It was a weekend of old school Hollywood epics…
#157 / 365 – ‘Ben Hur’ (1959) – 212 mins
IMDb Challenge #94 / 250 – Ranked #160 – Via DVD Collection
Judah Ben-Hur (Charlton Heston) lives as a rich Jewish prince and merchant in Jerusalem at the beginning of the 1st century. Together with the new governor his old friend Messala arrives as commanding officer of the Roman legions. At first they are happy to meet after a long time but their different politic views separate them. During the welcome parade a roof tile falls down from Judah’s house and injures the governor. Although Messala (Stephen Boyd) knows they are not guilty, he sends Judah to the galleys and throws his mother and sister into prison. But Judah swears to come back and take revenge.
The numbers speak for themselves, 11 Academy Awards (a record only to be equaled by ‘Titanic’ (1997) and ‘The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King’ (2003) – 300 sets, 8,000 extras, 365 speaking parts, a phenomenal 1,125,000 feet of footage shot. Ben-Hur, like all classics, they have a single sequence to define it in cinematic history and Ben Hur’s piece de resistance is the chariot race in the Circus Maximus, which to this day is still a spectacle to behold, and one which George Lucas would pay homage to with its pod-race in ‘Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace’.
Charlton Heston plays Judah Ben-Hur with chisled style, but he is totally upstaged by Stephen Boyd who gives a fantastic and stirring performance as the villain Messala. Even though and I’ll admit this biblical epic does get a little draggy in places, there are enough good moments in the plot to keep you riveted to your seat along its colossal 212 minute running time. Ben-Hur is a movie that everybody should see at least once in their lifetime because quite simply Hollywood doesn’t make spectacles like this anymore – well they do, but cheat and use CGI.
#158 / 365 – ‘Gone with the Wind’ (1939) – 233 mins
IMDb Challenge #95 / 250 – Ranked #152 – Via DVD Collection
Scarlett (Vivien Leigh) is beautiful, she has vitality and is a woman who can deal with a nation at war, Atlanta burning, the Union Army carrying off everything from her beloved Tara, the carpetbaggers who arrive after the war. But Ashley (Leslie Howard), the man she has wanted for so long, is going to marry his placid cousin, Melanie (Olivia De Havilland). Mammy warns Scarlett to behave herself at the party at Twelve Oaks. There is a new man there that day, the day the Civil War begins. Rhett Butler (Clark Gable). Scarlett does not know he is in the room when she pleads with Ashley to choose her instead of Melanie.
With three directors of Victor Fleming, Sam Wood and George Cukor having exhaustingly worked on Margaret Mitchell’s adaptation, Gone with the Wind was a massive undertaking where the results are a grand spectacle for all to see. Boasting some sweeping cinematography of the fading South, lavish costume design, Gone with the Wind really is an exquisite film, and all shot in Technicolor when at the time when very few films were.
On top it also has one of most easily recognisable soaring scores in Tara’s Theme from composer Max Steiner.
The acting is powerful from all around and Clark Gable gives a fantastic performance as Rhett Butler, but there’s no denying that Vivien Leigh owns the film as the self-centered Southern belle. It is, after all Scarlett O’Hara’s story, and Leigh appears in almost every scene throughout.
Despite its near four-hour running time complete with overtures, Gone with the Wind never feels that long and never ceases to be thoroughly entertaining and is one of the finest examples of storytelling ever committed to film. Like all films, Gone with the Wind does have it’s flaws, but it’s still undeniably a classic and one that will stand time for generations to enjoy – frankly you will give a damn if you choose to watch this epic masterpiece.
#159 / 365 – ‘Notorious’ (1946) – 101 mins
IMDb Challenge #96 / 250 – Ranked #147 – Via DVD Collection
Following the conviction of her German father for treason against the U.S., Alicia Huberman (Ingrid Bergman) takes to drink and men. She is approached by a government agent Devlin (Cary Grant) who asks her to spy on a group of her father’s Nazi friends operating out of Rio de Janeiro. A romance develops between Alicia and Devlin, but she starts to get too involved in her work.
Blistering, chemistry filled performances from Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman combine to form the heart of the master of suspense Alfred Hitchcock’s tense espionage thriller, where he teasingly builds the tension to infiltrate a Nazi spy ring in Rio de Janeiro