Ben Hur (1907 film)

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Ben Hur
Buyers Gallery Video Cover for Ben-Hur (1907 Film).jpg
Home video cover
Directed bySidney Olcott
Frank Oakes Rose
Produced byUncredited:
Frank J. Marion
William S. Hart
Frank Oakes Rose
H. T. Morey
Written byGene Gauntier
Sidney Olcott
Based onBen-Hur: A Tale of the Christ
by General Lew Wallace
StarringHerman Rottger
William S. Hart
Harry Temple Morey
Gene Gauntier
Music byEdgar Stillman Kelley
H. Temple
Frank Oakes Rose
Distributed byKalem Company
Release date
  • December 7, 1907 (1907-12-07)
Running time
1000 ft.
CountryUnited States
LanguageSilent with English intertitles
William S. Hart in Ben Hur (1907)

Ben Hur is a 15-minute-long 1907 silent drama film, the first film version of Lew Wallace's novel Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ, one of the best-selling books at that time.


Still from Ben Hur (1907).

The film was directed by Canadian director Sidney Olcott and Frank Oakes Rose. At fifteen minutes long, only a small portion of the story was put on screen. The focus of the piece was the chariot race, which was filmed on a beach in New Jersey with local firemen playing the charioteers and the horses that normally pulled the fire wagons pulling the chariots.

In 1908, perhaps seeking to capitalize on the publicity of the case and the film, Harper & Brothers published a lavishly designed and illustrated book, The Chariot Race from Ben-Hur, which excerpted only the race from Lew Wallace's novel. Accompanying the text were color illustrations by Sigismond Ivanowski.

Actor William S. Hart, soon after to became a famous silent film cowboy, reprises his role as Messala from the 1899 Broadway premiere and 1900 season Broadway play. Herman Rottger is Ben-Hur against Hart's Messala (in the 1900 play William Farnum, another soon to be famous silent cowboy, portrayed the character).[citation needed]

Legal issues[edit]

The film is noteworthy as a precedent in copyright law. The movie was made without the permission of the author's estate, which was common practice at that time. The screenwriter, Gene Gauntier, remarked in her 1928 autobiography how the film industry at that time infringed upon everything. As a result of the production of Ben Hur, Harper & Brothers, Klaw and Erlanger, and the author's estate brought suit against Kalem Studios and the Motion Picture Patents Company copyright infringement on 20 March 1908.[1][2] The case was initially decided against Kalem on 11 May 1908.[3] Ultimately, the United States Supreme Court ruled against the film company on 13 November 1911.[4] This ruling established the precedent that all motion picture production companies must first secure the film rights of any previously published work still under copyright before commissioning a screenplay based on that work.


  1. ^ Staff writer (21 March 1908). "Important Suit". Views and Film Index. Vol. 3 no. 11. New York, NY: Film Publishing Co. p. 6 – via Internet Archive.
  2. ^ Saunders, Alfred H., ed. (21 March 1908). "Injunction Asked Against the Production of a 'Roman Spectacle'". The Moving Picture World. Vol. 2 no. 12. New York, NY: World Photographic Publishing. p. 232 – via Internet Archive.
  3. ^ Staff writer (16 May 1908). "Our Friends—The Enemy". Views and Films Index. Vol. 3 no. 18. Films Publishing Co. p. 3 – via Internet Archive.
  4. ^ Holmes, Oliver Wendell, Jr. (1911). "Kalem Co. v. Harper Bros". U.S. Reports. 222. pp. 55–63.

External links[edit]