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Ben-Hur

Ben-Hur(1959)

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Trivia

  • MGM wanted an authentic-looking Roman boat for the live battle scenes. To design the boats, they hired a person who had spent his whole career studying Roman naval architecture. When he presented his designs to the MGM engineers, Mauro Zambuto (set engineer) exclaimed, "But this is top heavy! It will sink!" They built the boat anyway and launched it in the ocean, and at first it seemed to float. Then however, a little wave came a long, a wake from another boat, splashed against the highly unstable boat, and tipped it over. MGM then put the boat in a large pond with a huge painted sky backdrop. To steady the boat, they ran cables from the bottom of the boat to anchors on the bottom of the pond.
  • Another problem concerned the color of the water in the pond holding the boat; it was too brown and murky. They hired a chemist to develop a dye to color the water Azure Mediterranean blue. The chemist dumped a huge sack of some powder into the pond, which, instead of turning the water blue, formed a hard crust on the surface of the water, which had to be chiselled off the boat at great expense. They finally found some dye that would make the water blue. During one of the battle scenes, an extra who fell into the water and spent a bit too much time there turned blue, and was kept on the MGM payroll until it wore off.
  • When it came time to film inside the boat, it was discovered that the large 65mm cameras wouldn't fit. The boat had to be taken out of the pond, cut in half lengthwise, and placed in an Italian sound stage. The oars wouldn't fit in the soundstage, so they had to cut them off just beyond the hull. This resulted in an extremely light oars which, when rowed by the actors, didn't look believable, since you could move them with one hand. To solve the problem, Zambuto sent an army of production assistants to all of the hardware stores in Rome to buy the kind of spring-and-hydraulic piston mechanisms that are normally attached to doors to force them closed but to keep them from slamming. Placing these devices on the oars and the hull gave enough resistance to make the rowing scenes look realistic.
  • Although there were presumably white horses in Italy, the four white horses used in the film were flown in from Czechoslovakia aboard an airliner with seats removed from the first class section.
  • Heston was taught to ride a chariot by the stunt crew, who offered to teach the entire cast - Heston was the only one that took them up on the offer. At the beginning of the chariot race, Heston shook the reins and nothing happened; the horses remained motionless. Finally someone way up on top of the set yelled "Giddy-up!" The horses then roared into action, and Heston was flung backward off of the chariot.

Contributions

  • Holz (2009-09-25)

    Source: not available

    Many other men were offered the role of Ben-Hur before Charlton Heston. Burt Lancaster claimed he turned down the role of Ben-Hur because he "didn't like the violent morals in the story". Paul Newman turned it down because he said he didn't have the legs to wear a tunic. Rock Hudson was also offered the role.

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