Unfortunately Charlton couldn't get Stephen to hear his witty Grey Poupon joke.


Unfortunately Charlton couldn't get Stephen to hear his witty Grey Poupon joke.

BEN-HUR (1959)

The Abridged Script

FADE IN:

INT. BETHLEHEM MANGER

THREE WISE MEN walk into a MANGER to find THE BABY JESUS and his PARENTS.

WISE MAN

Whoops! Wrong movie, we were looking for the chariot race one.

(leaves, checks title, comes back)

Nope, apparently this is us. Um. Why the Nativity? What’s that got to do with anything?

MARY

Oh, we’ve just tacked on about an extra half an hour to our already bloated running time, and five awkward additional words to our otherwise nice and direct title, to make this technically a Christian movie.

WISE MAN

Aha, smart move. After all, this is the fifties, where “Christian movie” means a huge star-studded spectacle which makes a zillion dollars and wins all the Oscars. Not something that gets shot in Kirk Cameron’s house on a budget of three hundred bucks.

(gives Jesus a bunch of myrrh)

Well kid, good luck inserting yourself into a semi-random bunch of scenes and barely mattering to the story at all.

INT. JUDEAN MANSION, TWENTY-FIVE YEARS LATER

Wealthy Jewish merchant CHARLTON HESTON welcomes home his old friend, Roman tribune STEPHEN BOYD.

CHARLTON HESTON

Stephen! It’s been ages! How’s Rome?

STEPHEN BOYD

It’s THE BOMB! The Romans are just the gosh-golly best at everything. You should see the advances we’ve made in homoerotic subtext!

(clutches Charlton’s arm, gazes longingly into his eyes)

But that’s nothing compared with our latest developments in invading somebody else’s homeland and crushing them underneath our bootheel!

CHARLTON HESTON

About that. Some of the folks round here are a touch miffed about being violently subjugated by the vast armies of a power-hungry conqueror.

STEPHEN BOYD

Yeah, we’d noticed the locals have been getting a bit uprise-y lately. They listen to you, do you think you could get them to maybe cut it out?

CHARLTON HESTON

It’s worth a shot. After all, nobody’s willing to calmly listen to reason like a gang of armed insurgents!

CHARLTON goes home to his SLAVE SAM JAFFE.

CHARLTON HESTON

My WHAT?

SAM JAFFE

Master, I want to talk to you about my daughter Haya Harareet, who is also your slave.

CHARLTON HESTON

Hold on a minute! I’m a SLAVEOWNER? I literally OWN PEOPLE?

SAM JAFFE

Yeah, but it’s all good! We actually like being your legal property!

HAYA HARAREET

Being owned by a swell guy like you is actually pretty neat. In fact there’s nothing inherently wrong with slavery at all!

CHARLTON HESTON

Oh, that’s better I guess. In some ways. In other ways it’s MUCH worse.

SAM JAFFE

Anyhow, as awesome as it is being your slave, I kind of need you to give Haya her freedom so she can marry some merchant guy and become HIS property.

HAYA HARAREET

(sighs)

I will dutifully marry this stranger, but it hurts me, because it’s really you I love, Charlton!

CHARLTON HESTON

(sighs)

And I find myself falling in love with you too. Oh if only I had the kind of material wealth that this merchant has to offer you-

(looks at mansion)

Wait a minute, I totally do. Well then if only your father approved of me-

(looks at Sam’s adoring gaze)

Oh right, he thinks the sun shines out of my ass. Why the hell are we acting like there’s a conflict here?

HAYA HARAREET

I know, right? An engagement between us would even make it more poignant when your life turns to shit in the next couple of scenes.

CHARLTON HESTON

Oh right, I’m late for the crappening.

(hurries off)

EXT. STREETS OF JUDEA

CHARLTON meets with STEPHEN.

CHARLTON HESTON

So I talked with the folks around here, and some of them are on board. But the others kind of had their hearts set on throwing off the yoke of foreign oppression. You win some you lose some, right?

STEPHEN BOYD

I’m sure you did what you could. Now if you could just tell me the names of the uncooperative guys, I’ll go cut all their heads off and we can call it a day.

CHARLTON HESTON

What?! Fuck off! Look, I don’t know if you saw The Ten Commandments, but I’ve sort of got this whole “savior of the Jews” thing going on.

STEPHEN BOYD

Why of all the low, traitorous - I can’t believe my best bud with unsubtle sexual undertones won’t do me the simple favor of helping me murder his neighbors! I SHALL HAVE MY VENGEANCE!

CHARLTON HESTON

By immediately arresting me for aiding and abetting terrorists?

STEPHEN BOYD

Where’s the clumsy plot contrivance in that? I’m sure some random misunderstanding will come along that’ll allow me to arrest you for something completely unrelated.

EXT. CHARLTON’S MANSION

CHARLTON and his sister CATHY O'DONNELL are on their ROOF watching a PARADE pass by when HAYA nudges a LOOSE TILE in such a way that it nearly kills some ROMAN BIGWIG.

STEPHEN BOYD

There you go. Charlton, you’re under arrest for attempted assassination! And your sister and mother are also under arrest just for being around! Does that make me evil enough yet? Better play it safe and arrest Sam and Cathy too. Also I’ll arrest, uhh...

(looks around)

Fuck, this movie has literally run out of characters for me to arrest. Oh well, I’m probably hateable enough already.

CHARLTON HESTON

Don’t do this, Stephen! Nobody was trying to kill that important Roman guy, it was just a random physical event which happened to look exactly like an attack on that important personage, as utterly asinine as that is!

STEPHEN BOYD

Oh I know. But I’m still arresting everyone to show all the potential dissidents what a firm hand I have.

CHARLTON HESTON

You’re railroading well-liked citizens into prison on fake trumped-up charges to make the populace LESS likely to turn against you?

STEPHEN BOYD

An ingenious plan, don’t you think? Anyway, off into slavery with you!

CHARLTON HESTON

FUUUUUUU- wait, the cool kind?

STEPHEN BOYD

The NOT cool kind!

CHARLTON HESTON

-UUUUUUCK!!

EXT. DESERT

CHARLTON and a bunch of other SLAVES are being mercilessly marched across the DESERT.

ROMAN GUARD

March, scum! March until you keel over and die!

(whips slaves)

Now we’ll stop for water, BUT YOU MAY NOT HAVE ANY WATER. My plan is clearly to show up at our destination with all the slaves dead and me fired!

But then he is stopped in his tracks by THE BACK OF JESUS CHRIST’S HEAD.

THE BACK OF JESUS CHRIST’S HEAD

Never mind that asshole, Charlton. Have a few mouthfuls of water.

CHARLTON HESTON

Thanks! Um, is there anything else you’d like to do? I mean, it seems pretty clear that a decent number of us are going to die horribly before we even begin our lives of brutal servitude, so since you’re basically God do you think-

THE BACK OF JESUS CHRIST’S HEAD

(looking at watch)

Er, speaking of water, I’ve got an appointment to go walk on the Sea of Galilee, byeee!

(vamooses)

CHARLTON HESTON

Ladies and gentlemen, the finite power of Christ.

INT. WAR GALLEY, FIVE YEARS LATER

CHARLTON has been ROWING A WAR GALLEY for FIVE YEARS NOW. ROMAN CENTURION JACK HAWKINS comes belowdecks for an inspection.

JACK HAWKINS

Yes, great idea this, chaining slaves to the oars! Much cheaper than bringing on actual paid labor like those boring old real-life Roman galleys did. All right, let’s open her up, see what this baby can do!

DRUM GUY

You heard ’im, boys! And a-one, and a-two!

The DRUMMER starts DRUMMING REAL FAST and the ROWERS start ROWING LIKE CRAZY and the galley HAULS ASS, presumably making the REST OF THE FLEET wonder WHAT THE FUCK THOSE GUYS THINK THEY’RE DOING.

SLAVE #1

So is this the auditions for who can collapse from exhaustion the most overdramatically? Step aside, amateurs!

(flops)

SLAVE #2

Nuh-uh, nobody can stagger and swoon more hammily than I!

(flails)

SLAVE #3

Oh, it is ON, bitches!

(disintegrates)

While half the SLAVES PASS OUT, CHARLTON remains ALERT and full of MURDER GLARE.

JACK HAWKINS

Well well, this Charlton character certainly stands out. I mean I guess literally dozens of other rowers kept pace without showing any sign of exhaustion, but only Charlton spent the whole time glowering at me like he’d like to pull my heart out and shove it up my ass. Bring him to my cabin.

DRUM GUY

Heh heh, gotcha.

(winks)

JACK HAWKINS

Not like that!

DRUM GUY

Suuure. I’ve seen Caligula, I know how you Romans are.

INT. JACK’S CABIN

JACK is ASLEEP when CHARLTON enters his CABIN.

JACK HAWKINS

(waking up)

Charlton! Why, I was completely vulnerable now. I’m impressed that you didn’t take the opportunity to kill me.

CHARLTON HESTON

Why the fuck would I murder a random Roman soldier when I’m stuck in the middle of the ocean surrounded by other Roman soldiers? You’re very easily impressed, buddy.

JACK HAWKINS

I sure am. In fact I’m so impressed by your ability to push a big stick around in a circle for a long time without dropping dead that I’d like to pull you out of galley slavery and make you a chariot racer in the circus.

CHARLTON HESTON

Not interested.

JACK HAWKINS

Wait, what? I’m offering to take you out of this big crate of anonymous sweaty workhorses and make you a celebrity athlete, and your answer is no? What the fuck is wrong with you?

CHARLTON HESTON

Meh, I figure I’ll hold out for a better once-in-a-lifetime offer. The circus is dangerous! I’d rather stay in the safe, secure, danger-free environment that is this-

MACEDONIAN RAIDERS ATTACK THE FLEET!!

CHARLTON HESTON

Oh, right. WAR galley. That whole thing.

JACK HAWKINS

Shit! We need to activate our defenses! Prepare to go into Wooden Model in a Water Tank Mode!

All the SHIPS become TWO-FOOT-LONG MODELS floating around in a WADING POOL, which fling ADORABLE LITTLE FIREBALLS at each other! The ROMAN SHIPS all get SUNK, but CHARLTON SURVIVES and manages to save JACK.

JACK HAWKINS

You saved my life! As a reward I’m going to... take you to Rome to be a charioteer like I originally offered.

(frowns)

Oh that’s right, you said you’d rather stay a galley slave and waste away in a hole for the rest of your life. Never mind.

CHARLTON HESTON

(laughs)

Don’t be ridiculous! Why the hell would I choose not to come to Rome with you? Sure I’ll come, I’m not an IDIOT.

JACK HAWKINS

I seriously don’t get you.

INT. ROME

A year or two later, JACK has adopted CHARLTON.

JACK HAWKINS

I love you, fake son who’s nearly as old as me!

CHARLTON HESTON

I love you too, fake dad! But I should probably duck back over to Judea to check how my mom and sister are doing with that whole life imprisonment deal.

(pause)

In fact, why the hell didn’t I get you to have something done about that immediately after I saved your life? Geez, I hope they haven’t died in captivity or anything.

He heads back to JUDEA to discover that, yep, dead family.

CHARLTON HESTON

Ah, fuck! Well I guess that just leaves me with Plan B: MURDER STEPHEN IN HIS STUPID FAAACE!! Hmmm, if only there happened to be some means of legally killing him, in which I was coincidentally already proficient, and in which he would conveniently agree to participate...

HUGH GRIFFITH

Perhaps I, your sheik friend, can offer a suitable suggestion.

CHARLTON HESTON

A sheik... named “Hugh Griffith”?

(peers closely)

Oh for the love of - is that fucking blackface?

HUGH GRIFFITH

It is indeed! I’m a Welsh actor painting himself brown, putting on a silly accent and playing the “wealthy Arab” stereotype to the hilt.

(smiles)

I won an Oscar for this!

CHARLTON HESTON

Goddamnit, 1959! Stop embarrassing me in front of my friends!

HUGH GRIFFITH

Anyway, you should compete against Stephen in a chariot race. There is no law inside the arena!

CHARLTON HESTON

Oh, excellent! I’ll just need to figure out how to rig a chariot with a hose that shoots pressurised sulfuric acid.

HUGH GRIFFITH

Well maybe there’s a TEENSY bit of law. So come on, let’s go get revenge against your former friend who betrayed you into slavery and killed your family, by facing off against him in a public sporting arena - holy shit, Gladiator was pretty fucking shameless really, wasn’t it?

EXT. ARENA

CHARLTON and STEPHEN and a bunch of OTHER DUDES start CHARIOT RACING AGAINST EACH OTHER!

CHARLTON HESTON

At last I will destroy you, Stephen! Taste the wrath of my - uh - say, what the hell is my plan here anyway? I don’t seem to have given myself any offensive capabilities at all. As far as I can tell my entire strategy is to race near you, and hope that eventually you die from it.

STEPHEN BOYD

Well some of us are a bit more organized. I’ve weaponized my chariot! See the big metal spikes sticking out of the wheels, which I can use to tear the other chariots apart? Such a smart move for a racer to add a hundred pounds of weight to his vehicle!

CHARLTON HESTON

Oh yes, almost as smart as a manoeuvre where you make another vehicle break apart, collapse and crash while your own vehicle is partially embedded in it.

(rolls eyes)

They RACE! Vehicles CRASH! People get TRAMPLED! It’s all LAVISH STUNTWORK and VICIOUS CHEATING and MAYHEM and slowly the AUDIENCE forgets that there was ANY OTHER SCENE IN THIS MOVIE!

STEPHEN BOYD

Ha, I kill you now, Charlton! I just picked up one of those multi-banana peels and you're going down!

CHARLTON HESTON

Oh yeah, well BLUE SHELL, ASSHOLE!

STEPHEN BOYD

OH FUCK YOU WHAT A CHEAP MOVE

(crashes)

CHARLTON wins the RACE while STEPHEN gets run over by HORSES.

CHARLTON HESTON

I beat you and now you’re dead, jerkface! Movie done, I win.

STEPHEN BOYD

Not so fast! With my dying breath, I inform you that your mother and sister are still alive in a leper colony, and condemn this movie to continue for another FORTY GODDAMN MINUTES BWA HA HA HAAAAUURKK

(dies)

CHARLTON HESTON

FORTY MINUTES?! AW COME ON I COULD ALREADY HAVE WATCHED CASABLANCA TWICE BY NOW!! FUCK IT, NOW I HATE EVERYTHING!! DEATH TO ALL ROMANS!! DEATH TO THINGS IN GENERAL!! BLARGH!!

HAYA HARAREET

No, Charlton, don’t give in to hate! Hatred never solves anything!

CHARLTON HESTON

What about the fact that it was made explicitly clear that being fueled by hate was the only thing that kept me from dropping dead when I was a slave?

HAYA HARAREET

...Huh, you’re right, hatred solved quite a bit back then, didn’t it? But still, you should come listen to this wonderful and amazing guy I know of, Jesus Christ. I just know that seeing him will fill you with hope and joy and love!

CHARLTON HESTON

Er, is that him there, staggering through the streets with a giant cross and bleeding from almost every part of his body?

HAYA HARAREET

DAMNIT! How the hell is it time for the crucifixion already? The Sermon on the Mount was literally yesterday!

They go and watch JESUS get MURDERED.

HAYA HARAREET

So, uh. I don’t suppose this brutal execution has filled you with hope and joy and love, has it?

CHARLTON HESTON

Absolutely it has!

HAYA HARAREET

SERIOUSLY?

CHARLTON HESTON

You betcha! Seeing a peaceful religious leader get tortured and nailed to a pole and left to die - by the very people I already hated, no less - has made me feel a deep and abiding love for all living things, inexplicably!

MARTHA SCOTT

Me too! I, your mother dying of leprosy, as well as your dying sister, now feel at peace and contented because we saw a barely-conscious stranger briefly from a distance.

CHARLTON HESTON

...Okay, yeah, this ending isn’t so bad! The idea that Christ as an icon, and his teachings as a philosophy, can by themselves bring hope to people with good reason to give over to hatred or despair. It’s possibly the most dignified and realistic pro-Christian message a movie could have.

HAYA HARAREET

True! It’s good to see we’re not relying on the promise of Jesus as a magical man who can make all your problems effortlessly disappear-

CHARLTON HESTON

Oh, that was an option? Fuck it, let’s just do that!

Suddenly, MARTHA and CATHY get some JESUS BLOOD on them and are instantly cured of their LEPROSY!

MARTHA SCOTT

Hooray, everything is lazily fixed! Thank you, magic corpse juice!

END.

This script was made possible thanks to the support of Patrons like Claire.

If you'd like to support the site, please check out our Patreon page where pledging can earn you access to an ad-free version of the site, early access to scripts, exclusive scripts, and other cool shit.

Discussion