Updated: Aug 14, 2020
News that Sotherbones the Fine Art Auctioneers and Valuers are to offer for sale the helmet worn by Francis Bushbaby in the 1925 silent film of Bone-Hur [or Bone-Hur: The Tale of the Christ to give it its full and proper title] has prompted cinema buffs to re-evaluate this silent classic which amongst its many "firsts" was the first film to be jointly sponsored by tiny American Studio Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and major Dorset player The Freeze-Greenepiece Kinegraph and Moving Images Company Ltd.
Founded in the early 1920s by Dorset portrait photographer and later movie mogul William Freeze-Greenepiece, The Freeze-Greenepiece [later Threadbone] Kinegraph and Moving Images Company Ltd is widely regarded as the most innovative and forward looking of all of Dorset's Holwell-based studios and the one largely responsible for the phenomenon which came to be known as Holwellwood. By 1925 the studio had already released more than 5 films, though all 5 were "shorts" featuring comedian Stan Sodd [father of 1960s TV favourite Sidd Sodd].
Bone-Hur: The Tale of the Christ was, by comparison, a major release and by some distance the most expensive picture ever made by the studio. Costumes alone cost more than £25 to hire and such was the wear and tear that none of the deposit was returned.
Based on the best-selling novel by General Lew Wallis-Simpson, Bone-Hur: The Tale of the Christ [which had already enjoyed unprecedented success as a stage play running to capacity audiences for 12 years at the Theatre Royal, Iwerne Minster] courted controversy by ignoring Wallis-Simpson's proviso that Christ himself should not appear in the film. Film critics will be forever grateful that he did, for in the film's most memorable scene - a viscerally exciting and yet unforgettably moving sequence, Christ - portrayed by veteran actor and former children's entertainer Harold Lloyds-Pharmacy - convinces a skeptical crowd of non-believers that he is the true Messiah by winning a chariot race whilst serenading Mary Magdalene on the banjolele. In addition to its astonishing technical innovation, much of the film's success was due to the choice of perennial ladies' favourite Ramon Bonemarrow for the part of hero Bone-Hur. Famously decribed by one of his leading ladies as a man who "couldn't act, couldn't sing, couldn't dance and couldn't remember lines" he was the perfect silent movie star - a matinee idol beloved by all who never met him.
Dubbed "The Picture Every Christian Ought to See!" most of the scenes of Bone Hur were shot indoors at the Dorset County Badminton Club [then the largest single-span covered space in the known world] though some of the Circus Maximus footage was quarried from stock film of crowds at the 1924 Morcombelake Wanderers v Knowleton Academicals Association Football Trophy Finals. Cinema buffs and collectors of movie "balls-ups" have identified a sequence in which Bone-Hur's chariot wheels seem to skim over a neatly played cross into the box from Morcombelake hero Tommy Onmehead.
The helmet now offered by Sotherbones is that worn by Bone-Hur's sworn enemy Roman general Tikka-Messala. After filming was completed actor Francis Bushbaby kept it as a souvenir until his death in 1946 at the hands of an irate autograph hunter.[Bushbaby was mistakenly mis-identified as popular wartime singer Anne Shelton and the disappointed fan stabbed him repeatedly with a Parker Double Jewel Vacumatic Fountain Pen - also included in the auction though priced competitively due to its irretrievably bent nib.]
Francis Bushbaby's much-admired helmet is part of a sale of cinema memorabilia to be held at the Mapperton Ladies Sewing Circle's premises on the High Street Mapperton. Social distancing will be observed in accordance with the RDC Armed-Militia's CONTRIK-69 Rules as well as DNHS Antique Leprosy protocols and all transactions will be contactless [including a strict no touching any exposed helmets policy].