Ten Commandments, The (1956)

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

When the Pharaoh of Egypt (Cedric Hardwicke) decrees that all newborn Hebrew males shall be slain, a distraught mother (Nina Foch) places her infant in a basket on the Nile River, where he’s found and adopted by Hardwicke’s childless sister (Martha Scott) 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.


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.)


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


One Response to “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.

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