Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ

Movie Information

In Brief: I first saw Fred Niblo’s 1925 silent version of Ben-Hur 44 years ago — a battered, 16 mm bootleg print courtesy of film professor "Knocky" Parker at the University of South Florida. The film was projected at silent speed (an error that made it last for what seemed like three days), looking very scratchy, with obviously missing footage, and accompanied by the professor himself on the piano. Yet, I was still aware that this version had merits not found in William Wyler’s Oscar-laden 1959 remake. Seeing it in a fully restored print, complete with the Technicolor sequences — at the proper speed and with Carl Davis' musical score — I’m even more aware of the superiority of the silent version. There are many reasons it’s better, I think. They range from Ramon Novarro’s portrayal of the title character (far more appealing and charismatic than the stone-faced Charlton Heston) to the tighter running time and less special-effects-reliant scope of the production. However, a central reason is that the story is both old-fashioned and a bit naive, which works better in this less-realistic form.
Genre: Epic Drama
Director: Fred Niblo
Starring: Ramon Novarro, Francis X. Bushman, May McAvoy, Betty Bronson, Claire McDowell
Rated: NR

The Hendersonville Film Society will show Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ Sunday, March 20, at 2 p.m. in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing Retirement Community (behind Epic Cinemas), 333 Thompson St., Hendersonville.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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