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BEN HUR: THE MAKING OF AN EPIC not only describes the behind-the-scenes
account of filming the William Wyler saga, but also deals with the
origins of the story--the novel by Gen. Lew Wallace, the Civil War
general who penned the tale in 1876 and was actually an agnostic who
questioned the divinity of Christ. A brief account is given of the
novel's success; the transition to a road show stage version of the
novel that eventually grossed over $10,000,000 in theaters during the
early 1900s; various early screen versions before the 1925 silent
version from MGM starring Ramon Navarro, which was an enormous success,
despite major difficulties during production, first in Italy and then
in America. All of this is told and narrated in splendid fashion by
Among those participating in interviews or seen in archival footage are
Charlton Heston, William Wyler, Gore Vidal, Catherine Wyler, Ramon
Navarro, Stephen Boyd, Yakima Canutt, Joe Canutt and others who worked
on the film.
Especially interesting are all of the background information on the
making of the '59 version under William Wyler's direction. According to
Gore Vidal, he himself did a lot of work on the script up until the
chariot scenes and yet he is not credited, nor is Christopher Fry who
also worked with Vidal. Instead, Wyler ended up giving full screenplay
credit to Karl Tunberg. Vidal claims that he suggested a strong
emotional attachment of Ben-Hur and Messala could be suggested without
being overt and give more punch to the motivation for revenge. Wyler
listened but did not seem to agree nor did he remember any such
conversation between him and Vidal in later years. Actually, it's
something that does come across when one views the film.
One of the best comments on the film comes from composer David Raksin
("Laura" among others) who declares that the music of Miklos Rozsa
"gives the film its soul."
Summing up: Anyone who admires the film will find the documentary an
interesting one to watch.
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