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Rome, the Eternal Story: From Ben Hur to The Eagle
Posted January 21, 2011 to photo album "Rome, the Eternal Story: From Ben Hur to The Eagle"
The Eagle explores a part of ancient Roman history rarely seen on stage. But the history of Rome changes throughout history as well.
Slide 6: Ben-Hur (1925) and the Epic Grandeur of Rome
Francis X. Bushman and Ramón Navarro in Ben-Hur.
Ben-Hur, take two, was as big and bold as the decade in which it was made, the Roaring Twenties. Released in 1925, and costing $4 to $6 million, Fred Niblo’s Ben-Hur stands as the most expensive silent film. The film’s success nearly made back twice its budget at the box office. It starred the 25-year-old, gay, Mexican-born actor Ramón Novarro (born Ramón Samaniego). Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer billed their young, oft half-clad star, as “Michaelangelo’s David with the face of an El Greco Don.” (The film, advertised as “The Picture Every Christian Ought to See!”, contained nudity, a sensuality the censors permitted since it was sanctified by the overall Christian message.) On the death of Italian-born Rudolph Valentino, Novarro became the world’s leading “Latin Lover.” “You cannot understand the 1920s without understanding the ‘Latin Lover’ craze,” according to Antonio Rios-Bustamante, who is a professor of Mexican-American studies and history at the University of Arizona. “You cannot understand MGM without understanding Ramon Novarro. It's impossible.” During the 1930s, partially because of the anti-immigrant fervor of the Great Depression, dark-skinned actors like Novarro fell out of favor. In 1931, MGM tried to breathe new life into its expensive epic by adding a soundtrack that included sounds of galloping horses and cracking whips during the chariot race. But the film fell into obscurity nonetheless.