Ben-Hur (1925 film)

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This article is about the 1925 silent film. For other uses, see Ben-Hur.
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Charles Brabin
Fred Niblo
Produced by Louis B. Mayer
Written by June Mathis
Carey Wilson
(scenario and continuity)
Bess Meredyth
Katharine Hilliker
H.H. Caldwell
Based on Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ 
by Lew Wallace
Starring Ramón Novarro
Francis X. Bushman
May McAvoy
Betty Bronson
Music by William Axt
Cinematography Clyde De Vinna
René Guissart
Percy Hilburn
Karl Struss
Glenn Kershner
Edited by Lloyd Nosler
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release dates
  • December 30, 1925 (1925-12-30)
Running time
143 minutes
Country United States
Language Silent
English intertitles
Budget $3,967,000[1][2]
Box office $10,738,000[1][2]

Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ is a 1925 American epic silent film directed by Fred Niblo. It stars Ramón Novarro and Francis X. Bushman, and is based on the 1880 novel Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ by Lew Wallace. The novel was first adapted for the screen in 1907 also titled Ben Hur.

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."


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 sentenced to slave labor 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 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. However, Messala does not die, as he does in the more famous 1959 remake of the film.

Ben-Hur is eventually reunited with his mother and sister, who are suffering from leprosy but are miraculously cured by Jesus.[3]


Crowd Extras During Chariot Race


Ben-Hur: A Tale of The Christ had been a great success as a novel, and was adapted into a stage play which ran 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 Rome, Italy in October 1923 under the direction of Charles Brabin who was replaced shortly after filming began. Additional recastings (including Ramón Novarro as Ben-Hur) and a change of director caused the production's budget to skyrocket. After two years of difficulties and accidents, the production was eventually moved back to Los Angeles and production resumed in the spring of 1925. B. Reeves Eason and Christy Cabanne directed the second unit footage.[4]

Costs eventually rose to $3.9 million,[5] making Ben-Hur the most expensive film of the silent era.[citation needed]

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).[6] Film critic Kevin Brownlow has called the chariot race sequence as creative and influential a piece of cinema as the famous Odessa Steps sequence in Sergei Eisenstein's The Battleship Potemkin, which introduced modern concepts of film editing and montage to cinema.[7] This scene has been much imitated. It was re-created virtually shot for shot in the 1959 remake, copied in the 1998 animated film The Prince of Egypt, and more recently imitated in the pod race scene in the 1999 film Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace which was made almost 75 years later.

"Chariot Race" painting by Alexander von Wagner as basis of the chariot set design/cinematography.

Some scenes in the film were in two-color Technicolor, most notably the sequences involving Jesus. One of the assistant directors for this sequence was a very young William Wyler, who would direct the 1959 remake. The black-and-white footage was color tinted and toned in the film's original release print.[4]


The studio's publicity department was relentless in promoting the film, advertising it 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 $9 million worldwide, its huge expenses and the deal with Erlanger made it a net financial loss for MGM. It recorded an overall loss of $698,000.[2]

In terms of publicity and prestige however, it was a great success. It helped establish the new MGM as a major studio.[8][9]

The film was re-released in 1931 with an added musical score, by the original composers William Axt and David Mendoza, and sound effects. As the decades passed, the original two-color Technicolor segments were replaced by alternate black-and-white takes. Ben-Hur earned $1,352,000 during its re-release and made a profit of $779,000 meaning it had an overall profit of $81,000.[2] It remains one of the few films at Rotten Tomatoes to maintain a 100% freshness rating.[10]


The Technicolor 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 Czech 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.

DVD release[edit]

Ben-Hur was released on DVD, complete with the Technicolor segments, in the four-disc collector's edition of the 1959 version starring Charlton Heston, as well as in the 2011 "Fiftieth Anniversary Edition" Blu-ray Collector's Edition three-disc box set.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Ben-Hur (1925)". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved January 7, 2012. 
  2. ^ a b c d H. Mark Glancy, 'MGM Film Grosses, 1924-28: The Eddie Mannix Ledger', Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, Vol 12 No. 2 1992 p127-144 at p129
  3. ^ "Plot Summary for Ben Hur". Classic Film Guide. Retrieved 2007-01-26. 
  4. ^ a b "Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ". Retrieved May 26, 2013. 
  5. ^ "Box office / business for Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1925)". IMDB. Retrieved 9 April 2011. 
  6. ^ Brownlow, Kevin (1968). The Parade's Gone By... New York: Bonanza Books. p. 409. ISBN 0-520-03068-0. 
  7. ^ Brownlow, p. 413.
  8. ^ Hoffman, Scott W. (2002). "The Making and Release of Ben-Hur". Retrieved 2007-01-26. 
  9. ^ "Commentary on Ben-Hur". Archived from the original on 2006-12-05. Retrieved 2007-01-26. 
  10. ^ Ben-Hur at Rotten Tomatoes

External links[edit]