“And I felt his voice take the sword out of my hand.”
This is a great film in it’s own right, and the only film on this list to depict the nativity. That alone should establish its credentials as a Christmas film…but there are of course some other reasons why it should be considered a Christmas film. One of the magi as a main character, love, redemption, forgiveness and peace on earth to men of goodwill. And my favorite depiction of Christ, one where a director is not arrogant or foolish enough to try and depict him or his words by a direct shot but only trying to show his affect on those around him … (my second favorite film depiction would be the one where the Captain of the Enterprise portrayed him…but it’s a distant second.)
But this is just a great movie. Wyler shows skill that most directors could only dream of. A battle of wills in the rowing scene which could have been tedious but thanks to good direction, acting and music turns it into one of the more tense and enthralling scenes in film history. Several moments that will always make me cry …and of course the greatest action sequence in the history of film: the chariot race.
If you are not versed in classic film I will give you a really quick run down. Judean nobleman Judah Ben-Hur is betrayed by his childhood friend the Roman Tribune Messala and condemned to a Roman slave galley. He prays to God, quite sacrilegiously, that he is allowed to live to have his vengeance. God seems to constantly grant his prayer (sometimes by convenient chance, sometimes by direct intervention on the few times that Ben-Hur happens to run into Jesus). His quest for vengeance against the man who wronged him eventually and quite unintentionally turns into a path to redemption and religious conversion.
I’ve heard people critique the acting ability of Charlton Heston, for those who do I suggest they watch this movie carefully. A sense of betrayal conveyed in a slight hand gesture. A sense of peace in a look. And redemption in only a change in facial expression.
Oh, by the way, never read the book. I have seldom encountered a book as god-awfully boring as Lew Wallace’s tedious work. It’s only a few hundred pages but the pace at which it progresses would make you think it was a Russian novel.