BEN HUR (1926) B/W & C "silent" 143m dir: Fred Niblo
w/Ramon Navarro, Francis X. Bushman, Carmel Myers, May McAvoy, Betty Bronson, Leo White
A classic of the "silent" screen! Navarro wins the chariot race in this mammoth production of the Roman epic based on Lew Wallace's best-selling novel. The film was a major international success at the time of its release, and it still holds up well.
From Georges Sadoul's Dictionary of Films: "The story of a Jew's captivity by the Romans, his release, and his final triumph, set in the time of Christ. ...
"The film cost four million dollars, an enormous sum for the time, and MGM did not recover their investment despite the film's commercial success. The Goldwyn company began production in 1923 in Rome using thousands of extras. The merger that created MGM led to a reconsideration and, in 1924, production was begun anew in Hollywood with different director, scriptwriters, and cast. Of the original cast, only Bushman (as Messala) and Carmel Myers were retained. MGM's loss on the film led to the imposition of the block booking system for other MGM programs.
"Moussinac judged the film in 1927: 'Enormous material means and technical facilities have been used to produce an edifying, but stupid, story. Color sequences in the Saint-Sulpice 'Road to the Cross' style. A film that recalls the earlier Italian cinema. There are two sensational and successful (which is better) attractions: a sea battle and a chariot race. The latter is especially remarkable. And two images that border on grandeur but lack radiance. Ben Hur? A lucky dip.'"
The 1959 remake directed by William Wyler won many Oscars.