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.
Ramon Novarro ... Judah Ben-Hur
Francis X. Bushman ... Messala
May McAvoy ... Esther
Betty Bronson ... Mary
Claire McDowell ... Princess of Hur
Kathleen Key ... Tirzah
Carmel Myers ... Iras
Nigel De Brulier ... Simonides
Mitchell Lewis ... Sheik Ilderim
Leo White ... Sanballat
Director: Fred Niblo
Codecs: XVid / MP3
The 1925 version of Ben-Hur is an outstanding example of silent film making at it's best. With the proverbial cast of thousands, it compares favorably with it's more expensive and lavish 1959 remake. Had the Academy Awards been given out at this time, Ben-Hur would undoubtedly have won it's share.
This video version is restored to it's original splendor complete with tints and two color technicolor sequences, They are quite spectacular and hold up quite well today. The birth of Christ sequence is most memorable.
The flagship sequences, the sea battle and the chariot race, are expertly staged and remain the most exciting parts of the picture. They are as good as those in the 1959 version.
The casting is, for the most part, excellent. Ramon Navarro as Judah and Francis X. Bushman as Messala stand out. The only problem is the casting of May McEvoy as Esther. With her blond hair, blue eyes and riglets, she looks more like a Mary Pickford want to be than a Jewish slave girl.
Despite all of it's well documented production problems, Ben-Hur still is one of the best movies of all time, silent or sound.
* The sea battle was filmed near Livorno, Italy. Many extras apparently lied about being able to swim, and due to political troubles engulfing Italy at the time, tension between Fascist supporters of Benito Mussolini and their opponents was evident.
* Forty-eight cameras were used to film the sea battle, a record for a single scene.
* A staged fire on one of the ships got out of control. Armor-clad extras had to jump in the water. There is conflicting information as to whether any of them were killed.
* The first attempt to film the chariot race was on a set in Rome, but there were problems with shadows and the racetrack surface. Then one of the chariots' wheels came apart and the stuntman driving it was thrown in the air and killed. See also Ben-Hur (1959).
* The set was abandoned and a new one built in Culver City. 42 cameras were used to film the race and 50,000 feet of film consumed. Second unit director B. Reeves Eason offered a bonus to the winning driver. The final pile-up was filmed later. No humans were seriously injured during the US production, but several horses were killed.
* At $3.9 million, the most expensive silent movie ever.
* MGM inherited the production when the company was founded in 1924; with the film over budget and getting out of control, the studio halted production and relocated the shoot from Italy to California, under the supervision of Irving Thalberg. William Wyler, one of sixty assistant directors for the chariot race, went on to direct the remake Ben-Hur (1959).
* The religious scenes, plus Ben Hur's entrance into Rome and some interior scenes that occur thereafter, were shot in two-strip Technicolor.
* The famous chariot scene was filmed at what is now the intersection of LaCienega and Venice Boulevards in Los Angeles.
* This production used more that 600 gallons of Max Factor's Liquid Body Make-up.
* According to The Guinness Book of World Records (2002), the movie contains the most edited scene in cinema history. Editor Lloyd Nosler compressed 200,000 feet (60,960 meters) of film into a mere 750 feet (228.6 meters) for the chariot race scene - a ratio of 267:1 (film shot to film shown).
* Both Rudolph Valentino and Buck Jones were considered for the role of Judah Ben Hur.
* All the religious scenes are in Technicolor, but the chariot race is not - an intense amount of lighting was required to shoot Technicolor, making it extremely difficult.
* Second-unit director B. Reeves Eason had 62 assistants when working on the chariot race.
* F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda Fitzgerald became friendly with many of the cast and crew while in Rome revising "The Great Gatsby". They attended a cast/crew dinner on Christmas Eve, honoring Fred Niblo and his wife. Zelda Fitzgerald, among others, signed one of the dinner menus, which became the possession of Carmel Myers, who played Iras in the film. The menu is now in the archives of the University of South Carolina library.
* Many of the scenes in this film, interestingly enough, were NOT remade in the more popular 1959 version of the story. Among these are the three Wise Men's journey through the desert, Mary and Joseph seeking refuge in the manger, and the scene in which Messala enlists the help of Iris to discover the identity of his chariot-racing opponent.