#176 Ben-Hur

Watched: April 13 2018

Director: William Wyler

Starring: Charlton Heston, Stephen Boyd, Haya Harareet, Jack Hawkins, Hugh Griffith, Martha Scott, Cathy O’Donnell, Sam Jaffe, Finlay Currie

Year: 1959

Runtime: 3h 32min (at least)

More numbering problems you say? See info here.

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In those days Caesar Augustus declared that everyone throughout the empire should be enrolled in the tax lists. This first enrollment occurred when Quirinius governed Syria. Everyone went to their own cities to be enrolled. Since Joseph belonged to David’s house and family line, he went up from the city of Nazareth in Galilee to David’s city, called Bethlehem, in Judea.

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“Uh, yeah, I’m here to register..? Yeah, with my wife. She’s about to give birth. No, no, I’m totally the father. Joseph. J-O-S-E-P-H. Know any good hotels hereabouts..?”

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We all know that story. However, this is not that story, but set in the same time. In 26 A.D. (probably not called that at the time, to be fair) Judah Ben-Hur (Heston) was a Judean prince and childhood friend of newly returned Roman tribune Messala (Boyd). Despite the intense homoeroticism of their interactions, the two have a falling out over political issues (one wants the other to sell out his people. That sort of thing).

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“God, I wish we were Greek instead of Roman…”

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After an accident involving a Roman procession and rooftop tiles, Messala finally has an excuse to arrest the Ben-Hur family and send Judah away to the galleys. His mother Miriam (Scott) and sister Tirzah (O’Donnell) are thrown in a dungeon, the family home is raided, and Judah is sent off.

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“I just thought I’d take a gap year. You know, to travel, sunbathe, grow my beard and learn about new cultures.”

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Strange destiny eventually brings the eponymous hero back to his hometown, now as an adopted Roman with a new fortune, new status in the Roman Empire, and excellent horse racing skills. His hatred for Messala has not diminished though, despite an encounter with Jesus, and he is also out for revenge and for the salvation of his family…

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We all know the best way to really humiliate someone is to beat them at their own game. And also kill them.

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Sometimes it’s hard to get in the right mood to watch an almost 4 hour epic from the ’50s, and we must admit we didn’t rush to pick this one up despite all we’ve heard of it. However, we’re glad we did as it lives up to its reputation (despite Heston’s occasional overacting). We loved the Roman perspective on Jesus, the (possibly unintended) homoeroticism between Judah and Messala, the sheikh, the general epicness of the feature, and the fact that we never actually see or hear Jesus.

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All we learn is that he has fabulous hair and can hypnotise Roman soldiers.

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We also loved the Roman uniforms, but mainly because they reminded us so much of Asterix that we spent the entire film quoting Asterix chez les Bretons (1986) and had to pull some strings to get our hands on the Norwegian dubbed version (AKA the only version worth watching) of our childhood favourite. So thank you, Kristian!

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“Er’re XVI her óg? Da har vi gått feil igjen, da.” – Classic!

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It’s easy to think Ben-Hur is a movie about horse racing (it’s by far the most famous scene), but it is really an epic saga of revenge and redemption with Jesus hanging out in the background. And a badass chariot racing scene.

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“Det skjærer meg i hjertet. Hører du, dekurion? Det skjærer meg i hjertet!” One for all Norwegian Asterix-fans. You’re welcome, people who don’t speak Norwegian and/or have no point of reference for this.

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What we learned: Romans, like most empires/powerful nations, were Biggus Dickuses.

Next time: Imitation of Life (1959)

#103 The Asphalt Jungle

Watched: May 06 2017

Director: John Huston

Starring: Sterling Hayden, Louis Calhern, Jean Hagen, Sam Jaffe, James Whitmore, Barry Kelley, John McIntire, Marilyn Monroe, Marc Lawrence

Year: 1950

Runtime: 1h 52min

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Dix Handley (Hayden) has three things in life: a gambling problem, a potential girlfriend named Doll (Hagen), and a dream to buy back his family’s old farm. However, he tends to gamble away all his money whenever he has some, so the family farm seems far from his reach, and he’s not necessarily as into Doll as she is into him.

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Doll and Dix. There’s a (possibly disastrous) movie title in there somewhere…

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When Doc Riedenschneider (Jaffe) is released from prison with a plan for a big caper, he goes to see an acquaintance of Dix’s for funding. Dix and Doc (another potential title, by the way) cross paths and Doc is adamant that Dix is the right man to be the muscle in the heist. This job will give him the money for a farm, so Dix agrees and joins Doc’s team along with a safecracker and a getaway driver, as well as financial backers Alonzo Emmerich (Calhern) and Cobby (Lawrence).

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You just know they’re doing criminal stuff when there’s a pack of cigarettes on the bed, a bottle of booze on the table, and two of them have removed their jackets.

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While the robbery itself goes off with only one small hitch, the double crossings start pretty much right away. With the police chasing them and everyone backstabbing each other, who will come out of this alive?

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And who will get to wear the pretty, pretty necklaces?

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A criminal who wants a quiet, peaceful life; a high-stakes heist with a cast of hand picked experts; a doomed romance; a corrupt businessman with a gorgeous blonde mistress; a dirty cop and double crossings galore – this movie has it all. Clichés they may be, but when they’re done this well it doesn’t really matter. Films like this are the reason people keep coming back to the same clichés – sometimes they really work.

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Like blondes. Blondes always work to confuse young investigators. We’re not sure of which gender that’s most condemning…

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What we learned: There’s no honour among thieves. Also, ’50s slang for explosives is “soup”. It’s fun stuff like this which keeps us coming back. (Well, that, and the obligatory dance/music scenes in Film Noir.)

Next time: A Place in the Sun (1951)