Several companies slapped the name on their products, as well. Do a little browsing on Ebay or Etsy and you'll find Ben-Hur spices and Ben-Hur perfume. There was even a Ben-Hur Manufacturing that eventually made Ben-Hur brand freezers. Because nothing says modern refrigeration like ancient Jerusalem!


If you've ever made it all the way to the end of the 1959 epic, suddenly things are making a lot more sense. Because while most of the movie focuses on Ben-Hur and Roman society and battle scenes and races and feasting, the last twenty minutes or so is BOOM, JESUS. Suddenly you're watching a passion play. For instance:

In the end, Ben Hur's mother and sister are cured of their leprosy (the most Biblical of afflictions) in a storm that comes after the crucifixion. There's a long shot in which Christ's blood mingles with the water flowing down from Calvary Hill. Basically, the final scenes skirt damn close to bringing out Johnny Cash to sing "Were You There (When They Crucified My Lord)." But still, by midcentury, it's pretty much Ben-Hur's story. Jesus is really a plot device, instead of the animating spirit. An "eh, eh, eh?" for the complacently devout America of the 1950s.


Oh, and it of course provided MGM the opportunity for a second round of frantic merchandising. According to TCM:

Merchandising tie-ins were lined up, including fashions inspired by the film, a chariot race toy set, a Ben-Hur candy bar, and children's costumes complete with swords, breastplates, helmets, and scooter chariots. Four different publishers put out paperback copies of the novel and Random House issued a hardback souvenir book to be sold in bookstores and theater lobbies.


Anyway, it'll be interesting to see where the coming remake—starring Jack Huston and directed by Timur Bekmambetov—goes with all this. In the meantime, just a little something to ponder the next time you catch Ben-Hur on TCM in the middle of the night.

Illinois theater poster via Everett Historical/Shutterstock; other images screencapped.