Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1925)
Thalberg turned potential disaster into a personal triumph, partly by lavishing $300,000 on a single sequence - the all-important chariot race. The filming of this sequence, on a specially built replica of the Circus Maximus, became the talk of Hollywood. An accidental crash, when the wheel of one chariot smashed into another vehicle and created a pileup of four chariots, horses and stuntmen, was captured on film to become one of the most stunning episodes yet seen in movies. Thalberg's masterly handling of Ben-Hur appeared to justify his assertion that a producer should maintain both financial and artistic control over studio directors.
The final production cost of Ben-Hur was $3.9 million, a fortune in 1925. The film was a sensation with audiences and grossed $9,386,000, but royalties and distribution costs were so high that MGM came up $850,000 short. The prestige the film brought to the new studio, however, left its executives feeling that Ben-Hur was well worth it. More than any other single production, this film laid the foundation for the studio's reputation as the producer of elite entertainment. The Oscar-winning remake of Ben-Hur (1959) would herald the end of MGM's Golden Era, just as this silent version had begun it.
Producer: Irving G. Thalberg (uncredited), Louis B. Mayer, Charles B. Dillingham, Abraham Erlanger, Florenz Ziegfeld Jr., Samuel Goldwyn (uncredited)
Director: Fred Niblo, Alfred Raboch (associate)
Screenplay: June Mathis (adaptation), Katherine Hilliker (titles), Bess Meredyth, Carey Wilson, from novel by Lew Wallace
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, Horace Jackson
Cinematography: Clyde De Vinna, Rene Guissart, Percy Hilburn, Karl Struss
Costume Design: Hermann J. Kaufmann
Editing: Lloyd Nosler
Original Music: Carl Davis (new score)
Principal Cast: Ramon Novarro (Ben-Hur), Francis X. Bushman (Messala), May McAvoy (Esther), Betty Bronson (Mary), Claire McDowell (Princess of Hur), Kathleen Key (Tirzah).
BW & C-144m.
by Roger Fristoe