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Tricky Hollywood...

The 70mm Newsletter
Written by: Volker Hannemann, Kornwestheim, Germany. Date: 01.01.2010
Image 1. "Ben-Hur" DVD screen image. Copyright MGM

Did you know that parts of "King Of Kings" (shot in Super Technirama 70) were originally filmed in MGM Camera 65? I bet you didn't.

Movies are not real. And movies are not perfect. We all know this. But nevertheless it always is amusing when you watch a movie and suddenly notice that there was a mistake. It can be just an unintentionally visible microphone or even the reflection of the whole camera team in some window. Mistakes which then absolutely and finally proof that movies are not real. And not perfect.

The movie history is full of such “goofs” as they are called. Just look on the internet: there are hundreds of websites dealing just with this theme. It seems that goof hunting or goof spotting became a common sport among film enthusiasts. Some of these goofs are more obvious than others. Some of them really need detailed analysis. This is the real story of one of them.

One day in March 2008, my good old friend Harald Bayer called me on the phone and was quiet excited. He told me that he was just watching “King Of Kings” (MGM 1961) on his large plasma tv set and that he noticed that this film had exactly the same marching roman soldiers as they appeared in “Ben-Hur” (MGM 1959).

My first thought was that since both films were produced by MGM and were dealing with the same time period, that they probably reused the costumes from “Ben-Hur” in “King Of Kings”.
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Image 2. "King Of Kings" DVD screen image. Copyright MGM

Wrong. That was not what Harald meant. Indeed, he told me that there is one particular scene from "Ben-Hur" which was recycled in "King Of Kings". WOW! Scandal!

Well, that sounded very interesting to me and immediately I started to investigate this in detail. Since I own both films on DVD it was quiet easy to locate the scenes Harald described to me. Both scenes, the one from “Ben-Hur” as well as the one from “King Of Kings” appear almost directly after the title credits of each film and involve some marching roman soldiers.

I have never noticed that before, but Harald was right: the same marching roman soldiers appear in both films!

To be honest: it is not so easy to recognize it – and I must say that my friend Harald has got some really good eyes!

To make a detailed analysis, I took some DVD screenshots of these particular scenes from both movies and compared them to each other.

Image 1 shows the marching Romans as they originally appear in “Ben-Hur”.

Image 2 shows the marching Romans as they later appear in “King Of Kings”.

When you are looking at these 2 pictures (images 1 and 2) you will notice some similarity, but they are not identical. In both pictures you may notice a small stone hut with a closed window at the front. In “Ben-Hur” this hut is located at the far left side of the picture, whereas in “King Of Kings” it is located at the far right side of the picture.
Image 3. "King Of Kings" DVD screen image. Copyright MGM

To make a better comparison, I then made a mirror image of the shot from “King Of Kings” on my computer. This resulted in image 3.

Now have a closer look at images 1 and 3. The similarities increased a lot, but the pictures are still not identical. That’s due to two facts:

1. The original landscape from “Ben-Hur” was improved for “King Of Kings” with some matte paintings (e.g. the city in the background, the pillar on the right).

2. The Romans in "King Of Kings" are marching in the opposite direction compared to the original "Ben-Hur". In “Ben-Hur” you see their faces, in “King Of Kings” you see their backs. Of course this effect does not come from a mirrored image, but from the fact that obviously this scene was shot twice for "Ben-Hur". In the first shot, the Romans were marching towards the camera (this scene was used for “Ben-Hur”). Then they stopped and turned around. Then, in the second shot, they were marching away from the camera (which later found its way into “King Of Kings”).

Probably, the large MGM archives offered everything from “explosions“ to “marching roman soldiers”. The film producers then just selected what they wanted…

Of course, the main and most important question remains unanswered: were the Roman soldiers paid twice?

Amazing, isn’t it? That’s what I call “Tricky Hollywood”...
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Updated 07-01-23