Ben Hur is a picture that rises above spectacle, even though it is spectacle. On the sceeen it isn’t the chariot race or the great battle scenes between the fleet of Rome and the pirate galleys of Golthar. It is the tremendous heart throbs that one experiences leading to those scenes that make them great.
It is the story of the oppression of the Jews, the birth of the Saviour, the progression of the Christus to the time of his crucifixion, the enslavement of the race from which Jesus himself sprang, and the tremendous love tale of the bond slave and a prince of Jerusalem that holds an audience spell bound.
As to individual performance: first the Mary of Betty Bronson. It is without doubt the most tremendous individual score that any actress has ever made, with but a single scene with a couple of close-ups. And in the color scenes she appears simply superb.
Then as to Ramon Novarro: anyone who sees him in this picture will have to admit that he is without doubt a man’s man and 100 per cent of that. Francis X. Bushman does a comeback in the role of the heavy (Messala) that makes him stand alone.
As to the women, following Bronson, May McAvoy in blonde tresses as Esther deserves a full measure of credit for her performance. While Claire McDowell, as the mother of Hur, and Kathleen Key, as his sister, both score tremendously. Carmel Myers, as the vamp Iras, looks a million dollars’ worth of woman and it is hard to understand how Ben-Hur could finally resist her.