Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1925)


Introduction

Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ is a 1925 American silent epic adventure-drama film directed by Fred Niblo and written by June Mathis based on the 1880 novel Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ by General Lew Wallace.

Starring Ramon Novarro as the title character, the film is the first feature-length adaptation of the novel and second overall, following the 1907 short.

Outline

Ben-Hur is a wealthy young Jewish prince and boyhood friend of the powerful Roman tribune, Messala. When an accident and a false accusation leads to Ben-Hur’s arrest, Messala, who has become corrupt and arrogant, makes sure Ben-Hur and his family are jailed and separated.

Ben-Hur is sentenced to slave labour in a Roman war galley. Along the way, he unknowingly encounters Jesus, the carpenter’s son who offers him water. Once aboard ship, his attitude of defiance and strength impresses a Roman admiral, Quintus Arrius, who allows him to remain unchained. This actually works in the admiral’s favour because when his ship is attacked and sunk by pirates, Ben-Hur saves him from drowning.

Arrius then treats Ben-Hur as a son, and over the years the young man grows strong and becomes a victorious chariot racer. This eventually leads to a climactic showdown with Messala in a chariot race, in which Ben-Hur is the victor. However, Messala does not die, as he does in the more famous 1959 adaptation of the novel.

Ben-Hur is eventually reunited with his mother and sister, who are suffering from leprosy but are miraculously cured by Jesus Christ.

Cast

  • Ramon Novarro as Ben-Hur.
  • Francis X. Bushman as Messala.
  • May McAvoy as Esther.
  • Betty Bronson as Mary.
  • Claire McDowell as Princess of Hur.
  • Kathleen Key as Tirzah.
  • Carmel Myers as Iras.
  • Nigel de Brulier as Simonides.
  • Mitchell Lewis as Sheik Ilderim.
  • Leo White as Sanballat.
  • Frank Currier as Arrius.
  • Charles Belcher as Balthazar.
  • Dale Fuller as Amrah.
  • Winter Hall as Joseph.
  • Claude Payton as Jesus Christ (uncredited).

Trivia

  • Costs rose to $3.9 million compared to MGM’s average for the season of $158,000, making Ben-Hur the most expensive film of the silent era.
  • In 1997, Ben-Hur was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

Other Versions

Production & Filming Details

  • Director(s): Fred Niblo, B. Reeves Easton, Charles Brabin (uncredited), Christy Cabanne (uncredited), and J.J. Cohn (uncredited).
  • Producer(s): June Mathis (uncredited), Louis B. Mayer (uncredited), and Irving Thalberg (uncredited).
  • Writer(s): June Mathis (adaptation), Carey Wilson (scenario and continuity), Bes Meredyth (continuity), H.H. Caldwell (titles), and Katharine Hilliker (titles).
  • Music: William Axt, David Mendoza, and Stewart Copeland (2014 edition).
  • Cinematography: Clyde DeVinna, Rene Guissart, Percy Hilburn, and Karl Struss.
  • Editor(s): Lloyd Nosler, Basil Wrangler, William Holmes, Harry Reynolds, and Ben Lewis.
  • Production: MGM.
  • Distributor(s): MGM.
  • Release Date: 30 December 1925 (US).
  • Running time: 143 minutes.
  • Country: US.
  • Language: Silent (English intertitles).

Video Link

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