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Erstwhile childhood friends, Judah Ben-Hur and Messala meet again as adults, this time with Roman officer Messala as conqueror and Judah as a wealthy, though conquered, Israelite. A slip of a brick during a Roman parade causes Judah to be sent off as a galley slave, his property confiscated and his mother and sister imprisoned. Years later, as a result of his determination to stay alive and his willingness to aid his Roman master, Judah returns to his homeland an exalted and wealthy Roman athlete. Unable to find his mother and sister, and believing them dead, he can think of nothing else than revenge against Messala.Written by
Doug Sederberg <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Anyone who is interested in the history of cinema must have heard of the version of 1959 which got so many Oscars. Yes, indeed, William Wyler's BEN HUR (1959) is a masterpiece. This is the version that I have watched for many years not being aware much of the 1925 version. I had only heard about this movie from my Grandma who watched it in the 1930s and absolutely loved it. I somehow underestimated it considering this movie too old and out-of-date. However, when I watched it for the first time last year, I did realize that this silent movie is an utmost masterpiece for its era. AS IMPRESSIVE AS THE 1959 VERSION! There are a lot of factors that make this movie worth watching at least once.
The cinematography is of very high quality. I dare claim that some scenes are equally well shot as the ones in the 1959 version. The sea battle when Juda Ben Hur is in the galleys, the tile falling on the Roman governor, the meeting of Judah and Messala and their quarrel are still memorably presented. As far as the chariot race is concerned, the scene is gorgeous as for the silent era: these crowds of people, the decorations, everything is filled with splendor!
The cast give very fine performances. Novarro as Juda Ben Hur is, in my opinion, not better than Heston, but indeed not worse. Francis X. Bushman with his facial expressions, his Roman nose really fits to the role of Messala. May Mc Avoy as Esther is not as good as Haya Harareet in 1959 version. There, Haya looks more like a Jew, she is more gentle and beautiful. However, May's portrayal of Esther, though different, is also worth consideration. The figures of Quintus Arrius and Balthazar are not very developed here. Nevertheless, all other characters do appear like in BEN HUR (1959), and they perform really well.
The moments with Jesus Christ from this movie and from the one of 1959 are VERY SIMILAR! SOMETIMES EVEN IDENTICAL! In both movies, we can't see Jesus' face. He is portrayed as a Messiah, powerful and calm. In this 1925 version, you can see Christ's figure full of divine light and most these scenes are shot in early Technicolor. What is more, this film stresses clearly the expectations that Jews had concerning Christ. Juda Ben Hur gathers legions to be led by the divine king. The final scene is a bit different but equally touching as in the 1959 version:
"Weeping may endure for a night, but in the morning cometh JOY" (strikingly similar to SOLOMON AND SHEBA (1959)
All in all, this film is an unforgettable experience. For me, it is something that I could only dream about to realize how perfectly they could make a movie in 1925. ABSOLUTE MASTERPIECE OF SILENT MOVIES which can't be skipped in my film gallery...
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