Best Picture Baking Project: Ben-Hur

IMG_3527 I’ve had a copy of Ben-Hur sitting on my desk since April, because I got it into my head that watching it was going to be a chore. I’m not sure where this idea came from, maybe it’s length, or the fact that I knew it was a religious movie, which I was afraid meant a preachy, pedantic slog. But, maybe because of these low expectations, it surprised me with how much I enjoyed it. For the dessert I found a website about throwing an Ancient Roman dinner party, this cheesecake was apparently prepared as an offering to household gods, and it is both easy to make and pretty delicious, but first the movie:

Had I seen this one before?

Nope, pretty much all I knew about it was that it was based on a book, is tied with Titanic and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King for most Oscars won, and that it has a famous chariot race that was a technical marvel when it was filmed.

Top 3 observations on this viewing?

  1. I realized that I had never seen a Charlton Heston movie before this. I’m not sure exactly how this possible, but because of that my only image of him, includes a rifle and “cold dead hands,” but he was legitimately charming and affecting in this. And he had pretty eyes:

2. It is too damn long. I know that it was a different time, but three hours and forty four minutes is too long for a single movie. I was afraid, based on my experience with the last movie on this list, that it was going to just be a string of set pieces, and in some ways it is. (I particularly liked the slaves rowing for combination of drama and pure technical ingenuity.)

But the character development and relationships are actually really well developed and at points genuinely moving. (Plus there’s a a great homoerotic subtext that Gore Vidal wrote into the script, but didn’t tell Heston about because he knew that he wouldn’t agree to do it. Heston claimed until the end that this wasn’t true, but I’m not sure how you can watch this movie and not see it. It’s not subtle:

 But, if they weren’t going to cut down the novel’s epic scale, then it needed to be a miniseries (which it was apparently remade into in 2010.)

3. Stylistically it was more interesting than I expected it to be. Some of the special effects are understandably dated, but some of William Wyler‘s choices were fascinating, particularly what he decided to leave out. For example, despite the fact that Miklós Rózsa‘s score is used to highlight dramatic moments throughout the movie, in that epic chariot scene he doesn’t use any music just the sounds of the arena. Also, despite the fact that it’s based on a novel subtitled “A Tale of the Christ” we never see Jesus’ face, just the back of his head. His power is portrayed through the reactions of the people around him, which was interesting.

Also he’s got some good hair  

What did it beat? Did it deserve to win?

Anatomy of Murder – Haven’t seen it, but I’ve heard it’s interesting.

The Diary of Anne Frank – I think I saw this in school at some point, obviously it’s a moving story, but it’s not on the same scale of Ben-Hur. 

The Nun’s Story – I didn’t know this existed until right now.

Room at the Top – Also, haven’t heard of this.

I can’t say definitively of course, but I feel OK about this.

Bechdel Test Pass?

Yep! There are three women with names, and they are actually all given their own stories. Obviously, the movie is mostly about Heston’s Judah, but his love interest (played by Israeli actress Haya Harareet), mother (Martha Scott), and sister (Cathy O’Donnell) are all given space to speak about the troubles they face (and they face a lot) and their spiritual lives. There’s also some troubling stuff about slavery and arranged marriage and subservience, but I didn’t say this was a feminist masterpiece, just not as backward as I was expecting.

Libum (Ancient Roman Cheesecake)


  • 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 cup of ricotta cheese (I used reduced fat and it worked very well)
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • bay leaves (the recipe calls for fresh, but I couldn’t find any at Whole Foods and used dried which turned out fine)
  • Half a cup (or so) of honey


  1. Preheat oven to 375F
  2. Sift the flour into a large mixing bowl
  3. Beat the cheese until soft
  4. Mix cheese into flour
  5. Add the egg to form a soft dough
  6. Grease a baking sheet and place four bay leaves
  7. Separate dough into four equal pieces
  8. Shape pieces into rolls and place on a bay leaf
  9. Bake for 35-40 min or until golden brown
  10. Warm honey (I just left the bottle on top of the stove as the cakes baked) and pour onto a dinner plate
  11. Remove cakes from oven and place them onto the honey
  12. Let sit to allow the honey to absorb into the cake

One thought on “Best Picture Baking Project: Ben-Hur

  1. Pingback: And the Nominees Are 2017: Round 1 | I Get a Bit Obsessive

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