As you may know, a new version of Ben-Hur has recently been released to theatres around the country. Of course I do classic films, so I will be focusing on the celebrated 1959 version starring Charlton Heston.
I thought it might be fun to present the subject in the form of a quiz. So get your propeller hats on, and let’s go! (Answers can be found at the end of the quiz.)
1. On whose novel is the film Ben-Hur based?
a. Henryk Sienkiewicz
b. Edward Bulwer-Lytton
c. Lewis Wallace
2. Ben-Hur won 11 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and that record has been unmatched to this day. True or False?
3. The person in Ben-Hur who won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor was:
a. Sam Jaffe
b. Hugh Griffith
c. Jack Hawkins
4. In the chariot sequence, Ben-Hur drives four beautiful white Arabians owned by Sheik Ilderim. What did the sheik name his horses after?
5. A pivotal character in the novel is missing from the 1959 version of Ben-Hur. That character is:
6. How many times must charioteers ride around the course to win a race at the Circus Maximus?
7. Judah Ben-Hur is actually based on a historical character. True or False?
8. One of the most famous stunts in the chariot race occurs when Ben Hur’s vehicle is launched over the top of a broken chariot. The stunt man who performed this feat was:
a. Yakima Canutt
b. Joe Canutt
c. Johnson Canutt
9. During the author’s lifetime, the novel Ben-Hur did not do well in terms of sales. True or False?
10. At the time of its release, Ben-Hur was the third longest film ever released (3 hours, 37 minutes). Which two celebrated movies were longer?
- The correct answer is c. Lew Wallace.
General Lewis “Lew” Wallace (1827-1905) was a Union officer in the American Civil War. Afterwards, he served as Governor of the New Mexico Territory from 1878 to 1881.
Aside from being known as the author of Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ, Wallace became embroiled in a controversary concerning the bloody Battle of Shiloh in 1862. Although the Union army won this conflict, U.S. casualty rates were extremely high. General Ulysses S. Grant blamed Wallace for taking too long to get his reserves in position to support the rest of the troops, thus upping the casualties. Wallace tried to defend himself, arguing that information delayed by higher command affected his response. However, the Battle of Shiloh never ceased to cast a shadow over Wallace’s war record and reputation.
2. False. At least two movies have matched that record since 1959: 1997’s Titanic; and 2003’s The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. All three won for Best Picture.
3. The correct answer is b. Hugh Griffith. Hugh Griffith, a Welsh character actor, turned in an entertaining performance as the wily Sheik Ilderim. In 1963, Griffith gave another memorable performance as rambunctious Squire Western in Tom Jones, director Tony Richardson’s adaptation of Henry Fielding’s 18th century novel The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling. Tom Jones won the Academy Award for Best Picture for 1963. Griffith was nominated by the Academy for his role in that picture, but did not win.
4. The correct answer is a. Stars. The horses’ names were: Aldebaran, Altair, Antares, and Rigel.
5. The correct answer is b. Iras. Iras is a femme fatale in Wallace’s novel who does not appear in the 1959 film version. She does appear in a 1925 silent movie version of the Wallace novel. In the original story, Ben-Hur becomes romantically involved with Iras, but eventually marries Esther, the daughter of faithful family slave Simonides. Although Iras’ father is good-guy Balthazar, one of the Three Wise Men who seek Jesus, Iras turns out to be rather nasty. She becomes bad-guy Messala’s mistress and at one point attempts to murder Ben-Hur by calling in a hit man!
Poster advertising 1925 silent movie “Ben-Hur”
Ben-Hur (Ramon Navarro) with bad girl Iras (Carmel Myers)
6. The correct answer is c. 9 times. In the movie, you can track the course of the race by watching a row of golden dolphins hanging above the track. Each time a circuit is completed, a dolphin is flipped over.
7. The answer is false. Ben-Hur is an entirely fictional character. However….
At least one historian has suggested that the bad luck dogging the Hur family throughout the story is based on Wallace’s own perception that his reputation regarding Shiloh was ruined because of circumstances beyond his control.
8. b. Joe Canutt. Joe was the son of famed stuntman Yakima Canutt, who served as an assistant director for Ben-Hur. Before Joe Canutt attempted the stunt, his father advised that he attach himself to the chariot with ropes. Joe did not do this, and was almost killed when he was catapulted into the air as his vehicle flew over the wreckage. He was able to save himself by grabbing onto the front of the chariot. It was decided that the sequence would be kept, and you can see it in the finished version of the film.
9. False. Although sales were initially slow when Wallace published the book in 1880, by 1886 he was earning $11,000 in annual royalties from his Biblical era novel. By 1900, Ben-Hur was the best-selling American novel of the 19th century. Ironically, one of the book’s fans was Ulysses S. Grant, the man who had criticized Wallace’s performance at the Battle of Shiloh.
10. Gone with the Wind (3 hours and 57 minutes) and The Ten Commandments (3 hours and 40 minutes).
Wallace, Lew. Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ. Harper & Brothers. 1880.
“Lew Wallace,” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 16 August 2016. Web. 19 August 2016.
Swansburg, John. “The Passion of Lew Wallace.” Slate.com. Web.
“List of Academy Award Records,” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 19 August 2016. Web. 19 August 2016.
All photos obtained through Wikimedia or Bing Public Domain