Daily Archives: April 2, 2021

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Epic Films for Holiday Weekend!

For the first time in memory, television networks are showing two epic Biblical films in prime time, on consecutive nights. First up, tonight, is TCM’s 8 PM (ET) showing of “Ben-Hur” (as part of their A to Z tribute to “31 Days of Oscar“). Second up is tomorrow night’s annual ABC showing of “The Ten Commandments” at 7 PM (ET).

Charlton Heston has the distinction of having starred in what many consider to be the last great “costume” epic of its time (“The Ten Commandments“) and in the first great “intimate” epic of its time (“Ben-Hur“). The former film remains a stunning Cecil B. DeMille achievement that has forever given new meaning to the phrase “A Red Sea Moment” to describe any remarkably monumental special effects sequence on the big screen. The latter film remains the all-time Oscar champ (11 Oscars, tied with “Titanic” and “Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King“), directed by William Wyler, which ushered in a new kind of epic for a new era, one heavy on intimate characterization that is never eclipsed by its action sequences, including an unforgettable real chariot race, that makes CGI look fake by comparison.

Of course, what would a post like this be without at least one Sciabarra footnote. Aside from Heston, one of the key things that connects these two films is that Martha Scott plays Heston’s mother in both of them!

I could just as easily throw on the Blu-Ray of either film, but there’s still something charming about the fact that they’ll be on this weekend back-to-back. They remain truly notable achievements in the history of the cinema, however you might view them, critically, symbolically, or from a religious standpoint. Of course, nothing beats seeing these films on the Big Screen; I was lucky enough to see “Ben-Hur” for the first time, in 1969, on its tenth anniversary re-release in glorious 70mm at New York’s great Palace Theatre and “The Ten Commandments” a couple of years later at the wonderful Ziegfeld Theatre. Lacking that, find yourself the biggest TV screen to appreciate their artistry.

Epic-scale films with epic-scale scores—Elmer Bernstein’s great soundtrack for the DeMille classic and Miklos Rozsa’s spectacular Oscar-winning soundtrack [YouTube links to their “Soundtrack Suites”]—still worthy of your attention after all these years.