Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Ben-Hur, 1925

Finally, I have put on that 1925 silent version of BEN-HUR, which was included in that 3-disk dvd pack on the 1959 film some years ago, and what a fascinating contrast it is to compare both. 
First of all the silent version looks marvellous, with some tinted and early colour inserts, particularly that first 15 minutes as we follow Joseph and Mary (a beatific Betty Bronson) and the Three Wise Men and that star in the sky and some good crowd scenes, its all like some Victorian tableaus - it was from a Victorian novel .... two stunning set-pieces are the galley scene as Ben toils at the oars - with that naked man in chains - and the sea battle is well done, and the other of course is the chariot race at Antioch, which is merely stupendous, as it is in the later version. Several horses met their end here ...

Its the characters and the script thats woeful here, of course being a silent nothing is fleshed out or developed. The spirited Esther of Wyler's film is  a simpering ninny here playing with her doves, we barely see Quintus Arrius - a gruff, old man - with none of the subtle interplay between him and Ben, while Messala (Francis X Bushman) is a one-dimensional cartoon villain who barely recognises Ben when they meet again. There is also a vamp, Ires - who has to find out who the mysterious charioteer is .... he though is Ramon Novarro who is a perfect Ben. (We like Ramon too in MATA HARI with Garbo in 1931). The rest is pure standard silent movie fare. Never has the quip "loved Ben, hated Hur" been more apt. I will appreciate the 1959 film a lot more next time I look in on it, its a sublte, complex masterpiece compared to this version by Fred Niblo - though it must have astounded audiences at the time. The younger Wyler and Henry Hathaway were also involved in its production as assistant directors, which unusual for the time, was filmed in Italy - but the chariot race was filmed back in California where most of the stars of the day played uncredited extras for the race. This dvd restored version (by Thames Silents) has another great score by Carl Davis.
Here are some shots from the 1959 version: Heston and Boyd; plus Bette Davis visiting her old director Wyler.

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