William Wyler’s Roman epic established Charlton Heston’s career and won him his Oscar. He is the eponymous Ben-Hur, the Judean prince betrayed by his powerful Roman friend Messala (Stephen Boyd) and condemned to a life as a galley slave, from which he escapes by saving Roman admiral Jack Hawkins in a shipwreck. From there, it’s on to Rome where, adopted by the grateful Hawkins, Heston trains as a charioteer, after which he returns to Judea to help his fellow Jews and seek vengeance. Oh, and there’s a subplot that involves the last days of Christ. Cracking good stuff, which won 11 Oscars and is best remembered for one of the most spectacular scenes in cinema – the climactic chariot race. Wyler got the award for best director but he should really have shared it with his assistant Andrew Marton and stunt master Yakima Canutt, for it was they, not Wyler, who arranged and filmed the chariot race. Chuck is on top heroic form.
For more of today’s free-to-air films, see our TV listings