – credits, synopsis, review
  • Radio Times 19 December 1987 – 1 January 1988 pp.30; 125 – review
  • Screen International no.70 (15 January 1977) p.1 – illustrated note (800,000-dollar offer from ITV for ‘Ben Hur')
  • Sight & Sound no.29 (Spring 1960) pp.94-5 – article (A seat at the circus by Philip Oakes)


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