|Ramon Navarro as Ben-Hur|
Long before the 1959 remake of this story there was this commendable silent version starring Ramon Navarro [Mata Hari] as Judah Ben-Hur and Francis X. Bushman as his hated nemesis, Messala. Ben-Hur has spectacular battle-at-sea scenes, a cast of what seems to be thousands, a very elaborate and expensive production, and a thrilling chariot race (even if it ends a little abruptly). The story is basically the same as the Charlton Heston version, although the boyishly vulnerable Navarro, despite some hammy moments, is more sympathetic as Ben-Hur. There is a long prologue depicting the birth of Christ and the journey of the Three Wise Men. While some viewers see silent films as being slow and boring, that is hardly the case with Ben-Hur. May McAvoy as Esther and Frank Currier as Quintus Arrias are also notable, while Bushman [The Phantom Planet], grimacing with the best of them, radiates intolerance and menace. This version of the film features an excellent new symphonic score composed by Carl Davis and beautifully orchestrated by Colin and David Mathews. While the score is sometimes derivative, it expertly embellishes each scene and adds a new dimension to an already memorable movie. Certain sequences were filmed in TechniColor.
Verdict: Exciting large scale silent film. ***.