The Ten Commandments (1956)

The Ten Commandmentsthe-ten-commandments-(1956)
Directed by Cecil B. de Mille
Written by Aeneas MacKenzie, Jesse Lasky Jr., Jack Gariss and Fredric M. Frank from a number of novels
1956/USA
Motion Picture Associates
First viewing/Netflix rental
#317 of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Moses: A city is built of brick, Pharoah. The strong make many, the starving make few. The dead make none. So much for accusations.

This is a 3 1/2 hour Cecil B. DeMille biblical epic.  That practically insures I will not be a fan. Nonetheless, the special effects and the sheer scale of the thing managed to keep my attention.

The first and last parts of the film are from the Biblical story.  The adult life of Moses as Prince of Egypt is made up. A soothsayer tells Pharaoh that a child has been born that will deliver the Hebrews from slavery so he decides to kill all the newborn Hebrew infants. Seeking to save her baby son, Moses’ mother (Martha Scott) puts him in a basket and floats him down the Nile.  He is discovered by the Pharaoh’s daughter (Nina Foch), a childless widow.  Her handservant (Judith Anderson) is sworn to secrecy.

Moses is raised as a prince. His general nobility endears him to the current Pharoah, Sethi (Cedric Hardwick) and Princess Nefretiri (Anne Baxter).  The Pharoah’s other son Ramses (Yul Brenner) is determined to be the next Pharoah and is extremely jealous.  Sethi is not too pleased with Ramses who has not finished the city he promised to build.  Ramses blames this on the laziness, etc. of the Hebrew slave workers.  Sethi sends Moses to oversee the construction.  He takes pity on the Hebrews.  Eventually, he finds out his true identity.

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This is really too long and complicated to summarize in more detail.  We have Nefertiri’s lust, a romance between the Hebrew stonecutter Joshua and a beautiful waterbearer, the perfidy of Hebrew overseer Dathan (Edward G. Robinson), the exile of Moses and his later romance with Jethro’s daughter Sephora (Yvonne DeCarlo), and then the plagues of Egypt and the Exodus.  With Vincent Price, John Carradine, and seemingly every actor that worked with DeMille during his long career.

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A lot of the dialogue seems laughable today but it has a kind of slightly campy appeal.  A lot of the acting was overdone.  Yet the whole thing has a kind of irresistible grandeur that keeps you watching.

The DVD came with an adulatory commentary from a film historian who got much of her information from conversations with associate producer and actor Henry Wilcoxson. There were a lot of interesting tidbits.  She says that DeMille saw this as a Civil Rights film. I was charmed to learn that Yul Brenner came by his physique naturally.  He didn’t exercise or count calories.  Cecil B. DeMille ended his career with his most profitable and acclaimed film.  There are very few directors that can claim that distinction, especially after so many productions.

The Ten Commandments won an Academy Award for Best Effects, Special Effects.  It was nominated in the categories of Best Picture; Best Cinematography, Color; Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Color; Best Costume Design, Color; Best Sound, Recording; and Best Film Editing.

Could this be the all-time longest trailer???

8 thoughts on “The Ten Commandments (1956)

    • Yes, only drawback was that I ended up devoting seven hours to this movie. There’s lots of good stuff in there though.

  1. Yul Brynner had a hell of a year–this is the same year as The King and I. I love him in this role.

    Yes, it’s big and blustery and overdone, but it’s a hell of a fun ride, even for a reprobate heathen like myself.

  2. This is really too long, but in my opinion the biggest problem is the tableau-like direction. But, yeah, the visuals are awesome and especially the second half is fascinating.

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