Ben-Hur is the fictional story of Judah ben-Hur, a Judean aristocrat who, during the reign of the Roman EmperorAugustus, is enslaved through the betrayal of his Roman friend Messala. Embittered and vengeful after regaining his freedom, he is redeemed after encountering Jesus Christ and witnessing his crucifixion. Originally a Lew Wallacenovel of 1880, the story has been adapted for stage and screen numerous times.
The novel was quickly adapted into numerous stage productions, including one which recreated the climactic chariot race on stage using live horses, full size chariots, and a series of treadmills. With the subsequent development of the cinema, the novel was also adapted into three motion pictures.
The second silent version appeared in 1925, and starred Ramon Novarro in the title role; Francis X. Bushman played his friend Messala. It was one of the most lavish and spectacular Hollywood productions of the silent movie era, reportedly costing a then unprecedented 3.9 million dollars. Some of the crowd scenes were reported to use up to 125,000 extras! Several big Hollywood stars of the time appeared as uncredited crowd extras during the chariot race. The great chariot race scene is still regarded as a triumph of exciting film making and was much imitated, (even so recently as the "pod race scene" in almost 75 years later), although seldom so well as in the original. Some scenes were in 2-strip Technicolor. The film was directed by Charles Brabin, J.J. Cohn, and Fred Niblo, and was produced and distributed by MGM; the film made MGM's reputation as a heavyweight force in Hollywood. The film is the third highest grossing silent film in cinema history, taking in more than $5.5 million at the box office in 1925.