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In this silent film, a rebellious Israelite prince out for vengeance crosses paths with the Messiah.
Because Rome has decreed that each man in the empire must be counted by returning to his birth place, Joseph of Nazareth and his wife Mary, who is about to give birth, try to reach Bethlehem by nightfall. Meanwhile, from the south, three wise men travel north on a holy quest. When Joseph and Mary reach Bethlehem, they cannot find rooms and are forced to stay in a cave. During the night, the wise men see a bright star in the heavens and are guided to the cave where Mary has given birth. The wise men and shepherds hail the baby as the king foretold in the prophesies. As the years pass and Roman oppression against the Jews increases, it is keenly felt in the princely household of Hur. Fearing for her family's wealth, Princess Miriam, a widow, entrusts her loyal steward, the slave Simonides with hiding their money. Miriam's son, Judah Ben-Hur, is attracted to gentle Simonides' daughter Esther, but she must leave with her father. That same day, Judah renews his boyhood friendship with Messala, a Roman officer who has returned to Jerusalem after a long absence. As the two men talk, Judah realizes that Messala has changed and is no longer an understanding friend but an oppressor who wants Judah to forget he is a Jew. Knowing that their friendship is now impossible, the men part. That afternoon, during a parade to welcome Gratus, the new commander of Jerusalem, Judah, Miriam and Judah's sister Tirzah watch the procession from their balcony. As the procession passes, Judah accidentally loosens a tile that falls onto Gratus' head, knocking him unconscious. Roman soldiers, headed by Messala, rush into the house and seize the family. Although Messala knows that the incident was an accident, Judah is sentenced to life as a galley slave and not told the fate of Miriam and Tirzah. Forced to walk with other prisoners across the desert to the sea, Judah is dragged through Nazareth, where his increasing thirst drives him to ask if there is no God in Israel. A moment later, Judah is given water by a young Nazarene carpenter, the son of Mary and Joseph, and resolves to live and fight for the king foretold in the prophesies. In Jerusalem, Simonides is viciously tortured by Gratus' men, but refuses to reveal where he has hidden the Hur money. Some years later, Judah is one of hundreds of men forced to row Roman ships. One day, Quintas Arrius, the new fleet commander, goes below decks and is impressed by Judah's strength and will. Later, during a battle with pirates, the slaves are shackled to their positions, except for Judah, who Arrius says has the spirit of a free man. During the battle, the ship is rammed and the Romans are seemingly defeated. When Judah escapes from below decks, he sees Arrius in hand-to-hand combat and rescues him as the ship is sinking. Judah and Arrius are adrift at sea for two days when a Roman ship rescues them. Certain that his defeat has disgraced him, Arrius decides to kill himself but first gives Judah his ring to buy his freedom. Judah stops Arrius from killing himself and when they board the Roman ship, they learn that the battle was won. Judah fears returning to the ship's hole, until Arrius announces that Judah is his adopted son. Within a few years, Judah, now known as Arrius the Younger, is hailed as the greatest athlete in Rome for his victories in the chariot arena. Although he loves his adoptive father, his heart yearns to return to Jerusalem and learn the fate of Miriam and Tirzah. When Judah learns about a mysterious miser in Antioch who is presumed to be Simonides, he reluctantly leaves Arrius and travels to Antioch. Unknown to Judah, his mother and sister have languished in a Roman dungeon in Jerusalem, isolated form other prisoners and forgotten by their jailers. At the same time, people throughout Israel talk of the Nazarene who preaches love and understanding. In Antioch, Judah goes to Simonides' house to reveal his true identity, but Simonides refuses to acknowledge him, saying that Judah, like his mother and sister is dead. Esther, though, recognizes Judah and gives him a bracelet that Miriam had once given to her. A few moments later, Sheik Ilderim, an Arab who races chariot teams, asks Judah to drive his team in a great race to be held the next day in Antioch's great Circus. Although initially uninterested, when Ilderim says that Messala is favored to win the race, Judah agrees, on condition that he race as an unknown Jew. After Judah leaves, Simonides reveals to Esther that although he recognized Judah he was afraid to acknowledge him because she, like himself, would be Judah's slave. When word of the race spreads, Messala asks his mistress, the Egyptian Iras, to solve the mystery of the unknown Jew. She then goes to Ilderim's encampment to seduce Judah, who is tempted by her but does not reveal his identity. Later, Simonides and Esther arrive and acknowledge him and their servitude. Simonides gives him an accounting of the Hur fortune, which he has multiplied, making Judah the wealthiest man in the world. Iras overhears this and goes to Messala to tell him everything, but Messala laughs, saying that Judah is dead. The next day, the Circus is filled with those eager to bet against the unknown Jew. While Ilderim is trying to arrange a large wager with Messala, Judah presents himself. Messala is shocked but takes the wager and vows that only one of them will leave the course alive. In the race, Messala's ruthless pursuit of Judah causes many accidents, but despite his attempts to wreck Judah's chariot, his efforts turn against himself and he is mortally injured. After winning the race, Judah has countless riches but cannot rejoice because his mother and sister are dead and the Jews are still enslaved by Rome. When Balthazar, one of the wise men and a friend of Ilderim, reveals that the child from Bethlehem, now called the Nazarene, is the king who will free the Jews, Judah becomes inspired and determines to use all his resources to aid him. While Judah raises an army near Antioch, in Jerusalem, the Nazarene preaches words of love, forgiveness and peace, inspiring thousands of followers. When Pontius Pilot is appointed the new governor of Jerusalem, he decrees that all prisoners whose crimes have not been recorded should be released. Miriam and Tirzah are freed by a jailor, but because the women now have leprosy, they are ordered to the valley of the lepers outside the city. That night, Judah returns to Jerusalem, goes to his deserted house and falls asleep outside the doors just before Miriam and Tirzah arrive. When Judah whispers "Mother" in his sleep, the women see him but do not awaken him, knowing that they are "unclean." Miriam and Tirzah depart without saying anything, and when Judah awakens, Simonides and Esther arrive. As an old family servant lets them into the house, a horseman rides up to announce that they have seized the Nazarene. When Judah then rides off, Miriam, who has hidden nearby, yells out in despair, attracting Esther's attention. Miriam will not allow Esther to embrace her and begs her to keep her secret from Judah. Now the Nazarene comes before Pilot as the crowds begin to turn on the man they once hailed as a king. When a servant tells Esther that the Nazarene can heal the sick if they have faith, she rushes to the valley of the lepers and convinces Tirzah and Miriam to come back to Jerusalem. As the Nazarene goes through the streets carrying the cross on which he will be crucified, Judah approaches to tell him that he has legions waiting outside the city, but the Nazarene says his kingdom is not of this world. Touched, Judah drops his sword. As the Nazarene continues, he brings a dead child back to life and cures Miriam and Tirzah. Judah sees this and is tearfully reunited with his mother and sister. After the Nazarene is crucified, Judah, Miriam, Tirzah, Esther and Simonides are together, content that the message of the Nazarene will live forever.
Cast & Crew
|MPAA Ratings:||Premiere Info:||New York premiere: 30 Dec 1925|
|Release Date:||1925||Production Date:||
35mm Turner; 16mm Swank
|Color/B&W:||Black and White (tinted), Color (2-strip Technicolor)||Distributions Co:|
|Sound:||Silent||Production Co:||Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures|
Leonard Maltin Ratings & Review
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User Ratings & Review
I was so impressed with this version of Ben-Hur. I marveled at the acting which showed REAL acting. I loved the chariot scenes. It was a monumental...
One of the great cinematic epics ever made! This is an artistic and historic treat. Even though it's a silent feature, the performances...
An exquisite film...
The chariot race scenes are far more exciting than the remake...the entire movie is more emotional and sensitive, not only in the acting, but the words...