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Ben-Hur is a 1925 silent film directed by Fred Niblo. It was a blockbuster hit for newly merged Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. This was the second film based on the novel Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ by Lew Wallace.

In 1997, Ben-Hur was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congressmarker as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".


Ben-Hur is a wealthy Jew and boyhood friend of the powerful Roman Tribune, Messala. When an accident 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 sent to work in the galley of a Roman warship. Along the way he unknowingly encounters Christ, 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 favor 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.

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


Crowd Extras During Chariot Race:


Costing between 4 and 6 million dollars, Ben-Hur is the most expensive silent film ever made.

Ben-Hur was a big success as a novel, and also as a stage play. Stage productions had been running for twenty-five years. In 1922, two years after the play's last tour, the Goldwyn company purchased the film rights to Ben-Hur. The play's producer, Abraham Erlanger, put a heavy price on the screen rights. Erlanger was persuaded to accept a generous profit participation deal and total approval over every detail of the production.

Shooting began in Italy in 1923, starting two years of difficulties, accidents, and eventually a move back to Hollywood. Additional recastings (including Ramon Novarro as Ben-Hur) and a change of director caused the production's budget to skyrocket. The studio's publicity department was shameless, advertising the film with lines like: "The Picture Every Christian Ought to See!" Although audiences flocked to Ben-Hur after its premiere in 1925 and the picture grossed nine million dollars, its huge expenses and the deal with Erlanger made it a loser for MGM. MGM was unable to recoup its $4,000,000 investment.

When filming the chariot scene, the drivers were careful and slow, which disappointed Meyer. To make it more exciting, he offered a prize of $100 to the winner, and the resulting heated competition led to the horrendous crash that remains in the movie. That and another fatal accident led to changes in rules of filming and film safety.

A total of 60,960 m (200,000 ft) of film was shot for the chariot race scene, which was eventually edited down to 229 m (750 ft). This scene has been much imitated. It was re-created virtually shot for shot in the 1959 remake, copied in Prince of Egypt, and more recently imitated in the pod race scene in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace which was made almost 75 years later. Some scenes in the film were in two-strip Technicolor. One of the assistant directors for this sequence was a very young William Wyler, who would direct the 1959 remake.


A 1931 reissue added music, by the original composers William Axt and David Mendoza, and sound effects. As the decades passed, the original Technicolor segments were replaced by alternate black-and-white takes. These scenes were considered lost until the 1980s when Turner Entertainment (who by then had acquired the rights to the film) found the crucial sequences in a Czechmarker film archive.


Current prints of the 1925 version are from the Turner-supervised restoration. The restoration includes the color tints and Technicolor sections, set to resemble the original theatrical release. There is an addition of a newly recorded stereo orchestral soundtrack by Carl Davis with the London Philharmonic Orchestra which was originally recorded for a Thames Television screening of the movie.

It can be found on DVD, complete with the Technicolor segments, in the four-disc collector's edition of the 1959 version starring Charlton Heston.

This remains one of the few films at Rotten Tomatoes to maintain a 100% freshness rating.

See also


  1. Rotten Tomatoes: Ben-Hur A Tale of the Christ

External links

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