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Ben Hur [Import]

Ramon Novarro , Francis X. Bushman , Charles Brabin , Christy Cabanne    Unrated   VHS Tape
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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4.0 out of 5 stars Ben-Hur June 9 2005
By A Customer
Format:VHS Tape
A true classic from Hollywood's silent age! Like the other reviewers for this film, I too am somewhat surprised that it has not yet been made available on DVD, when the 1959 version has appeared in numerous incarnations already. This is an tremendously good movie, silent or not; not only for its early use of colour film and optical effects, but for the performances that match (and in some instances surpass) those of the Charleton Heston remake. Although seldom appreciated today, this movie is well worth seeing and being remembered.
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5.0 out of 5 stars DVD NOW!!! July 19 2004
By J
Format:VHS Tape
Wouldn't it be neat if both editions of Ben Hur were availiable in a two pack or even a special edition with extras and compare/contrast commentaries on both? I think these studios are really missing the boat and missing a major moneymaking enterprise by not getting these silent classics out on dvd. I actually prefer this olderr edition. It moves along faster and seems like a greater accomplishment from a filmmaking pov. Both are brilliant, of course, and its just a matter of subtle differences.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Can't Be Topped Dec 20 2003
Format:VHS Tape
Absolutely one of the best films ever made with one of the best action sequences (the chariot race) in film history. Ben Hur is betrayed throughout the film by his supposed best friend and overcomes all odds to regain his humanity and with the help of Jesus, save his sister and mother.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.4 out of 5 stars  45 reviews
20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Spectacular Silent Version of Wallace Classic! Nov. 9 2004
By Benjamin J Burgraff - Published on Amazon.com
Format:VHS Tape|Verified Purchase
With the record number of Oscars won by the William Wyler 1959 version of BEN-HUR, there is a tendency to overlook the monumental 1925 production, which established MGM as a studio to be reckoned with. Well, if you've never seen the earlier version, you may be in for a surprise...it is as enjoyable in nearly every way!

Certainly, some of the performances (particularly Francis X. Bushman's scenery-chewing Messala) are cartoonish, the film lacks the widescreen splendor and scope of it's successor, and the 'Wyler Touch', the infinite care the legendary director poured over every detail, is sorely missed. But the 1925 production, beset by so many problems that it became the most expensive film ever made, brought new production head Irving Thalberg into the limelight, and his first decision was brilliant, firing the current director, and bringing in veteran director Fred Niblo to take charge. Niblo brought an energy and sense of intimacy to the silent "Ben-Hur" that is actually often lacking in the later version. The finished film, as a whole, is far closer in spirit to General Lew Wallace's novel, and young leading man Ramon Novarro (with a sexy intensity reminiscent of Tyrone Power), makes a far more charismatic and sympathetic Ben-Hur than Charlton Heston's more iconic portrayal.

The 1959 version is remembered today primarily for the chariot race, one of the most spectacular action sequences ever filmed. But what of the other 'set piece', the gigantic sea battle between the Roman and pirate fleets? The scene is patently artificial, obviously comprised of model ships in a tank and rear projections (watch the tiny toy seamen jiggle as ships collide!) The 1925 version's chariot race is fast-paced and certainly exciting, and the sea battle is astonishing, using full-sized ships and hundreds of extras (shot in Italy, where an actual fire broke out on the ships during the battle...the extras' panic onscreen was NOT acting...)

With an early two-strip Technicolor to emphasize key scenes (the Nativity, the new Roman Consul's arrival in Jerusalem...yes, those ARE topless women leading the procession!), and a wonderful, stirring new musical score by Carl Davis, Fred Niblo's BEN-HUR is a treasure, a film certainly worthy to stand beside the 1959 version!
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Knockout! Sept. 16 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:VHS Tape
I first saw this l926 classic at the old Regency Theater in Manhattan during the late eighties and never forgot how at the end, the entire packed theater stood up and screamed and cheered and stomped the floor for at least fifteen minutes. A live symphony orchestra provided the powerful music and on the big screen, the magnificent, restored version simply blew everyone away. It was easy to imagine its initial impact on Jazz Age audiences. Ramon Navarro gives the role of a lifetime. May McAvoy, whose career was destroyed by the "talkies", is perfect and beautiful. Even now, I get goose-bumps when I remember how everyone in the theater that night all shared a powerful, never-to-be-forgotten experience. And when I looked around, everyone was weeping just as much as myself. Oh, just to see other forgotten classics of the silent screen as they were meant to be seen: crystal clear, beautifully restored and with a live, symphonic orchestra. Instead, we have ear-blasting garbage like "Armageddon" and "Godzilla."
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Surpasses the 1950s Remake Dec 15 2001
By Gary F. Taylor - Published on Amazon.com
Format:VHS Tape
Although it has its failings--most notably a very "grand manner" performance by Francis X. Bushman as Messala--this silent epic holds up extremely well, and viewers familiar with only the later Heston version will be amazed at how much the remake borrowed (sometimes shot for shot) from the original. This is particularly true of the famous chariot race scene, of which the sound version offers a rather tame version in comparison.
Bushman aside (it would be his last major film), and with a few exceptions in various scenes scattered through the movie, the cast generally plays with considerable restraint; consequently, BEN-HUR is a silent movie very accessible to those who have had little experience with silent film. Ramon Navorro is particularly effective in the title role, and unlike the remake gives us a youthful, handsome, and curiously innocent portrait of Juda Ben-Hur. The sets and big-scale action sequences are expertly done. An excellent choice for a silent-movie fan or any one looking to begin an exploration of this period in cinema.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Ben Hur -- things missing July 21 2010
By Frank Sprague - Published on Amazon.com
Format:DVD|Verified Purchase
The silent Ben-Hur is one of the greatest movies of all time. It stands right up to the Charlton Heston version, and in some scenes betters it.

This copy of from an oriental "copier" and I recognize there are things missing from the chariot race, which naturally causes me to wonder what else has been cut out. And why?

It was only $15 plus shipping, so I can't complain too loudly, but I will be buying the *complete* Hen-Hur [1925] in the future.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars BEN HUR - a must see silent masterpiece! Sept. 26 2005
By Stefan-Felix Winkler - Published on Amazon.com
Format:VHS Tape
Never mind the later Charlton Heston 1959 sound version. To me the silent version (1925/26) is considerably more powerful, more moving and clearly more original - a fact which did not escape those involved in the Heston version which steals from the original silent at every possible turn. It represents a classic of the great silent era that can hold its own with the also great 1959 remake!

I simply can't believe that this cinematic masterpiece, sumptuously photographed, faithful to Lew Wallace's novel, was made in 1925/26. My god, it's so stunning. The dialogues and action are more powerful than any actor's voice will ever be. The director Fred NIBLO and his junior directors Henry HATHAWAY and William WYLER (director of the 1959 remake) carved a marvellous film that is at times charming, so exciting and so moving.

This diamond-sharp print ("silent movie") - presented here with a live epic memorable and soaring stereo score performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra (1987 by Carl Davis) - remains a monument to Hollywood's glory days. Now, this mammoth spectacle has been lovingly and beautifully restored, with the original tinted and rich two-stripe Technicolor sequences (mostly depicting Jesus Christ) culled from the Czech Film Archive.

Unforgettable images abound (examples):

1.) the Christ Story

Though she appears only in the Nativity prologue, Betty Bronson (Mary, mother of Jesus) haunts the memory. It is remarkable that this actress so beautifully embodies the serenity and grace of the Blessed Virgin.!

The young and nice-looking Novarro makes Ben Hur's longing for family and his naked intensity of belief totally plausible. When this enslaved Ben Hur gazes in awe upon the Christ who has just dared to give him water (Carpenter) in the midst of scowling Roman captors, you truly believe his spiritual awakening.

2.) the Love Stories

For myself, the real attractions are the two female leads.

May McAvoy (Esther, the daughter of Simonides) is as beautiful as Lillian Gish (Orphans in the Storm, USA 1921). May McAvoy is dainty, tender, sensitive and compassionate, graceful, trustful and worthy! Enjoy the wonderful love scenes between the "Princess of the heart" and Ben Hur !

The "evil" Carmel Myers plays the unbelievable glamorous Iras the Egyptian. She shows us a sexual quality not seen in the Heston version (1959). Look for the scene as she tries to seduce as "femme fatale" the noble Ben Hur :

"Flashing eyes and milk- white bodies! Beauty to be tamed! Does it not thrill you?"

3.) the Roman Slave Galleys

You can really feel the great suffering of the poor slaves, sit three in a row, desperate and hopeless : "Merciful Gods! I can bear no more! Give me the boon of death!". You see the wide opened and furious eyes of Ben Hur, who has now been three years at the oars (to him three centuries): "Pray not for death, you coward, while your enemies live! Pray for life! I live for revenge!"

4.) the Sea Battle

The torrid sea battle between Roman and pirate vessels filmed in Italy with full-sized ships, long ago passed into legend because of its realism: plunging swords, severed heads galore, snakes, chains, flaming timbers and last minute rescues...

The sea battle ("Death to Arrius!") is very alive and terrible. One can definitely "grab" the fear the slaves are feeling during the combat.

There are no special effects. Everything you see is real! The boats actually caught on fire, the slaves who jump into the water!

5.) the Chariot Race

The Circus Maximus saw a marathon of 12 chariots and 48 horses, recorded by 52 cameramen.

The colossal chariot race sequence is intense, marvellous, exciting and epic - the climax of the film and a masterpiece! If you look into the eyes of Ben Hur and Messala, you can really feel the hatred that both men (Ben Hur and Messala) feel for each other:

"Scum of the galleys! I will grind you in the dust! I will ride you down, trample you into the sand!" (Messala)

There are no special effects! When Messala's chariot looses a wheel he is hit by three other drivers (death of Messala) which made quite an impressive stunt...

Ramon Novarro as Ben Hur and Francis X. Bushman as Messala are a pleasure to watch. They are brilliant in their acting. Francis X. Bushman's performance belongs to the "old style" of silent film acting. Ramon Navarro gives the role of a lifetime. Navarro's performance - the honesty he brings to every emotion - is as modern as tomorrow. He gives us a youthful, handsome, innocent, vulnerable and heroic portrait of Judah Ben Hur. He sustains a long and gruelling role with grace, charm and considerable force.

6.) The Melodrama of the Mother (Princess of Hur) and the Sister (Tirzah)

Although the second half (after the chariot race) is slower, there is a very touching part when Ben Hur (Ramon Novarro) falls asleep outside his home, and his mother Princess of Hur (Claire McDowell) and his sister Tirzah (Kathleen Kay), now lepers, approach him. Claire McDowell plays the part of the mother very intimately and expressively. Watch out for the scene when, stricken with leprosy and unable to touch her son ("Unclean! Not a sound! He belongs to the living - we to the dead!"), she kisses the stone upon which her son sleeps. She shows her expansive emoting ("O Judah! My son! I have seen you for the last time on earth!"). Like Greta Garbo's scene in "Queen Christina" (1933) in which the "Divine" embraces the things in her bedroom because she thinks of her lover (John Gilbert). This stone-scene illustrates the silent film's power to leave the viewer moved by the immediacy of an art that, relying on music and mime alone, reaches across the decades to grab one's heart!

To me, Ben Hur, A Tale of the Christ, is a must-see silent masterpiece!

Stefan-Felix Winkler (Torgau/Elbe, Germany), September 2005
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