Hugh Griffith won his Oscar from his first nomination for portraying Sheik Ilderim in Ben-Hur.
Hugh Griffith after all does come in the perfect time in the film during when Ben-Hur is basically overwhelmed with thoughts of vengeance. Griffith as a jovial, warm and comedic presence is most certainly a nice welcome to the film and they really could not have chosen a better character and actor to lighten things up a bit. Griffith from the first second he is on screen does just that as he is attempting to train a chariot rider for his horses he holds so dear. Griffith has a great deal of comedic energy as he hollers about his rider's inability, that certainly succeeds in making everything at little less weighty.
His best comedic moments come though from his quieter conversations with his pitch perfect humorous reactions such as his inability to recall how many wives he has, and that it is uncivilized to have only one wife. His best scene though, and my favorite dialogue based scene in the film comes when he sets up the odds for betting on the chariot race with Messala. Hugh Griffith is hilarious in this scene as the Sheik basically gets exactly what he wants without getting angry once over the Romans pointless insult. I particularly love his delivery and reaction when he says "bravely spoken" in regards to their boasting and belief in their own superiority.
Griffith is great in those scenes, and I'm sure his odds scene is what got him both the nomination and the win in the category. Other than those being a nice warm and comedic presence for these few scenes Griffith does not do anything more with the Sheik, nor did have to though. His performance is exactly as it should rather short, but funny and it is the type of comic relief performance one would want. Firstly Griffith is actually funny, and secondly his comedic character still fits with the rest of film. Although I can't say he should have been nominated instead of Boyd I will say Griffith still managed to give Ben-Hur as a film exactly what needed and when it needed it, and that is most certainly worth something.