THE LION SLEEPS TONIGHT
Horsing around: Charlton Heston takes the reins in Ben-Hur
If you’ve never seen Ben-Hur, the 1959 biblical epic starring Charlton Heston, then you’re missing out on a film so long and expensive that its director spent one-eighth of his entire $15 million budget just on camera film. A film that required the longest soundtrack in movie history—a staggering 110 minutes of original music. A film that won 11 Oscars, the most of any picture to date at the time. And you’re missing out on a film that proved so colossally successful (only Gone With The Wind had been bigger) that the 1950s Hollywood merchandising machine went into overdrive, churning out everything from bespoke Ben-Hur candies, to sets of matching “Ben Her” and “Ben His” bathrobes. (No, really, that was a thing.)
You’re also missing out on a milestone moment of cinematic history.
Ben-Hur was produced by MGM Studios, whose logo, very famously, is a live roaring lion. The film itself, meanwhile, opens with a serene biblical nativity scene. And those two things combined—a roaring lion and the biblical birth of Jesus—didn’t quite gel with the film’s director, William Wyler.
As a result, Wyler approached the bigwigs at MGM and asked if in the final print of the film, he would be permitted to silence the studio’s trademark roaring lion. Given the context, the producers agreed to his unique request—and, for the first time in cinema history, an MGM film opened with its instantly recognisable lion roaring in absolute silence.