Erstwhile childhood friends, Judah Ben-Hur and Messala meet again as adults, this time with Roman officer Messala as conqueror and Judah as a wealthy, though conquered, Israelite. A slip of a brick during a Roman parade causes Judah to be sent off as a galley slave, his property confiscated and his mother and sister imprisoned. Years later, as a result of his determination to stay alive and his willingness to aid his Roman master, Judah returns to his homeland an exalted and wealthy Roman athlete. Unable to find his mother and sister, and believing them dead, he can think of nothing else than revenge against Messala.
What an epic. Watching this, you can see why Wyler wanted to remake it in the 50s. In this, you can see the emotions of the characters that are much more fleshed out compared to the first (unauthorised) screen version. Set design and costumes are grand, though the hairstyling is reminiscent of the 1920s (but maybe Romans were into that). The score is typical silent movie fare. Colourising the "Biblical scenes" is a neat touch (reminiscent of "red letters" in a lot of Bibles), it focuses the viewers attention to where Wallace wanted the attention drawn. This is very faithful to the book. The set pieces are what you watch this for though and they do not disappoint. The naval battle is great and the chariot race... is jaw dropping for its time. Two and a half hours though feels a bit long though. Given that this is nearly a century old, this is a great look into cinema's past.