On May 4, the 140th running of the Kentucky Derby took place. California Chrome took the prize. I’m not a gambling man, but I do love horse racing. Thoroughbreds: The Real McCoy! Steeplechase? Eh! And I hate harness racing. Cindy & I went to the Meadowlands for it once back in August of ’81. Our friends Joe & Mary DeVito drove. We bet on the races & we had a little side bet in the 12th. 5 Denarii each. The DeVito’s wanted the favorite, Tribune. We liked the 13 to 1 shot, Antares. The bet was head-to-head: Whichever horse finished in front, won! “’Tribune has won many times. He has 4 victories on this circuit.’, I said. ‘The odds should be in the same measure. Will you give us 4 to 1?’. ‘4 to 1 it is!’, Joe replied!” Antares came out of the gate at a steady pace. [Horse racing announcer getting progressively faster & more excited] At the first turn, “BATTLE SPEED!”. Then, at the ½ mile mark, he made his move to the inside & held the rail: “ATTACK SPEED!”. Then down the stretch: “RAMMING SPEED!”. The long shot hit his stride & took a full length lead over the field with Tribune in hot pursuit. Then, within 50 yards of the finish line, Antares pulled to the right…[Disappointedly] and let Tribune in on the rail…and he zoomed past him for the Win! [Deliberate] The fix was in! [Solemn] I went to the harnesses twice that day: For the first time; and the last time.
Today’s Classic Blog is of William Wyler’s 11 Academy Award Winner, Ben-Hur. It’s most famous scene is a chariot race. When it was released, Ben-Hur was the biggest budget motion picture of all-time at almost $16 million. It stars Charleton Heston as Judah Ben-Hur. It opens in 26 AD Jerusalem. Judah is a rich & religious Jewish prince who lives with his mother (Martha Scott) & sister (Cathy O’Donnell). Esther (Haya Harareet), his slave & the love of his life, is betrothed by arrangement so Judah grants her her freedom as a wedding gift. His best friend, Messala (Stephen Boyd), is a Roman who’s just arrived back to Jerusalem as the new commander the Judaean Garrison. He’s accompanied by the new Governor of Judea (the uncredited Mino Doro). As Judah & his sister are watching their celebration parade from their roof, she casually leans on a ceramic tile & it breaks free and falls to the ground next to the Governor’s horse.
Horses are very important in this picture. As I said, its most memorable scene is the chariot race which took 15000 extras to make. And Wyler was recognized for his efforts with the Best Director Oscar in 1960 at the 32nd Academy Awards. Included in Ben-Hur’s other 10 Oscars: Best Picture, Actor; and Supporting Actor (Hugh Griffith as Sheik Ilderum, a gambler who takes a particular interest in the chariot race). It was the first movie to win 11 Oscars, still the record, though it has been tied twice – James Cameron’s Titanic in ’98 at the 70th Academy Awards, and Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings: Return of the King in 2004. Both films have horses, though Titanic only briefly & not on the ship. It’s a tough enough watch during the denouement without having to witness horses drowning. Moviemakers have always had a thing for horses. 2 of the great ‘39’s, Dark Victory and Gone With the Wind, have horse jumping accidents. The very first movie ever made, Eadweard Muybridge’s 1878 Sallie Gardner at a Gallop, is about a horse named Sallie Gardner at a Gallop. It’s a 3 second film made by splicing together a series of 24 still photographs to prove that all 4 of a horses feet are off the ground when galloping (embedded below). There’s Black Beauty and Seabiscuit; the westerns; National Velvet; A Day at the Races featuring Groucho, Chico & Harpo Marx; The Electric Horseman; Secretariat; and more than 80 others about horses, let alone including them. Crazy Over Horses…yep, that was a movie released in ’51 starring The Bowery Boys. It sucked! The chariot race in William Wyler’s Ben-Hur…does not! So, watch the Trailer at the bottom of the Blog, then add it to your Netflix Queue. 4 Stars!