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Ben-Hur (1959) Poster

(1959)

Goofs

Continuity 

When Ben-Hur's and Messala's chariots lock wheels, Messala's wheel shatters. In the shot of the overturning chariot, the wheel is intact.
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Anachronisms 

Sheik Ilderim pins a Star of David onto Ben Hur's belt before the race, obviously to goad the Romans. The Star of David didn't become a symbol of Judaism until the Middle Ages, in Eastern Europe. The first reference occurs in the 12th Century.
When Judah and Messala argue in the courtyard of Judah's home, road noise and honking horns from cars can be heard in the background. For some reason, it was not removed from the soundtrack in post prodction.
The mezuzah shown at the entrance to Ben-Hur's home is mounted diagonally. That practice was not adopted until the middle ages, by Ashkenazi Jews, as a compromise between the rules offered by 2 medieval Rabbis.
As they are preparing for the chariot race, a raised platform is shown which is made of galvanized steel.
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Modern books with covers can be seen, at a time when only scrolls and folders with single pages were used.
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The calf in the stable is a Holstein, a breed that did not exist at the time, and was unknown in the area until 1922.
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Tire tracks from the camera truck are visible in the sand of the circus during the chariot race.
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A close-up of the saw-toothed wheel hubs, just before the race shows the modern welding.
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Audio/visual unsynchronised 

As Judah and other prisoners are being marched away, a guard whips Judah and tells him to get back to his place, but the lips aren't saying that.
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As Pontius Pilate comes out to watch the chariot race and takes his seat, a Roman officer behind him calls out orders to to his men, but no sound is heard from the officer.
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When Messala and the sheik are betting on the race, we hear them both saying 1,000 talents, but their lips are not saying 1,000.
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As the Romans are marching to Jerusalem, Drusus asks Messala what town they are passing through. Messala replies, "Nazareth," but when he says "we arrive in Jerusalem tomorrow night," his mouth is not moving.
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When the audience first sees Ben-Hur and Messala together and they both throw a spear at the wall, the sound of Ben-Hur's voice does not match up with his lips.
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Character error 

Sheikh Ilderim and Judah pronounce the name of the Sheikh's chariot horse "REEGH-el," as though it were from the Latin, with a hard "g." The four horses, as the Sheikh, are "named for the stars," and all those names -- Aldebaran, Altair, Antares and Rigel -- are Arabic names for these particularly bright stars that are still in use. An Arab would pronounce that last name as "Rijl" (REE-djl), not "REEGH-el," and Judah would likely have known that.
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In the film's prologue, Balthasar the narrator, telling the story of Jesus's birth, begins the story with the Roman census "in the seventh year of the reign of Augustus Caesar." In fact Augustus had been emperor of Rome for at least 20 years at the time.
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Continuity 

During the chariot race, when we see the third dolphin tipped to mark the laps, the following shot briefly shows the dolphins with the third still up.
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At sheik Ilderim's oasis, Ben-Hur's facial hair changes length between shots.
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In the chariot race Ben Hur and Messala are side by side for several laps. When they turn corners they remain side by side.
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When Judah visits Messala after the chariot race, as he enters the room he lays his wreath on a chair next to the door. When he leaves, the wreath is missing.
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In the overhead view of the second turn as the chariots are taking their parade lap around the race course heading toward the starting line, there should have been hoof and wheel tracks from when the chariots made their entry onto the race course. All we see are the tracks of the horses leading the parade.
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After Judah denounces Rome and Esther declares that it is as if he has become Messalla, he turns to face her, in anger, but in the next frame, instead of facing her directly, he it looking at her over his left shoulder; he should be facing her or, at best, have his right shoulder facing her and looking over it.
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A pretty good breeze is blowing the sheik's robe around when he comes to visit Judah just before the race starts, but the wind and his garments are abruptly still in the second slightly tighter shot.
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After Judah Ben-Hur and Messala are reunited and Messala throws his spear into the cross-beams the body of the spear is shown wiggling vertically. After the next edit, it is seen wiggling horizontally.
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When Ben-Hur is summoned to Arrius's quarters aboard the ship, the Consul's personal belongings in the background appear and disappear between shots.
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When Messala breaks a tile on the rooftop of the House of Hur, a broken tile from an earlier take already lies at his feet.
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During the ship battle, a slave is released from below and is missing his left hand. About ten seconds later, he is seen running through the ship with his left hand still attached.
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After announcing Ben-Hur's arrival at Messala's quarters, the position of the centurion's hand on his sword changes position between shots.
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When Messala assumes command of the garrison, outgoing commander Sextus is seen in the doorway as they are going into the barracks, yet when Messala speaks to Drusus about finally taking command, in the closeup shot Sextus is not in the doorway.
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During the chariot race, shadow lengths/directions clearly show that passage of time (filming) inconsistent with length of "actual" race.
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During the race, just before the first chariot goes down, the left wheel of that chariot is removed by Messala's chariot, but in the next shot you can view both wheels intact before it goes down.
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Ben-Hur presents Pilate with Arrius's ring, to be returned to Rome. Pilate moves so that he is always facing the camera as the angle reverses.
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Crew or equipment visible 

The shadow of the camera can be seen on Christ's back as Ben Hur is leaving Nazareth to go to the galleys (widescreen version).
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Factual errors 

Roman warship rowers were not slaves but a paid part of the ship's crew.
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The final chariot race was supposed to been held in Jerusalem, but there was no such structure in that city. The only two chariot race courses ("Circus") in Israel (Judea) were both in the coastal city of Caesaria near present-day Tel-Aviv.
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Most of the Roman soldiers seen are not displaying the Roman Army's "Winged Lightning" symbol on their shields.
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Three years after Judah serves as a galley slave he goes to Rome with Quintus Arrius presumably in 29 AD. Arrius is presented with a baton of victory by Emperor Tiberius after the former's victory against the Macedonian pirates. In reality,Tiberius had grown disillusioned with the principate after the death of his son Drusus, and left Rome for his villa on the island of Capri located off the bay of Naples in 26 AD. He never returned to Rome. Tiberius left the day to day administration of the city to the Praetorian prefect Sejanus. Therefore Quintus Arrius and Judah Ben-Hur would have been received by Tiberius on Capri and not in Rome.
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Miscellaneous 

As stated, the MGM lion is a frozen frame as the film opens - Leo doesn't roar. This was not done as suggested to convey calm or out of respect for the religious theme, but because Wyler wanted to open the very first frame of the film with Rózsa very dramatic score. For this to be fully effective, the roar had to go. This very similar to what Fox did with 'The Robe', another religious themed epic opening immediately with the Newman score on the very first frame and skipping the standard Fox logo and fanfare track.
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When Arrius orders rest after having the rowers go to ramming speed, the order is given to raise oars, at the order to rest all of the rowers drop their oars, you hear them splash as they are dropped. But the oars do not change their angle to the rowers as they should if the ship were still moving through the water, they stay perpendicular to the side of the ship as if the ship were stationary.
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Incorrectly regarded as goofs 

Jesus' ministry seems to last 5 years in this movie. Although this is traditionally seen as lasting only 3 years, the Bible gives no such specific chronology, Making it 5 years is a reasonable artistic decision.
In the market scene following the argument between Messala and Judah, a person is heard saying in the background 'kidhar jaata hai bhai, kidhar jaata hai' which is Hindi for 'where are you going brother, where?'. Hindi language originated much later in the 17-18th century. However, this cannot be considered a goof since the entire film is spoken in a language (English) which didn't exist in the 1st century either.
A character refers to the Roman Emperor as "The Divine Tiberius." Although Tiberius was never deified in life (it was a posthumous honour), he claimed descent from the Roman deities Jupiter and Venus, so he was "divine" in that sense. Tiberius' successor Caligula claimed in his madness to be all gods at once, and Caligula's successor Claudius I was the first of the office to be formally deified during his lifetime.
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One of the chariot heralds has been claimed to be wearing a wristwatch, but other viewers report that this is an oddly positioned shadow.
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When Ben-Hur and Arrius are shipwrecked after the battle on the sea they are seen drifting on a piece of wreckage together. We see the waves rolling past them yet they stay in one place.

At sea, away from the shore, waves normally roll past floating objects.
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Revealing mistakes 

It is well documented that Messala's horses in the chariot race were dyed black (their natural color was brown). They appear solid black during the pre-race procedures. During the race, when the horses are running flat out, most of the dye wore off and in closeups, they appear to be brown.
When Esther and Tirzah and Miriam seek shelter, the storm is violent enough to cause earth to fall in front of the cave, and the sound of the wind is deafening. Yet trees visible in the background (from the mouth of the cave) do not so much as sway in the breeze.
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Christ is always seen from the back, but when He is condemned to death He is facing Pilate and His face is obscured by a shadow added optically in post production when William Wyler determined that actor Claude Heater's face was too clearly seen, even at a distance.
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During the chariot race just before Ben-Hur's chariot jumps the wrecked chariot, stunt driver Joe Canutt can be seen dropping the reins and grabbing hold of the side of the his chariot (his father, stunt coordinator-2nd unit director Yakima Canutt, had instructed him to grip the underside of the chariot's railing. Joe ignored him, or forgot, and grasped the railing from the top, and was vaulted over the top of the chariot, which could have been fatal had his quick reflexes and strength not allowed him to haul himself back over the vehicle's yoke before he fell between the horses and chariot).
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When Judah and Messala hurl their spears at the beam, both spears travel to their mark on guide wires. This is obvious because there is no arc in the trajectory of the spears.
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When Christ is carrying His cross, the Latin title Iesus Nazarenus, Rex Iudaeorum ("Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews") is written backwards. A Roman soldier is shown carrying the title ahead of Him, with the Latin characters reversed (from right to left). A few moments later the title appears again, only this time the Latin is written correctly (from left to right).
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A stunt double for Judah during the race can be noticed by his wavy hair.
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In the confrontation scene between Judah and Messala when Judah demands that Messala release his mother and sister, Heston walks out of the room and the camera clearly sees that he is wearing brown hush puppies or ankle boots, definitely not period-accurate footwear.
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Just before the Roman galley is rammed, the condemned men behind Ben-Hur are clearly dummies.
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On the way to the galleys, a prisoner on the march dies and is cut loose from the rest. When he is pushed down the sand dune, you can see his arms pulling himself down.
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Early in the scene when Messala enters Jerusalem, a high-altitude shot of the street shows a blanket used to shade a rooftop on the left. A very large studio prop tag on the front of the blanket is clearly visible.
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Ben-Hur is whipped constantly as he marches to the galleys, and presumably is whipped during his three years of service as a rower; obviously his back should be as scarred as that of the insubordinate slave. However, when we see him from the back in the raft with Arrius, the only marks he has are those of the lash with which Arrius scourged him.
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Spoilers

The goof items below may give away important plot points.

Continuity 

Nine chariots start the chariot race. After the first crash, there appear still to be nine chariots in the race. After the third crash, six are shown, but as Ben Hur passes to catch up, clearly there is a total of seven in the race. After five have crashed, five are left. Messala is the sixth chariot to crash, but Ben Hur and three others finish the race. Thus, nine chariots start the race, six crash, and four finish.
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Messala damages Ben-Hur's chariot with his saw-toothed wheel-hubs, but when Ben-Hur drives up to Pontius Pilate to receive his prize, his chariot is undamaged.
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Revealing mistakes 

During the scene in which Judah and Arrius are rescued from the water, the waves breaking in the background reveal the point at which the studio tank meets the painted cyclorama.
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An establishing shot of Jerusalem in the opening sequence shows a hooded Ben-Hur, long before he is born. The scene appears again later in the film as Judah Ben-Hur returns to Jerusalem from Rome.
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See also

Trivia | Crazy Credits | Quotes | Alternate Versions | Connections | Soundtracks

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