I feel like I jinxed this last week with my bragging of weather warm enough to wear sandals in the first week of spring. Tonight it is blowing a gale and downpouring buckets of rain. My palm tree shed its dry fronds all over the street two days ago – I guess it’s one way to meet a new neighbour as he helps get them off the roadway.
Anyway, to inaugurate the sandals season, it has to be the one by which all others are measured: are they bigger than this?
This was the hugest of the post-war epic dramas – Cleopatra spent more but never truly matched it. William Wyler cemented his reputation as a hysterical tyrant during it, while introducing a venerable Hollywood tradition: as he was deliberately attempting to create parallels between the righteous Judah Ben Hur and the American revolutionaries in his emphasis on Judea as an oppressed colony, Wyler made sure that every Roman who spoke a line was played by a British actor.
For those of us attuned to the best of shlock-irony, enjoy Wilder’s directorial sneakiness where he asks Stephen Boyd, playing Messala, to convey as much homoerotic desire for the oblivious Heston’s Ben Hur as possible without Heston catching on. A drinking game based on suggestive nostril flaring from Messala could lead to a pleasant wastedness in short order.
Because no swords and sandal epic is complete without a loincloth scene, I include with “Before the Shipwreck”:
Dear old Chuck was/is a bit prudish really, so one doesn’t get full sword and sandals leg-baring value from the 1959 Ben Hur. For that we must look to earlier versions, such as this one from 1926.
With the current trend to remaking classics before their time – who wants to bet whether we get a new Ben Hur or a new Gone With The Wind first?