Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ
A Jewish prince seeks to find his family and revenge himself upon his childhood friend who had him wrongly imprisoned.A Jewish prince seeks to find his family and revenge himself upon his childhood friend who had him wrongly imprisoned.A Jewish prince seeks to find his family and revenge himself upon his childhood friend who had him wrongly imprisoned.
The only reason that i can see for so many commentaries here to fail to see this is simply because of the absurd prejudice that remains in people's minds concerning silent films. Some fellow says that the film is too long for most people to endure "without dialog" and this would be a crass remark to take except that the really awful thing is that it is true although the logic of such a prejudice for yak-yak entirely eludes me. It is long but there are several silent films (and some of the best) that are longer. The magnificent 1924 Greed, the superb 1927 Napoléon?
But, if you are one of those benighted souls who simply cannot believe that a silent film version of a film can be better than a sound version (even when made by a great director), please watch the 1926 and 1952 versions of What Price Glory? Walsh's 1926 version is superb; John Ford's version is gruesomely bad. Many other "silent" versions are better than their sound equivalents but this one is a glaring and incontrovertible example.
To be fair, I do understand that modern audiences have difficulty in watching silent films because they tend to lack the capacity for concentration that is required. Don't just "endure" this film for two hours. Watch it two or three times (it is well worth the effort) and you will be surprised how much more you begin to notice and appreciate and also begin to understand that a failure to enjoy silent films to the full is not a fault in the films but a fault in the viewers who have lost the capacity to view a film as a film deserves to be viewed.
In the case of the two Ben-Hurs that count (I will not try and defend the 1907 Olcott version), Wyler's 1959 film is a very shallow piece of work, completely typical of the fifties US epic, glossy, pompous, ahistorical and overly romantic. This 1926 version is quite different. The 1959 version is in truth remembered for nothing but the chariot-race (very largely copied from the 1926 film) but the 1926 film is a dark vision of colonial domination, racial prejudice and tyrannical power (just as fascist movements were taking root throughout Europe). None of this is there in the 1959 film, despite Wyler's being an expatriate German.
Heston's portrayal of Hur is about as un-Jewish as one can imagine (rather as though Schwarzenegger, had he been a little younger, had been chosen to play the part in 2018).
The strong religious them is not to all tastes (it is not very much to mine) but this is a faithful and intelligent reflection of the novel and extremely well done. Like it or leave it, this is what the novel wanted to say and something which the 1959 film totally fails to reflect satisfactorily. In fact the entire political subtext of the story, eminently clear in this version, is largely incomprehensible in the Wyler film.
Ben-Hur is certainly also about spectacle. It had already been so for more than twenty years on the stage before ever this film was made. But there too it seems to me this films achieves more and better than the 1959 version. The spectacle in this film remains breath-taking and is far from restricted to the chariot-race or the magnificent sea-battle.
As for the 2016 version, 90 years on, one draws a veil.........
By the way, for those zombies who compile these cast-lists, there are no such people as Miss Remington and Miss Underwood (or at least there are or rather were thousands of them. Remington and Underwood were famous makes of typewriter and this is just a little joke that appears in the documentary film 1925 Studio Tour.
- Sep 3, 2016