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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>
This much lesser-known version of the Ben-Hur story from 1925 was the most expensive silent film ever made and benefits greatly from MGM's ability at the time to make films that looked amazingly grand and epic and still somehow manage to today. Even after seeing William Wyler's 1959 version and even with the advancements of modern CGI, the 83 year old "Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ" still looks unbelievably impressive with its massive sets and thousands of extras.
The mythos that has surrounded "Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ" among film buffs over the years has reached a status almost as grand as the film itself. The deaths, bribes, and other stories surrounding the movie and in particular the famous chariot race sequence do nothing to detract from the film (although they do distract one from it) but instead increase one's fascination with the production. I'm not sure if there are any comprehensive books written on the film but I must seek one out eventually.
The story doesn't need to be discussed because everyone knows it. It's an entertaining story that's really quite hard to do wrong and this movie is more entertaining and exciting than any other version I've seen. The theatricality demanded from silent film enhances the nature and feel of the story.
This film was directed by Fred Niblo, famous for the Douglas Fairbanks vehicles "The Mark of Zorro" and the inferior "The Three Musketeers" and also director of several memorable silent films such as Greta Garbo vehicles "The Temptress" and "The Mysterious Lady" as well as "The Red Lily", an absolutely brilliant film by 1924 standards that is sadly hard to get a hold of (except on Turner Classic Movies which shows it on occasion). Niblo lost his way in the sound era but is on top form here directing this massive production. Of course, the chariot race deserves all its fame and recognition and remains exciting, vibrant, and captivating to this day.
The restoration on the DVD released in the four-DVD set released in celebration of the 1959 film is spectacular as usual from the Turner team with the original (and well-chosen) tints and the exceptional Technicolor sequences restored. The film is in the public domain so I expect there must be some form of cheap black & white only copy which I urge anybody reading this to avoid watching. Another reason to watch this restored version is the terrific score by Carl Davis performed by the London Philharmonic orchestra.
As good as William Wyler and Charlton Heston are, I'll take this Fred Niblo and Ramon Novarro over the 1959 version any day. A thrilling, captivating silent epic and one of the great silent American films.
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