Ben-Hur movie poster

The mother of all sword-and-sandals epic movies, Ben-Hur, was fêted grandly at the Golden Globe awards ceremony on March 10, 1960. William Wyler’s 3 hours and 30 minutes film received four Globes (Best Picture Drama, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor (Stephen Boyd) and many nominations, including one for Best Actor for Charlton Heston, who surprisingly lost to Anthony Franciosa (for Career). A special award was given to Andrew Marton for “best direction of a chariot race”. That was a time in Hollywood when chariot races were competing against one another! The film, chosen by the HFPA over such competition as The Diary of Anne Frank, Anatomy of a Murder and On the Beach, went on to win a record 11 Oscars.

Ben-Hur, the story a Jewish prince (Judah Ben-Hur, played by Heston) who is betrayed and sent to Rome as a slave, regains his freedom and comes back for revenge, was remade many times, as recently as 2016. Wyler made an exciting, violent, heartfelt epic of a film, using all the filmmaking tools he had available at that time, from the use of extras (thousands of them) to exotic locations (around the world), from the wild and dangerous use of horses and stunts to experimenting with a new camera, the MGM Camera 65 (anamorphic), Technicolor 70mm, using 6.100 meters of film. Ben-Hur would have never been given the green light today, some critics say. The fact that the movie was made says a lot about the power of a director (Wyler), and the riskier attitude of old Hollywood, at its best.

Ben-Hur was shot mainly in Italy (Cinecitta' Studios, Anzio, Latina, Arcinazzo Romano, Frosinone, among other locations), but also at the Roman hippodrome in Tyre, Lebanon, and in Durango, Mexico. The interiors were partly filmed at MGM Studios in Culver City. One film, three continents! Heston had also been a Golden Globes nominee for The Ten Commandments (1956) and subsequently, in 1962, for The Pigeon That Took Rome (comedy). He joked about being a “forever almost winner” for the HFPA, but also, as Judah Ben-Hur, he promised to take Rome with a vengeance, even without a chariot. “Rome is mine, Hollywood Foreign Press, don't forget that!” he said laughing at the end of the 1960 ceremony.