Oscar Movies: Ben-Hur (1959)

: 12

Picture, produced by Sam Zimbalist
Director: William Wyler
Screenplay (Adapted): Karl Tunberg
Actor: Charlton Heston
Supporting Actor: Hugh Griffith
Cinematography (color): Robert L. Surtees
Art Direction-Set Decoration (color: William A. Horning and Edward Carfagno; Hugh Hunt
Film Editing: Ralph E. Winters
Costume Design (color): Elizabeth Haffenden
Scoring (Dramatic or Comedy): Miklos Rozsa
Sound: Franklin F. Milton
Special Effects: A. Arnold Gillespie and Robert MacDonald, visual; Milo Lory, audible

Oscar Awards: 11

Supporting Actor
Art Direction-Set Decoration
Film Editing
Costume Design
Special Effects

Oscar Context

In 1959, “Ben-Hur” won over Preminger's courtroom drama Anatomy of a Murder,” which lost in each of its 7 categories; the Holocaust drama, “The Diary of Anne Frank,” which received 7 nominations and won 3; Fred Zinnemann's morality tale “The Nine's Story,” which also lost in each of its 7 nominations, and the superb British drama “Room at the Top,” which won 2 out of its 6 nominations.

Ben-Hur won 11 out of its 12 nominations, thus becoming the most honored film to date. Significantly it lost the Screenplay Oscar due to debate about who wrote what; in his acceptance speech Best Actor Winner Charlton Heston thanked Christopher Frye, though, like other writers (Gore Vidal among them), he didn't get credit. The winner in that category was Neil Paterson for “Room at the Top.”

For more info on this issue, please see my review of the documentary, “Celluloid Closet.”