“What chance has a Jew against a Roman?”
When Jewish prince Judah Ben-Hur (Ramon Navarro) meets his former childhood friend Messala (Francis X. Bushman) — now a cruel Roman nobleman — and is sent into slavery, he vows revenge on behalf of himself, his mother (Claire McDowell), and his sister (Kathleen Key).
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Ancient Greece and Rome
- Biblical Stories
- Mistaken or Hidden Identities
- Silent Films
This second cinematic adaptation of Lew Wallace’s 1880 novel was selected in 1997 “for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being ‘culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant'” — in part due to being the most expensive film ever made at the time, but also because of the cinematic genius of the chariot race sequence (shot by no less than 42 cameramen). Equally exciting is the battle-at-sea between Greek pirate ships and the Roman vessel carrying Ben-Hur as a slave. As a narrative, it should satisfy those interested in this Biblical-era tale of a revenge and spiritual awakening — but it’s not must-see for anyone other than silent film enthusiasts.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- The ship attack scene
- The exciting chariot race
- Impressive sets
- Fine cinematography and special effects
No, though it’s worth a look for its historical relevance as the most expensive silent movie made at that time (and a box office hit for years), as well as to see the chariot race (but simply look for this sequence on YouTube). Listed as a film with Historical Importance in the back of Peary’s book.