Documentary Review “The Man Who Saved Ben-Hur”

The Man Who Saved Ben-Hur5 The Man Who Saved Ben-Hur2  The Man Who Saved Ben-Hur4


First, the Recap:

You’ve heard the exclamation that states “you’d never guess who I met”! Associated in particular with an individual’s brush with celebrity, it’s a feeling unlike any other in having even the briefest of moments to interact with someone famous you admire and, ideally, respect as well. But, what happens when you encounter someone who’s experienced the magic of one of Hollywood’s most iconic films from behind the scenes, start to finish–and they are a relation to your own family? For one man, Joe Forte (as himself), this was the case in 2010 with his 89-year old second cousin, John Alarimo, Jr. (as himself), living only blocks away from each other for years, and only then recalling a long, well-guarded, and socially isolated life in one of the most exposing career fields imaginable–the film industry in Hollywood.

Revealing for the first time tales of World War II and the best friend, “Pet”, he knew and lost there accompanied with never before seen photos from the time period, Alarimo’s biggest adventure was yet to unfold, as his involvement behind the scenes in show business takes him to Rome and the filming of the eternal classic, “Ben-Hur”. Literally thanks to his bi-lingual abilities, straight-shooting manner, and clever planning, Alarimo finds himself an uncredited voice of authority on set, his skills helping the film to actually get made, and rubbing shoulders with some of the most impacting and significant stars of the day, including William Wyler, Charlton Heston, Gore Vidal, Sandra Dee, Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Rock Hudson, Bette Davis, and countless others. Yet, in the midst of fame and glamour was a loner, never forming lasting friendships or relationships, charismatic until the end, yet an enigma unexplored–until now.

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Next, my Mind:

Writer/director/producer/editor Joe Forte’s hour-long documentary feature is a deeply personal, admirably candid, highly explorative, intensely profound effort that brings to such vibrant life the world of a family relation whose led a fantastical existence in an exciting business, who took opportunity to be a part of Hollywood greatness, and yet managed to remain unheralded, by choice, except to those who knew him first hand and the amazing contributions he made, especially with “Ben-Hur” and the project getting officially made. Filmed in raw, real-time fashion by Forte himself, mainly in Alarimo’s small California apartment, the incredible images via previously unseen memorabilia, relics from the war, and personal photos, plus gifts and letters received from top name celebrities of a bygone era, illicit strong emotions from both subject and us as the viewers, due to acutely pointed questions, Alarimo’s still-cautious yet playful demeanor as he spins wondrous tales, affecting music from composer Chuck Graef, and witnessing a family “acquaintance” become a close friend.

With additional footage illustrating the then current life issues and struggles Alarimo faced, there is much humor and melancholy to be seen via visits to the doctor, necessary in-home care, and a low-key performance at a local karaoke club. Alarimo is an absolute joy to behold, though, as he rattles off stories in rapid fire succession while having as much fun as possible with the camera, an ode to the actual showman he always wanted to be. However, he also has such an acute vulnerability that is heart-wrenchingly undisguised. In total, “The Man Who Saved Ben-Hur” is a story about one man’s tenaciously sheltered actuality that remained throughout storied, now-unveiled travels and accomplishments, completely unshared, until one equally tenacious family member was willing to go the distance to discover the real John Alarimo, Jr.  But, it’s more than just about family or legacy.  It’s about seeing the soul of a human being, the solitary life he chose to have, the joys, regrets, and wishes he hid away, and perhaps the realization late in life about the transforming influence his presence had on all he met.

As always, this is all for your consideration and comment.  Until next time, thank you for reading!


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