Claire McDowell (left), Ramon Novarro and Kathleen Key.
Photograph: Silent Era image collection.
Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ
Color/B&W : Twelve reels / 11,693 feet
Directed by Fred Niblo
Cast: Ramon Novarro [Judah Ben-Hur, also known as Arrius the younger], Francis X. Bushman [Messala], May McAvoy [Esther], Claire McDowell [Miriam, princess of Hur, mother of Judah and Tirzah], Kathleen Key [Tirzah], Nigel de Brulier [Simonides], Mitchell Lewis [Sheik Ilderim], Carmel Myers [Iras], Frank Currier [Quintus Arrius], Charles Belcher [Balthasar], Leo White [Sanballat], Dale Fuller [Amrah], Betty Bronson [Mary], Winter Hall [Joseph of Nazareth]; Claude Payton [Jesus of Nazareth], William Donovan [the Corinthian horse team driver], Cliff Lyons [a horse team driver], Tom Tyler [a horse team driver], Reginald Barker [extra], John Barrymore [extra], Lionel Barrymore [extra], Clarence Brown [extra], Gilbert Clayton [extra], Gary Cooper [extra], Joan Crawford [extra], Marion Davies [extra], Ray Erlenborn [extra], Douglas Fairbanks [extra], George Fitzmaurice [extra], Sidney Franklin [extra], Clark Gable [extra], Rosita Garcia [extra], John Gilbert [extra], Dorothy Gish [extra], Lillian Gish [extra], Samuel Goldwyn [extra], Harry Gordon [extra], Sid Grauman [extra], William Green [extra], Noble Johnson [extra], Rupert Julian [extra], Henry King [extra], Harold Lloyd [extra], Carole Lombard [extra], Mickey Millerick [extra], Carlotta Monti [extra], Colleen Moore [extra], Mary Pickford [extra], Sally Rand [extra], Leonora Summers [extra], Myrna Williams (Myrna Loy) [extra], Fay Wray [extra], Christiane Yves [extra], [?] Joyzelle Joyner [extra]?
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corporation (Loew’s, Inc.) production by arrangement with Abraham L. Erlanger, Charles B. Dillingham and Florenz Ziegfeld Jr.; distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Distributing Corporation. / Produced by Louis B. Mayer and Irving Thalberg. Scenario by Carey Wilson, with continuity by Carey Wilson and Bess Meredyth, from the adaptation by June Mathis of the novel Ben-Hur; a Tale of the Christ by General Lew Wallace. Production manager, Harry Edington. Art direction by Cedric Gibbons and Horace Jackson. Set design by A. Arnold Gillespie, Ferdinand Pinney Earle and Camillo Mastrocinque. Artistic effects by Ferdinand Pinney Earle. Costume design by Hermann J. Kaufmann + [Camillo Innocente, Erté, and Harold Grieve]. Special effects by Paul Eagler. Color sequences direction by Ferdinand Pinney Earle (also listed as William Christy Cabanne for the Nativity scene). Assistant director, Charles Stallings. Associate directors, Alfred A. Raboch and Reeves Eason (B. Reaves Eason [Sr.]). Second unit direction by B. Reaves Eason (Sr.) and William Christy Cabanne. Production assistance, Silas Clegg, Alfred A. Raboch and William Wyler. Cinematography by Rene Guissart, Karl Struss, Percy Hilburn and Clyde De Vinna, with additional photography by E. Burton Steene and George Meehan. Trick photography by Paul Eagler. Traveling matte photography by Frank D. Williams. Intertitles by Katharine Hilliker and H.H. Caldwell. Edited by Lloyd Nosler, with assistance by Basil Wrangell, William Holmes, Harry Reynolds, Ben Lewis and Irving Thalberg. Original music score by David Mendoza and William Axt. / © 1925 by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Premiered 30 December 1925 (at 194 minutes) at the George M. Cohan Theatre in New York, New York. General release, [?] 8 October 1925 or 8 October 1927? / Standard 35mm spherical 1.37:1 format. Technicolor two-strip color process sequences. Black & white footage in original prints was color-tinted and toned. / The first phase of production was shot in Rome, Italy, from October 1923 through June 1924. Charles J. Brabin was replaced as director early in the production. The second phase of production began shooting on 12 August 1924 in Rome, Italy. A few shots remain in the final edit of the original footage shot on location in Italy. The third phase of production began shooting in the spring of 1925 in Los Angeles, California. Forty-two cameramen were utilized on the chariot race sequence, exposing approximately 200,000 feet of film which was edited down to approximately 750 feet in the final cut. Director of the 1959 version, William Wyler, was one of several crowd assistant directors for the chariot race sequence, as was Henry Hathaway. The film’s production costs were approximately $4.5 million. A scene of Esther driving a chariot, which resulted in an injury to May McAvoy, was cut from the final release for length. The novel was previously filmed as Ben-Hur (1907). The novel was subsequently filmed as Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1959).
Survival status: Prints exist in the Turner Entertainment Company film archive [35mm positive]; and in the International Museum of Photography and Film at George Eastman House film archive [35mm positive].
Current rights holder: (unknown)
Keywords: Animals: Horses - Chariots - Color cinematography - Crowds - Deserts - Families: Adopted sons - Italy: Rome - Jesus Christ - Miracles - Oceans - Rafts - Roman Empire - War - Water
Listing updated: 4 July 2012.
References: Film credits, film viewing : Baer-Film p. 21; Bardèche-History pp. 49, 199, 285-286, 291, 307; Basten-Technicolor pp. 33-34, 169; Bohn-Light pp. xxiii, 81, 170, 179, 194, 200; Bondanella-Hollywood p. 134; Bondanella-Italian pp. 6, 11, 12; Brownlow-Parade pp. 109, 287, 291, 299, 324, 386, 387, 388-391, 392, 393-397, 398-400, 401-405, 406-407, 408-414, 471, 513, 575; Carroll-Matinee pp. 89-90, 136; Cooper-Dark pp. 161, 202; Dowd-Vidor pp. 51, 53-53, 183, 273; Drew-Speaking pp. 17, 111, 123, 124-126, 131, 279; Eames-MGM p. 18; Everson-American pp. 136, 140, 214, 215, 293, 310m, 356; FilmDaily-1923 p. ix, 8; Geduld-Birth pp. 117, 140; Higashi-Virgins p. 73; Kerr-Silent pp. 8, 31, 40; Keylin-NYTimes p. 22; Kobal-Fifty p. 46; Lahue-Collecting pp. 27, 39; Lahue-Gentlemen pp. 40, 41-42, 46, 169, 174; Leish-Cinema p. 45; Limbacher-Feature p. 20; Maeder-Hollywood pp. 20, 21, 62, 87, 122-123, 198; Maltin-Guide p. 98; McCaffrey-Guide pp. 5, 10; Perry-British p. 56; Shipman-Cinema pp. 86, 89; Shirley-Australian pp. 49, 64; Sinyard-Silent pp. 4, 149-150, 151; Sklar-Movie p. 149; Smith-Colman p. 300; Smith-Epic pp. xvi, 22-23; Sweeney-Coming pp. 92, 97; Vermilye-Twenties pp. 133-135; Walker-Garbo p. 28; Webb-Hollywood pp. 149, 151, 163, 165 : AmerCine-199510 pp. 98, 101; ClasIm-221 p. 52; ClasIm-311 p. 72 : Website-AFI; Website-GEH; Website-IMDb.
Home video: DVD.