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When in Rome: Movies from the Italian Capital
Posted August 09, 2010 to photo album "When in Rome: Movies from the Italian Capital"
As part of Movie City Rome, Nick Dawson takes a trip through cinema history and examines the different ways filmmakers have portrayed the Italian capital on the big screen.
Slide 2: Ben-Hur (1925)
Back in the early days of Hollywood, location shooting was almost unheard of, so it was highly unusual when the Goldwyn Company decided to film the 1925 version of Ben-Hur in Rome. At the time the movie rights were acquired in 1922, the novel by Lew Wallace had become a Broadway hit and the play’s producer Abraham Erlanger sold them to Goldwyn for a king’s ransom, plus a large cut of the profits and creative control of film. This deal led to a disastrous, prolonged and unbelievably expensive production, which began in the Eternal City in 1923 and ended in Hollywood in 1924, after the formation of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. (During the filming in Rome, the cast and crew congregated with F. Scott Fitzgerald, who at the time was reworking The Great Gatsby, and his wife, Zelda.) Over the coursed of filming, five directors worked on the movie (including the only credited helmer, Fred Niblo), the original Ben-Hur was replaced by Ramon Navarro, and there were a number of on-set accident, including a horrific crash during the filming of the chariot race. Annoyed by the slow, careful way the riders were treating their horses, Erlanger had offered $100 to the winner of the race; inevitably, there was a crash involving multiple horses, some of whom subsequently died. (The footage, however, was used in the film, and was even recreated for the 1959 remake.) Finally finished in 1925, Ben-Hur played like gangbusters at the box office, but the final $4 million budget (making it the most expensive silent movie ever) and the points deal with Erlanger meant that MGM actually lost money on the film.