"Ben-Hur" 's deservedly famous chariot racing scene occupies 20 minutes of a relentlessly epic 212 minutes of screen time, but much else besides happens in this famous 'Tale of the Christ'.
Opening with a full overture played against Michelangelo's ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, you know that you're in for something unembarrassed by its own grandiosity. Hungarian soundtrack virtuoso Miklos Rozsa fanfares as much with his garrulous score. One can imagine the imminent Oscar recipients (11 in total) fat on parental pride throughout the nativity that follows.
Dodgy Judean masonry drops wealthy prince, Ben-Hur (Charlton Heston) in big trouble when he is framed for an attempt on a Roman governor's life. Condemned to the galleys, his wife and sister imprisoned, he prays for vengeance on his old friend, Messala (Stephen Boyd), now an officer of the Roman legions, and sets about achieving it.
This is the gospel according to Hollywood where no amount of messianic jabber about forgiveness can halt the inevitable drive towards gory comeuppance.
Charlton Heston even belches with dignity in a role designed for his unselfconscious sense of magnitude. Stephen Boyd carries the pompous dialogue less well, but given so much time to develop, their mildly homoerotic relationship is suitably charged in time for the big race. Joaquin Phoenix was to make much more of a similar role as the sinisterly pathetic Commodus in "Gladiator".
What sets it apart from that more recent multi-Oscar winning pageant is a movie industry desperate to distinguish itself from the little screen with unfettered self-importance.