Ben-Hur: behind the scenes of a legendary sequence

Ben-Hur: behind the scenes of a legendary sequence

Broadcast this evening on C8, the Peplum “Ben-Hur” remains, 62 years after its release, an unsurpassable monument of cinema, outclassing head and shoulders the new version released in 2016. Including for the legendary sequence of the race tanks …


Less than six months after his visit to Arte, Ben-Hur is back in the broadcast race, this time on the C8 channel, this Wednesday, June 2, at 9:20 p.m.

We hardly present this epic monument of cinema, crowned with 11 Oscars. 62 years after its release, the Peplum signed William Wyler remains unsurpassed and unmatched by the scope of its staging and the acting of its actors; Charlton Heston in the lead.

Here comes the trailer …

The film even has the luxury of outclassing head and shoulders above the new version released in 2016, right down to the legendary chariot racing sequence. Even with the reinforcement of digital special effects necessarily making it more spectacular, it does not equal in dramaturgy and intensity that of the 1959 film.

An unsurpassable sequence

It must also be said that the production of the time had more than largely given the means of its ambitions, absolutely colossal, under the auspices of the MGM. In order to repatriate the horses from the chariot race scene to the filming location, the producers spent lavishly, making some of the animals, in this case the white ones, travel by plane. But not just any old way, since it was a journey, between Czechoslovakia and Rome, made … in first class!

The stadium in which the chariot race takes place has attracted a lot of attention. Thus, it is estimated that its construction required more than 1000 m³ of wood, 400 km of tubes or even 40,000 tons of sand. The number of extras is also disproportionate: up to more than 15,000 people were present on the set.

The difficulty of filming such a complex scene made it necessary to resort to several artifices: the central construction is excessively large compared to the real ancient stages (when it was present); in some sequences, several tanks have only three horses instead of four, to allow the camera to get as close as possible.

This half-hour sequence still required no less than four months of preparation and three months of filming. 82 horses were available, but only 36 were actually used during the scene. A scene that alone cost the trifle of $ 4 million, which, adjusted for inflation, gives the sum of $ 36.7 million today.

Award the laurels of the race

Several of the directors of the second team, including Yakima Canutt, Andrew Marton and even Sergio Leone, later claimed to have made this famous sequence. A way like any other to pull the cover a little / a lot to oneself … Still, whatever the director, Wyler’s first choice was none other than the great David Lean, who however declined the offer.

In addition, there was for a long time a rumor around the turning of this sequence; namely that a stuntman was killed during the race. This is not correct, although the drama did not go far … In a famous shot, Judas Ben-Hur collides with another stationary tank in the middle of the track, causing it to fall over its char, at the front. But he makes up for it and manages to climb back up. Only the first part of this waterfall was planned. In fact, the director of the second team, Yakima Canutt, saw his son, stuntman Joe Canutt, accidentally thrown out of the tank while making the jump. A screening that could have cost him his life. The only injury suffered by Joe Canutt was a cut to the chin. A miracle …

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