Ben-Hur: The MGM Screenplay


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Their process and rationale for this decision was published in "The Hollywood Reporter" on Friday, November 20, p. A careful reading of the Guild's published statement will corroborate the events mentioned above. Wyler, infuriated by this rebuff, used his great influence in Hollywood helped by Heston to conduct a publicity campaign against Tunberg. The campaign had its effect--"Best Screenplay" was the only category in which "Ben-Hur" was nominated for an Academy Award, but did not receive it.

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He was resident in Rome with the production while he composed, and recorded his music with the MGM studio orchestra in Culver City, California. Such was the expense of the film that nervous MGM executives flew out to Rome on a weekly basis to check on the production's progress. Famed stuntman Yakima Canutt was brought in to coordinate all the chariot race stunt work and train the drivers.

Charlton Heston was among the first to begin training, arriving on location a few months ahead of scheduled shooting. He was also there to do costume fittings. Director William Wyler began his career at Universal Pictures directing one two-reel western per week, each budgeted at 2, dollars - the same amount it cost MGM for every hour spent on shooting this film.

The film's budget ballooned to ten million dollars nearly fifty percent higher than the original budget. He asked William Wyler if there was anything he could do to help; the director politely answered "No, thank you," and continued shooting. Vogel left for a five-week European business trip. When he returned to the set Wyler was reshooting the scene he had been working on when Vogel had left for his trip five weeks previously, now improved by some new dialogue from Christopher Fry.

The nervous company boss wondered if they had been filming the same scene the entire time. Audrey Hepburn visited the set during the filming of the chariot race she was in the midst of shooting The Nun's Story This led to the false legend that she was an extra in the crowd scenes, as a favor to William Wyler , who gave Hepburn her first starring role in Roman Holiday , for which she won the Oscar.

Hepburn, one of Wyler's favorite actresses and people, would make two more films for him, The Children's Hour and How to Steal a Million The chariot arena was built by more than 1, workers beginning in January , according to some reports. It was 2, feet long by 65 feet wide and covered 18 acres, the largest single set in motion picture history to that time. Reputedly, 40, tons of white sand were imported from Mexico for the track. Director William Wyler took on the project because he wanted to do a Cecil B. DeMille type of picture. According to his memoirs, Stewart Granger was offered the role of Messala but claimed that he turned it down on the advice of his agent, who didn't want him to play a supporting role to Charlton Heston.

Granger was 45 when the film began to shoot, ten years older than Heston, and too old for the part. According to Vidal, he discussed this with Stephen Boyd Messala ahead of shooting, but this information was hidden from Charlton Heston because it was felt that he could not handle it. After Vidal's interview, Heston vehemently denied that Ben-Hur had any homosexual subtext or that Vidal had any real involvement with writing the script.

Vidal responded by quoting extracts from Heston's autobiography "An Actor's Life", in which Heston admitted that Vidal had written much of the finished screenplay. Charlton Heston had about a month to learn how to drive a chariot properly. Stephen Boyd --who was cast much later in the production--only had two weeks to do so. Originally William Wyler had planned only to film the first unit and leave the second unit duties to producer Sam Zimbalist.

These plans had to be scrapped after Zimbalist's premature death. MGM persuaded Wyler to see the film through to completion by offering him a greater financial stake in the film. William Wyler missed just two days of the lengthy shoot, due to influenza. The heat of Rome proved to be a serious drawback for the action scenes. Horses could only make about eight runs a day at most. Because of this, most of the shots in the race were done on the first take.

According to William Wyler 's wife, Margaret Tallichet , as soon as photography was done and he and his cast left Rome, he started to experience migraine headaches, which lasted until the film opened in November One of the problems William Wyler and director of photography Robert Surtees encountered was composing shots for the wide-screen process. They had to figure out how to avoid empty screen space, wanting neither to film two actors in a vast screen void nor fill the frame with pointless, distracting elements. In Lew Wallace , author of the novel on which this film is based, told his wife that they might receive as much as one hundred dollars in royalties per year for his novel, After years of refusing to sell theatrical rights, Wallace finally acquiesced.

Andrew Marton had three 65mm cameras at his disposal for shooting the race. The larger-format film proved to be an issue. The standard close-up lens for 35mm photography was mm; it became, in the wide-screen process, a mm lens, which could not be focused closer than 50 feet.

So Marton had to use a mm lens, requiring he and his crew to move closer to the dangerous action of the race. Initially there were queries over whether William Wyler was the right director for the job, as he'd never tackled a film of this scale before. One of the doubters was Wyler himself. Director William Wyler had served as an assistant director wrangling extras in crowds under action specialist B. Although the original 35mm release was in Technicolor there is no such thing as a 70mm Technicolor print, as Technicolor was never equipped to make them; all the original release's 70mm prints were in MetroColor , all of the release's prints were in MetroColor.

More significant was that the release was cut from the original running time of minutes to , and the film shorn of its musical overture and entr'acte it was presented without intermission. Most egregiously, the sequence of some scenes was re-ordered, an almost unheard-of bowdlerization of a successful film, especially one that had won an unprecedented eleven Academy Awards. Because the main set for the chariot race was still being built, an identical track was constructed next to it to train horses and drivers and lay out camera shots. The film's credits appear with the Sistine Chapel ceiling's center panel, "The Creation of Adam", as background.

Charlton Heston would later play Michelangelo, painter of the Sistine ceiling, in the film The Agony and the Ecstasy Their mother's name is Mira. All are Arabic names for major stars in the sky. As an Arab, Sheikh Ilderim should have known better.


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According to Andrew Marton , who directed the chariot race, the track was constructed of steamrolled ground rock debris covered with 10 inches of ground lava and finished with eight inches of crushed yellow rock to make the surface hard enough to hold the weight of the chariots and horses while still having enough give not to make the horses lame which Marton said was achieved by a top of sand. After one day of shooting, the upper layer of rock was removed because it had slowed the pace of the race considerably.

The lava layer, which Marton and Yakima Canutt had initially opposed, proved to be the most workable element. The 65mm cameras were extremely heavy. It took four men with steel bars to move them, so William Wyler ended up using a crane most of the time. It was estimated that journalists visited the set during production. Stephen Boyd had difficulty driving the chariots. His hands and wrists blistered, and rest time had to be scheduled. Ava Gardner and Pier Angeli were considered for the role of Esther. It is a Latin noun meaning "inciter" or "one who arouses" and is the root of our English word "exhort" and all of its forms like "exhortation" for a speech that arouses people to action.

Thus the man beating the drum is addressed not by name but by title, as one might say "ensign. Producer Sam Zimbalist died two months before production completed. William Wyler handled the remaining production duties. Final film of Cathy O'Donnell. She would thereafter work only in television. Cesare Danova screen-tested to play Ben-Hur. More than sets were built on location at the Cinecitta studios in Rome. They were constructed following 15, sketches and covered more than acres. Sculptors cast more than pieces of statuary to supplement the thousands of props used from Cinecitta's warehouse.

The pace and scope of the production, combined with miserable summer heat, began taking a toll on everyone, although it was never so bad that, as MGM publicity claimed, a bed hospital staffed with two doctors and two nurses was on hand. Veteran General Manager Henry Henigson was forced to take a vacation on Capri, but returned after four days, too involved with the production to stay away. However, he was 49 when production began, making him too old for the part.

Ben-Hur: The MGM Screenplay

Hudson seriously considered accepting the part until his agent explained to him that the film's gay subtext was too much of a risk to his career. Nervous at the expense and trying to cover all its bases, MGM executives dissatisfied with the script hired Ben Hecht to "polish" it during shooting. They flew him to Rome, set him up in a house and paid him approximately 15, dollars for a week's work. It's not known if any of Hecht's dialogue made it into the final film. The second of two films shot in the MGM Camera 65 process eight more would be shot after the process was re-named Ultra Panavision.

It was intended to be the first, but production delays led to MGM using it first on Raintree County Like the Todd-AO format introduced in , MGM Camera 65 used 65mm negative stock that was then printed to 70mm film for roadshow release prints, or optically printed down to 35mm for general release. Unlike Todd-AO, though, Camera 65 operated at a standard speed of 24 fps from the beginning and utilized 1. These lenses were developed and manufactured by Panavision, a natural evolution on its work to improve the quality of anamorphic camera and projection lenses for the CinemaScope system.

The extra 5mm of film between the 65mm negatives and 70mm prints was comprised of 2. When MGM sold its camera department to Panavision in , the Camera 65 process was renamed Ultra Panavision 70 but remained technically identical. The complexity of anamorphic photography and post-production, however, meant the system was short-lived--especially due to the use of unique 1. Most of the cameras were used on Super Panavision 70 productions--Panavision's exact copy of the non-anamorphic 24 fps Todd-AO process--before being replaced by the Panaflex 65 cameras used in Panavision System Notably, due to the complexity and cost of projecting anamorphic 70mm prints, recent re-issue 70mm prints of "Ben-Hur" have been printed from optically unsqueezed negatives to allow their projection on normal 70mm equipment with only slight cropping of the sides of the picture.

One thing William Wyler was completely unable to do was get his leading man to cry on-screen. According to Sir Christopher Frayling 's biography of Sergio Leone , Leone apparently recalls William Wyler arriving on set early one morning with Charlton Heston , attired in cowboy garb and doing some re-shoots for The Big Country on the vast Cinecita back lot in Rome. As Quintas is driving his chariot in his victory procession, he is accompanied by the slave, Ben Hur. In Roman tradition, a slave would stand in the chariot behind the victor, often holding a laurel above his head, while whispering to the victor that all glory is fleeting.

Ben-Hur's house was constructed of wood frame covered with stucco painted to look like stone. Last film of George Relph who died five months after the film's release.

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When the Roman Legion makes a triumphant march through Rome, the band plays the exact same tune that the Legion marched to in Quo Vadis. Both Stephen Boyd and Charlton Heston would later go on to work with director Richard Fleischer in a science fiction film. It shares the top spot of most Oscar wins for a movie. According to text in the film's souvenir program, the film used over one million props. By the end of photography, approximately 1.

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In the Roman ship galley scenes, Judah Ben-Hur is referred to as "number In the Dell Movie Classic comic book, he is referred to as "number 40" Dell Comics , , pages 15 and And in both Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ and the Classics Illustrated comic book there is no reference to any number, either by scene decor, dialogue or intertitle. Marlon Brando was considered for the role of Judah Ben-Hur. Charlton Heston noted favorably that William Wyler , who had no experience with such a large-scale movie, was "no more awed by a ten-million-dollar-plus production than he is by a three million dollar one.

Charlton Heston 's Oscar winning performance in this film is his only Academy Award nomination, though he also won the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award. Sidney Franklin had initially been courted to direct the film. Heston was half-right: Wyler might have made "El Cid" into an epic, even better than "Ben Hur", but Mann was not Wyler's equal and could not have brought to this film the same level of detail to the screenwriting process, visionary direction, and actors' performances that Wyler did.

Only Best Picture Oscar winner with a hyphen in its title. The arena of the chariot race covered 19 acres and at the time was the biggest set ever built for a film. The two straights were each yards long and the 4 statues in the centre were 30 foot high. The arena took men a tear to build. There were 2 Roman galleys each foot long and seaworthy.

Messala's hesitation to accept Sheik Ilderim's wager on the race would not be out of character. Although it's impossible to equate the modern value of gold with that of ancient Rome, it is known that a talent of gold or silver was equal to approximately lbs in weight.

Paramount, MGM To Remake Historical Epic 'Ben-Hur'

A 1, talents, at 4 to 1 odds would have been a staggering sum. Heston was not told then, only Wyler knew and kept it for himself. Yakima Canutt and Andy Marton shoot the chariot race but Wyler edited it. There was no wrap party after the shooting of Ben Hur. Rock Hudson was furious with Universal for not loaning him out for " Ben Hur ". However he did sign for them again after his contract expired, this time insisting that he could make also make movies for rival studios. The wardrobe in a vast warehouse contained 11, costumes including some 1,00 suits of armour.

Silk for one of Ben Hir's costumes came from Thailand. It became a play on Broadway with William S, Hart, later to gain fame as a cowboy star, as Messala and had 2 chariots racing on treadmills. It was first filmed in with the chariot race performed by members pf the Brooklyn Fire Departmen. William Wyler was so taken with the actor Remington Olmstead, who plays the Decurian soldier who denies Ben-Hur water on the slave drive, that when he discovered the actor had been casually replaced during the shoot, he demanded Olmstead been found and returned at whatever cost.

It wasn't too hard. Claude Heater, who played Christ, was a regular at Olmstead's restaurant in Rome while on location. Wyler's instincts proved worthy of the effort. In this Ben - Hur film. On the slave ship Charlton Heston's assigned oar rower number was In the Ben - Hur film , Jack Huston's assigned oar rower number was In Francis X Bushman appeared in a version which went into film libraries as a classic. For the initial 35mm release, in order to meet the terms of the exhibition contract, exhibitors had to increase ticket prices for this special "event" presentation.

Some exhibitors raised their ticket prices to more than double their standard admission prices. Some exhibitors also charged differing prices based on the day or where the seats were located in their theaters. Despite the expensive ticket prices, audiences flocked to the theaters. The domestic and international grosses reportedly came to more than ten times the film's staggering production costs.

Is this interesting? She's an extra in a crowd scene. When Ben-Hur confronts a dying Messala after the chariot race, William Wyler insisted on multiple takes. He wanted Ben-Hur to show complete indifference to his dying former friend, something that Charlton Heston found hard to deliver. The chariot race segment was co-directed by legendary stuntman Yakima Canutt with veteran second-unit director Andrew Marton.

Joe Canutt Yak's son doubled for Charlton Heston. During one of the crashes, in which Judah Ben-Hur's horses jump over a wrecked chariot, the younger Canutt was thrown from his chariot onto its tongue because he failed to heed Yak's instructions as to how to grip the railing as the chariot hit the top of the hidden ramp leading up to the debris.

He managed to climb back into his chariot and bring it back under control. The sequence looked so good that it was included in the film, with a close-up of Heston climbing back into the chariot.


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Canutt got a slight cut on his chin, but it was the only injury in the incredibly dangerous sequence. Stuntman Nosher Powell , who worked on the film, states in his biography that Yak went pale as a ghost when the chariot crashed. The crash was not planned, and everybody, including Yak, believed that Joe had died. The Roman soldier standing on the spina, or center island of the circus, was a dummy. It never seems to occur to those who claim it was a real extra that the camera's movement would not have focused so precisely on the "man" had it not been planned in advance.

Both this "soldier" and the "driver" of an overturned chariot who jumped out of the way of one chariot only to be run over by another were all articulated and weighted dummies made with movable arm and leg joints , so when they were hit they "reacted" the way a normal human body would in that situation. A combination of adroit placement and expert editing between the stunt driver and a kneeling dummy gave the seamless impression that the man had actually been run over.

The film began inauspiciously in , with a script so hacky that Wyler, who had worked as an assistant director on the film, initially turned it down. No property in the public domain is immune to bargain-hunting producers, and Ben-Hur has strayed a long way from its original papal endorsement. The film follows a real-life studio fixer named Eddie Mannix, far more sympathetic on film than in life , through a series of fictional films, including a Biblical epic.

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