Sunday, October 16, 2011
Review - Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1925)
It's somewhat difficult to be be completely objective when it comes to Ben Hur: A Tale Of The Christ (1925), mostly due to the fact that the updated version made almost 45 years later is so well known to the movie-viewing public. Comparisons are doing to be made, but this original film version definitely stands up to the test.
This version of the Judah Ben-Hur story, directed by Fred Niblo, and starring Ramon Novarro in the title role, is a wonderful silent film that to this day still holds up very well. The film remains wonderfully epic and shamelessly entertaining, albeit a bit drawn-out and lengthy in times, particularly in the first twenty minutes or so. But you can't deny the grandeur of it all, especially in the large action set pieces. The chariot race here is just as intense and enthralling as in the 1959 William Wyler version. The time spent down in the galleys of the Roman ship and sea battle afterwards is just as suffocating, and the heart-tugging moments of loss and reunion of family are just as touching. The crowd scenes are massive, the sets are impressive, and the scope of the entire project is huge for a film that was made over 85 years ago.
The orchestral score composed by Carl Davis for the restored version of the film is a wonderful companion to the images, hitting just the right emotions at just the right times.
The film is mostly in black and white, but does feature some color sequences as well. I have only a slight issue with that, as sometimes the color doesn't really add anything, and on rare occassions looks a little splotchy, but what can you expect for such an old film.
All in all, I would still put Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ on any shortlist of the best silent films of all time. The sheer scope alone makes it worth a viewing, even with the somewhat lengthy running time of 143 minutes. There's a reason why this film has a rating of 100% on rottentomatoes.com Because it's epic, it's moving, and it's an example of great filmmaking.
Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1925) = A-