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Rome, the Eternal Story: From Ben Hur to The Eagle
Posted January 21, 2011 to photo album "Rome, the Eternal Story: From Ben Hur to The Eagle"
The Eagle explores a part of ancient Roman history rarely seen on stage. But the history of Rome changes throughout history as well.
Slide 9: Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1959) and the Race to Freedom
Charlton Heston as Ben-Hur
In a short intro to his 1956 epic The Ten Commandments, Cecil B. De Mille pushed his cold war politics by stressing our connection to the ancient Jews in having to fight “the whims of a dictator.” Three years later, William Wyler’s epic remake of Ben-Hur shifted the historic meaning of the Jewish people and ancient Rome so as to touch on themes of loyalty and betrayal, concepts familiar to people living the Cold War. Wyler’s Ben-Hur features an altercation between Ben-Hur (Charlton Heston) and his childhood best friend Messala (Stephen Boyd), when they meet again after years apart. Messala believes in the godly power of imperial Rome while Ben-Hur, a devoted Jew, wants freedom for his people. Messala, like a congressman at House Un-American Affairs Committee, asks Ben-Hur for names of Jews who criticize the Roman government. For his part Ben-Hur, an honorable man (like those men in Hollywood earlier that the decade who refused to advance their careers by ratting on their friends) declined to betray his friends to the authorities. For this act of rebellion, Ben-Hur earns Messala’s ire, and is subsequently enslaved (blacklisted). (Like a good citizen, however, Ben Hur advises his countrymen against revolution against the evil empire.) Not known for epics, Wyler (himself Jewish) often mentioned that the characters’ yearning for a Jewish homeland made the film relevant to him.