Cast: Charlton Heston, Stephen Boyd, Jack Hawkins, Haya Harareet, Hugh Griffith, Martha Scott, Cathy O’Donnell, Sam Jaffe, Finlay Currie, Frank Thring, Terence Longdon, George Relph, Andre Morell, Robert Brown, John Le Mesurier, Richard Hale, Claude Heater, Susan Paget, Laurence Payne, Reginald Lal Singh
Judah (Heston), a prince of the Hebrew house of Hur, is a wealthy young merchant living in Jerusalem at the beginning of the first century. When Judah Ben-Hur hears that his childhood friend Messala is returning from years of education in Rome, he looks forward to resuming their friendship. Messala (Boyd) has been named to command the Roman garrison in Jerusalem. He arrives in Judea accompanying the new provincial governor. Judah and Messala are happy to meet after a long separation. But time has changed both men. Judah is sympathetic to those who favor independence, while Messala has dedicated his life to serve the Empire. Judah refuses Messala’s request that he divulge the names of Jews who oppose Roman rule, and the two men part in anger. Later the new Roman governor and his retinue parade through Jerusalem. As they ride past the house of Hur, Judah’s sister leans out over the balcony and accidentally dislodges a few roof tiles. The tiles fall onto the new Governor, giving the appearance of a deliberate attack. When the Romans investigate the incident, Messala, instead of defending his friend, has Judah and his sister and mother arrested. By taking swift reprisal against an old friend, Messala seeks to assert his authority over Judea and instill fear among dissidents. Judah is assigned to serve as a slave in the galleys, and his sister and mother are sent to prison. Together with common criminals, Judah is marched through the desert. At a village called Nazareth, a kind young man gives Judah water. When he gazes into the man’s eyes, Judah is filled with a sense of peace and respite from his ordeal. Seeing this, a Roman guard moves toward them threateningly, but backs away when the young man turns to look at him. Judah’s group continue their march to a port city, where he is assigned to his duty as an oarsman in a Roman galley. Judah survives years of servitude as a galley slave. One day centurion Quintus Arrius (Hawkins) comes aboard, and soon after the Roman fleet engages a group of pirate ships in battle. The galley is sunk, and Judah finds himself at sea, hanging to a piece of timber. Arrius, also cast overboard, is saved from drowning by Judah. They are both saved when a Roman ship spots them and hauls them aboard. Later Arrius’s fleet regroups and defeats the pirates. Arrius, with Judah at his side, is given a hero’s welcome in Rome. Judah becomes Arrius’s adopted son, and years later returns to Judea a wealthy man, seeking to extract his vengeance on Messala. Along the way he meets Sheik Ilderim (Griffith) and a magus named Balthasar (Currie), who was at Bethlehem at the time of Christ’s birth. Sheik Ilderim asks Judah to lead his team of horses in the upcoming chariot race against Messala’s favored team. Balthasar is seeking Christ, now a grown man, whom he believes to be a prophet and savior. On the day of the race, the contestants enter the arena in their chariots and await the start signal from the governor, Pontius Pilate. Judah’s fate and that of those he loves depends on the outcome of the chariot race. Based on the novel Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ, by Lewis Wallace.