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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 <email@example.com>
Ben Hur was advertised as "The Picture Every Christian Ought to See!" See more »
At one point in the chariot race a man in modern clothing - light-colored shirt, long pants, dark shoes - can be seen running out of the crowd onto the track and waving his arms at the camera. That was assistant director William Wyler, who saw that one of the chariots - out of camera range - was approaching the curve of the track too fast and Wyler was signaling the director to have the crew cleaning up a crashed chariot to get out of the way. See more »
If you are as slow in the race tomorrow as you are in love today, Messala may drive snails and win!
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The Thames Silent/Warner Home Video DVD alters several scenes:
In the Chariot Race, a titled exchange by Messala and the Greek driver, originally superimposed on a scene of a charging chariot, is changed to title cards on a black background.
In the Crucifixion, a close-up of Christ's nailed hand, gesturing a blessing before dying, is omitted.
An Entertaining & Often Impressive Version of the Story
While it is now largely neglected in favor of the more familiar 1959 remake, the 1925 silent version of "Ben-Hur" is quite entertaining, and it is often impressive in its own right. Fred Niblo had a lot of good resources for this film, and he used them well. Although Niblo made some other enjoyable films, this one has to be by far his best. As Ben-Hur and Messala, Ramon Novarro and Francis X. Bushman work pretty well as the rivals whose complex relationship drives so much of the action. At an hour shorter than the 1950's version, this one moves at a good pace while keeping most of the best material.
The story lends itself easily to a large-scale production. The characters, the historical settings, and the themes all offer many possibilities to film-makers. The screenplay for this version does a good job of focusing on the parts of the story that are interesting to watch while also developing the story's key relationships and themes. Like the later version, it makes some changes from the novel, but it still contains most of the same best-known scenes.
The large-scale set piece sequences from the story work very well here. The naval battle sequence actually seems more realistic here than it is in the color and sound version. The chariot race scene is approached a little differently than it is in Wyler's version, so that direct comparisons may not be possible, but in any case Niblo's version is very good. The action is tense and exciting, and it is also fun to try to pick out the silent screen stars who appear in the audience.
There are certainly a number of reasons for the enduring popularity of the Wyler/Charlton Heston version. Fortunately, there is no need to choose one over the other. This adaptation of "Ben-Hur" deserves to be remembered in its own right, as a successful, entertaining movie that also captures the important ideas of the story.
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