NPR logo
DVD Picks: 'Ben-Hur'
  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
DVD Picks: 'Ben-Hur'

Home Video

MELISSA BLOCK, host: Time now for our movie critic Bob Mondello's latest home video recommendation. Today, he's spotlighting a wide-screen 1950s epic that was specifically designed to drag people away from their TV sets, "Ben-Hur."

BOB MONDELLO: Everything about "Ben-Hur" was big, really big. The sound was stereophonic, which was still fairly new back then, the screen wider than all outdoors and that chariot race, enormous.

And though there's more to the film than that one famous scene, let's start there with Charlton Heston on the commentaries busting what he calls three chariot race myths.

CHARLTON HESTON: One is that there's a red Ferrari parked in the side of the arena. Not true. Two, that someone was killed in it. Not true. And three, that I am visibly wearing a wristwatch in one or two shots. Now, of course, since I have leather gauntlets to the elbow, that clearly is not true, but it is indeed true it was a fixed race. I knew I was going to win.

MONDELLO: This Blu-ray boxed set, which is itself huge, with picture book and full color reproduction of a journal Charlton Heston kept on the set, is being billed as the 50th anniversary edition, but you'll note it's been 52 years since 1959. Like its hero, "Ben-Hur" is getting back a little late.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE #1: I will pray that you live 'til I return.

HESTON: (as Judah Ben-Hur) Return?

MONDELLO: The delay is because a million-dollar digital restoration took longer than expected, but was worth it. In the making of extras, you'll see clips from the scratchy, washed out version used for the film's re-releases. Among the goofier extras is a screen test for Leslie Nielson as Ben-Hur's buddy-turned-nemesis, Messala.


LESLIE NIELSON: (as Messala) I'm afraid I can't down arrows with much conviction anymore. Met too many charming ladies to go about insulting the god of love.

MONDELLO: Think Naked Spear 2 1/2. Also included, the entire silent 1925 "Ben-Hur," so you can see why audiences in the '50s were so psyched about the new one. And why director William Wyler felt he had to make it the biggest, most passionate movie ever.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE #2: Me and your mother and sister will die today, (unintelligible) our crosses in front of you.

MONDELLO: All of which raises the question of whether you really want to watch "Ben-Hur" on TV, even in high-def. There's no question, it's not the same as in a movie theater, but with no plans to re-release "Ben-Hur" in theaters, it's at least better than it would have been in 1959, when ads for mostly black and white TV sets boasted of their giant 24-inch screens.

I'm Bob Mondello.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.