Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Premiere of Ben-Hur

On this day 50 years ago, the movie "Ben–Hur" premiered at Loew's State Theatre in New York.

A few months later, it won 11 Oscars, more than any film had ever won before. It is an achievement that has never been surpassed, and it has been matched only twice — by "Titanic" in 1998 and "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" in 2004.

Considering what the film accomplished, I figured that today would have been a good day for someone to show it. But I have checked my usual sources for classic movies, and no one seems to be showing it today. Perhaps they are waiting for a more significant anniversary — the 50th anniversary of the movie's release in England is next month, although why that would be considered more important than the New York premiere is beyond me.

Well, anyway, 2009 is clearly an appropriate time to watch the film. And it's important, I think, to view it in context. Bruce Eder observes, for, that it was "the culmination of a cycle of religious epics that dated back slightly more than a decade and closed out the genre as a viable Hollywood phenomenon."

I find his reasoning for the popularity of religious films in the 1950s — "the advent of the Cold War and the threat of thermonuclear annihilation likely made filmgoers start thinking about God, heaven, and the hereafter more than usual" — difficult to dispute.

Whether one is motivated by religious beliefs or a genuine affection for movies, "Ben–Hur" is worth seeing at least once. Be forewarned, though — it is lengthy (more than 3½ hours), and, if one is a devotee to the writings of Lew Wallace (a former Civil War general), there are some differences between his novel and the film adaptation.

But, even after 50 years, the chariot race is enough reason to see it.