Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

Ben-Hur (1959)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Ben-Hur (1959)

In William Wyler's monumental, Best Picture-winning Biblical epic:

  • the opening - a series of tableaux of the birth of Christ Nativity sequence and the coming of the Magi
  • the friendship and toasting of two loyal and old friends: newly appointed Roman Tribune Messala (Stephen Boyd) and influential Jewish prince Judah Ben-Hur (Charlton Heston) - potentially Judah's avowed enemy, although they expressed their closeness by embracing, engaging in a friendly spear-throwing contest (exclaiming: "Down Eros, up Mars!"), and their pledging to each other as they crossed arms: Messala: "It's an insane world, but in it there's one sanity, the loyalty of old friends. Judah, we must believe in one another"
  • shortly later, Judah's accusational rift with Messala when Judah was asked to betray his people, turn traitor and help Rome: "I'd rather be a fool than a traitor or a killer...Rome is evil....I warn you. Rome is an affront to God. Rome is strangling my people and my country and the whole Earth, but not forever. I tell you, the day Rome falls, there will be a shout of freedom such as the world has never heard before"; Messala offered Judah a choice: "Either you help me or you oppose me. You have no other choice. You're either for me or against me" - and Judah chose decisively: "I am against you!"
  • the confrontational scene between Messala and Judah after his family members were falsely accused of treason (after an unfortunate accident during a Roman parade), and Ben-Hur was condemned and sentenced to exile as a slave on a Roman galley ship - Judah vowed revenge: "May God grant me vengeance. I pray that you live till I return"
  • the moment during a forced march of slaves across the desert that the dehydrated Judah Ben-Hur cried out "God, help me" in Nazareth - and was given water by Jesus
  • the interior sequences aboard the galley ships, where Roman Consul Quintus Arrius (Jack Hawkins) noticed Ben-Hur's steely determination - and learned he had already served over three years: "You have the spirit to fight back but the good sense to control it. Your eyes are full of hate, Forty-One. That's good. Hate keeps a man alive. It gives him strength"
Roman Consul Quintus Arrius: "Your eyes are full of hate, 41"
  • and the exciting slave galley ship battle against the Macedonians' pirate war ships, when Ben-Hur's ship was rammed, but because he was unchained to his oar, he was able to miraculously save many of the slaves and Arrius himself - and the realization that the Romans were victorious although five ships were lost; Arrius told Ben-Hur: "In his eagerness to save you, your God has also saved the Roman fleet"
  • the spectacular reception scene in Rome that greeted victorious Arrius and Ben-Hur riding in a chariot together, who were recognized by Emperor Tiberius (George Relph)
  • the most famous sequence of all - the thrilling 11-minute chariot race scene between Ben-Hur and his villainous childhood friend Messala before an immense crowd, prefaced by a lengthy and impressive Parade of the Charioteers, when they paraded around the ring in a display of pageantry; the setting was majestic with a central divider strip composed of three statues thirty feet high, and grandstands on all sides, rising five stories high
Famed Chariot Race Sequence
  • Messala's gruesome deathbed scene after his defeat in the arena, when he called for Ben-Hur - delaying an operation to amputate his legs that would attempt to save his life; Messala was bitter and had one last card to play: "Triumph complete, Judah. The race won. The enemy destroyed...What do you think you see? The smashed body of a wretched animal! Is enough of a man still left here for you to hate? Let me help you...You think they're dead. Your mother and sister. Dead. And the race over. It isn't over, Judah. They're not dead...Look for them in the Valley of the Lepers, if you can recognize them. (Messala grabbed Judah's clothing) It goes on. It goes on, Judah. The race, the race is not over"
  • the sequence of Ben-Hur's visit to the Valley of the Lepers, where he watched in anguish and pain from behind a boulder as Esther (Haya Harareet) brought food to his leprosy-afflicted mother Miriam (Martha Scott) and sister Tirzah (Cathy O'Donnell)
  • the reversal of roles - Judah followed along behind Jesus as he was being led to his crucifixion, and as the carpenter once gave him water in Nazareth, so does Ben-Hur offer the agonized 'King of the Jews' water when he fell
  • the final crucifixion and healing scene of Ben-Hur's leprosy-afflicted mother and sister (from cleansing rain), when he became transfixed and transformed, and spoke of the miracle to Esther: "Almost at the moment he died, I heard him say it, 'Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.'...Even then. And I felt His voice take the sword out of my hand"
  • the film's final image: the high place with three empty crosses as a shepherd drove his flock before the hill

Friendship Toast Between Judah and Messala

Judah: "Rome is an Affront to God"

Judah: "God help me"

Triumphant Rome Entry: Judah With Quintus Arrius

After the Chariot Race - Messala's Death

The Valley of the Lepers

Judah Offering Water to the "King of the Jews"

Judah Speaking to Esther: "...take the sword out of my hand"

Three Empty Crosses


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