Spent a butt-numbing four hours on the couch yesterday watching Ben Hur on our new 52" TV! (Note to Consumers: High Definition does nothing to improve the quality of bad acting, cliched script, crappy accents, or really awful make-up jobs designed to impart 'ethnicity' to mis-cast actors.)
Now of course the whole reason I watched this entire (commercial-free, thank God! Just an intermission) epic was to catch the eight-minute chariot race scene, and all these years later it did not disappoint. I recall loving it as a youngster, but back then I rooted for the black horses. Never did like white ones. This time, I was able to appreciate the beauty of the white Arabian team and the incredible training that must have taken place behind the scenes.
I also liked how the movie depicted Ben as thanking each horse for his efforts right after the race. Also fun were the galley slave scenes and Roman parade shots. Love those uniforms!
As an incredibly unexpected treat, after the movie they showed a publicity clip of some sort made at the time to show how the horses were trained. It was in black and white, and very much a phony propaganda short.
It opened with these two 'moguls' walking the countryside (Italian?) looking for horses to star in the film. They looked like Mafia don extras, complete with loud suits, fedoras, dark sunglasses, and huge cigars. A white horse pulling a farm cart approaches and these two talent scouts stop the driver to give the work horse the once-over. One glance can tell this horse has never done a day's work in it's pampered life and this scene is pure fantasy. This show Arabian is waved over to the studio lot where he is shod and brushed. I guess it was supposed to be the equivalent of being discovered Schwabb's drugstore and having your teeth straightened or something.
The clip turned a little more documentary-esqe at that point; they showed trainers lunging horses, teaching tricks, and ultimately hitching them in groups of four. They taught them to rear on command, both in harness and out. Some could also kneel and do other little routines on cue. Then came the main attraction - setting up a jump for an entire team of four to leap over while dragging an empty chariot! I guess I took that shot for fancy camera work, but these horses could really do it in an empty arena and the little cart bumped right along with them. If you get the chance to see this clip, it really is quite fascinating.
After Ben, they did a Humphrey Bogart film festival as it was Bogie's birthday and I was able to watch Casablanca on the big screen. Amazingly, it was in original black and white! Ted must be mellowing in his old age or something, and didn't colorize it just because he could.