Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ
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.
This is quite surprising for a number of reasons - firstly, the use of 2-strip Technicolor for a large number of scenes, secondly, the sheer quality of the camerawork in the chariot race, and thirdly, the number of low key performances (particularly May McAvoy as Esther and Betty Bronson as Mary).
Novarro and Bushman overact a little but not so much that they spoil the spectacle. This film is purely and simply an event to enjoy. The remake added over an hour but the bare bones of the story are more than adequately covered in this version, which has some great set-pieces including the depiction of the galley slaves and the chariot race itself.
I was wicked tired, so it was really hard to get through this 2 1/2 hour epic. Highlights are as expected-the amazing sea battle and chariot race, sets, costumes, hordes of extras-and some unexpected-a pirate waving a guy's HEAD ON A SWORD, nudity, guy speared through by pirates, captive tied to the front of a pirate's ram. They stopped making films like this with the advent of the film code and the death of silent film excess, and they never really came back to it-even now I don't think you could clear a massive religious epic with that sort of content in it. It's a shame that the plot is weak and dependent on coincidences and the pacing is so plodding, because the visuals are amazing.
My first viewing, and I've been blown away by it all. Have no real way to give this a star rating as there's no way this film could be surpassed at what it is. Only thing holding it back is its dated subject matter but it's a visual spectacle, obscene in scope. I feel it must be seen by anyone who considers them self a cineaste.
Subjectively speaking, the remake is obviously superior to the original silent classic technically. That's just like saying that The Matrix (1999) is superior to Metropolis (1927) also technically. However, this masterpiece outdoes the epic remake in a more objective way in basically every single aspect. What is funny, though, is that pretentious critics nowadays show harshness towards Wyler's version because of its popularity, when deep inside they know they fought against themselves quite strongly so they could rate it below 4 stars. They have no solid arguments whatsoever. The ones that criticize the silent version and put the remake over the original also lack solid reasons.
Can't all of us be objective, then? Cinema is a serious game. And about…
What better way to accentuate the contrivances of Lew Wallace's novel than with an adaptation that keeps intact much of his worst material. This Ben-Hur works as pure spectacle, never better than during its chariot race. But the struggle to make the 1959 film a relatable character drama comes into focus seeing this version, which is episodic and silly. Though it's at times exciting or titillating, it's hard to invest much in these characters. Ramon Navarro's Ben-Hur is a letdown, lacking the physicality, virility and charisma Charlton Heston brought to the role.
Seen with live piano accompaniment. Gorgeous.
The most expensive film of the silent era, and only beaten by The Artist (2011) due to the latter film having been made this century, this is an epic retelling of Lew Wallace's best-selling novel. It's a little long, and many modern viewers won't like the story, but is a fine film nonetheless.
Pretty good movie. I'm too tired to write anything. Maybe next time I watch it.
As epic as black and white silent movies go.