Thursday, 5 January 2012

Best Supporting Actor 1959: Hugh Griffith in Ben-Hur

Hugh Griffith won his Oscar from his first nomination for portraying Sheik Ilderim in Ben-Hur.

This is a bit of surprise winner if you watched Ben-Hur before finding who won best supporting actor for it simply because one would think Stephen Boyd as the villainous Messala would have been the winner from that film, at least would have been the actor nominated with the film, at least would have been nomination along with Griffith, but no Boyd was not even nominated despite the fact he even won the Golden Globe for his performance. I suppose maybe what sunk Boyd was the fact he played Messala too well in that he was a truly detestable villain that was impossible to like, whereas the winner Griffith portrayed Sheik Ilderim who is the joyful comic relief of the film.

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.

38 comments:

RatedRStar said...

didnt like him quite as much as you did but I think he does comedic performance quite well, such to a lesser degree as Tom Jones.

Tom said...

You're right, his performance was the only comedic relief, and the film needed it.

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