Monday, August 5, 2013

Charlton Heston vs. Ramon Novarro

Today, TCM is honoring Charlton Heston in Summer Under the Stars with 24 hours of his movies. (Well, one of them, a 1980s version of A Man For ALl Seasons, in which Heston plays Thomas More, is actually a TV movie, if I understand correctly.) Heston won n Oscar for Ben-Hur back in 1959, and it's not surprising that TCM chose to include Ben-Hur for their salute to Heston. Slightly interesting is that it's coming on at 10:30 PM, which is an incovenient time for those of us on the east coast, but is great for those out west, since that's 7:30 PM in California.

Not that I'm a huge fan of the 1959 version of Ben-Hur, to be honest. Oh, sure, it's well made, and the chariot race scene is spectacular. But at 220-something minutes, it's needlessly long, about an hour and 20 minutes longer than the 1925 Ramon Novarro version, which itself is long for a silent epic. I can't help but wonder if director Fred Niblo, who did the 1925 version, wouldn't have been able to come up with some stunning images of his own if he'd had wide-screen photography back in his day. I'm always reminded of this when TCM shows that piece about letterboxing, with Sydney Pollack saying he gets the heebie jeebies thinking about Ben-Hur panned-and-scanned. After all, there is a 4:3 chariot scene, and one that was designed that way. And it's just as well done as the one in the 1959 version, once you take into account that there were technical limitations in the 1920s.

If you want to compare the two versions of Ben Hur, Ramon Novarro is getting his Summer Under the Stars spotlight day on Thursday, and his 1925 version of Ben-Hur is airing at the much more civilized hour of 8:00 PM ET.

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