Ten Commandments, The (1956)

Ten Commandments, The (1956)

“Have the days of darkness made you see the light, Ramses? Will you free my people?”

Synopsis:
When the Pharaoh of Egypt (Cedric Hardwicke) decrees that all newborn Hebrew males shall be slain, a distraught mother (Martha Scott) places her infant in a basket on the Nile River, where he’s found and adopted by Hardwicke’s childless sister (Nina Foch) and named Moses. Moses (Charlton Heston) grows into a trustworthy general, beloved by his uncle (Hardwicke) and beautiful Princess Nefretiri (Anne Baxter), while his cousin (Yul Brynner) covets Baxter for himself as the “rightful” heir to the throne. When Moses — who has long advocated for better conditions for the slaves — learns the truth of his humble origins (thanks in part to Nerfetiri’s maid [Judith Anderson] spilling the beans), he returns to his people, saving the life of a stonecutter (John Derek) in love with a beautiful peasant (Debra Pagent) by killing Derek’s cruel overseer (Vincent Price). He is banished when a deceptive Hebrew (Edward G. Robinson) — who has adopted Paget as his mistress — betrays his role in the murder, and eventually marries a humble shepherdess (Yvonne De Carlo) — but soon he is convinced that his true life work is to help free his fellow slaves from bondage to the Egyptians.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that “Cecil B. DeMille’s last film” — “his most famous epic” — is “not to be taken seriously”, though apparently in “some places in the world it’s taken as gospel”. He claims he loves “the way all the extras jabber, that Woody Strode plays two characters, that the dancing is so bad, and that everybody talks in stupid metaphors… the word like is said about a hundred times.” He adds that “if none of this excites you, then there’s always the parting of the Red Sea (one of the greatest special-effects sequences of all time), the Burning Bush, Moses turning the Nile blood red” — and he writes that “Heston’s Moses is very convincing, especially to himself.” Indeed, Heston and the visuals — including the cinematography, sets, crowds of extras, and costumes — are literally awesome, though the script itself leaves much to be desired; DVD Savant refers to this as an epic film that “is undeniably impressive but strangely primitive” at the same time, noting, “The dialogue in The Ten Commandments alternates between comic-book drivel and grandiose Bible-speak.” With that said, the scene in which all first-born males across the land (young and old) are to be slain (Heston accepts this as God’s inevitable will) is appropriately somber and creepy, and Heston-as-Moses remains an enduring hero for the ages. This one is worth at least a one-time watch given its popularity — though be forewarned it’s nearly four hours long.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Vibrant cinematography, sets, and costumes



Must See?
Yes, for its historical relevance and cult status. (It’s still played every Passover/Easter on television.)

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(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

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2 thoughts on “Ten Commandments, The (1956)

  1. A classic film, a great star vehicle and genuinely loads of melodramatic fun. Obviously a must see film that continues to be revived and lauded to this day.

  2. A must for all film fanatics. It’s just too much of a classic to not see. As per my post in ‘The ’40s-’50s in Film’ (fb):

    “He has seen God.”

    ‘The 10 Commandments’ (1956; blu-ray): I had not rewatched DeMille’s epic ((his final film) in many years. As a present, I received the blu-ray of it (on a double-bill with ‘Ben-Hur’) but have only now gotten around to watching it. A lot of years in-between can sometimes alter one’s thoughts on a film but, of course, it can depend on the film. To a degree, I found myself watching this with ‘new eyes’.

    Even though ‘TTC’ is an Easter perennial on tv, I would think that has less to do with religious fervor (on the part of broadcasters) than with its ‘entertainment value’ as a blockbuster. After all, when Charles M. Schulz’s ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’ was being planned for its first tv screening, ‘the tv people’ objected to Linus’ explanation of the meaning of Christmas and wanted it cut (!) – and Schulz basically said “Over my dead body.” Since a lot of money would have been lost… well, as we all know, Linus’ explanation stayed in.

    But, of course, ‘TTC’ is more than its entertainment value. Yet it’s always been a film that has been easy to poke fun at for its ‘camp value’… which is certainly there but, actually, for the most part, that value is contained in Anne Baxter’s performance as Nefretiri. Much of the result is not really Baxter’s fault; just about everything she’s given to say might be impossible to deliver in any way other than ‘arch’ (which makes it sort of giggle-worthy). But, on top of that, it seems that DeMille directed her to be a parody of a femme fatale instead of a living, breathing woman. And, since she has so much screen time, this kind of tilts the film toward… silly. Hers is the only performance that is rather unnatural.

    [Other actors occasionally get particularly juicy things to say. My favorite of Nina Foch’s is “Your tongue would dig your grave, Memnet.” And Yul Brynner gets to say a line clearly referring to fucking which slipped right by the censors: “Whether or not you enjoy it is your affair – but I think you will.”]

    One can quibble with the film from time to time while watching… i.e., Why does Pharaoh not notice for the longest time when Moses suddenly isn’t around anymore and is toiling as a Hebrew slave? Why are all magicians in Egypt able to turn staffs into snakes? – as if that were a popular crowd attraction at the time.

    But quibbles aside, ‘TTC’ (which looks phenomenal in blu-ray) generally comes off as a sincere (not – all things considered – badly written) attempt to recreate what is *believed* about that section of the Old Testament… and how much you ‘buy’ it all will depend on your personal feelings about Christianity and its history.

    A memory: When I was a kid – and before the film started to be shown on tv at Easter – ‘TTC’ was brought back to theaters once a year (I think). I was about maybe 6 or 7 when I went to see it in a theater with my best bud Tom. We sat in the front row. When the Red Sea sequence came on… I ran up the side aisle. 😉

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