The Ten Commandments

Review #76
Paramount, 1956
Mov No. 18021
Genre: Historical Drama
Rated: G
Directed by: Cecil B. De Mille
Staring: Charleton Heston, Yul Brynner, Sir. Cedric Hardwicke, Anne Baxter, Yvonne De Carlo, Debra Paget, Edward G. Robinson, Vincent Price, John Derek,
Oscars: 1 win (Special effects), 7 nominations (Picture, Cinematography, Art/set Direction, Film editing, Sound, Costume design)
AFI 100 years, 100 _____ tributes: Top 10 of 10 (#10, Epics), Heroes & Villains (#43, Hero Moses)
Runtime: 3h, 40min
Rating: 5/5

Best quote: "The evil that men should turn their brothers into beasts of burden, to be stripped of spirit and hope and strength, only because they are of another race, another creed... if there is a God, he did not mean this to be so."

- Moses

It's the greatest story of our time. It was the greatest enslavement in recorded history. Thousands of Hebrew slaves forced by whip to build cities for the Pharaohs of Egypt. It was a time of unimaginable hardship for tens of thousands of Hebrews.

Cecil B. De Mille was no stranger to epic motion pictures as he had previously directed this same film in 1925. He also made the Egyptian epic Cleopatra in 1934 and the circus epic The Greatest Show on Earth in 1952, for which he won the Oscar for Best Picture.

The Ten Commandments is one of the Greatest films ever made, a masterpiece that has endured the decades long after De Mille's career has faded from our memories. Had De Mille only made this one film, he would still be a famous director.

The story of Moses is one the Bible omits most of, but people the world over know of the man and his life, culminating in the delivering the laws of God to the people.

Moses began his life as the first-born son of the Hebrew Woman Yoschabel, who set him adrift in a basket on the river Nile in the hopes he will be found by an Egyptian who will give him a good life. Had Moses stayed with his mother, the Egyptians would have slaughtered him. This was due to the Pharaoh's edict that the first-born son of all Hebrews would die.

The basket is found by widowed Bithiah (Nina Foch), who is the Pharaoh's sister. Moses is discovered to be a Hebrew babe by the cloth in his basket, Bithiah forces Memnet (her servant) to keep a solemn oath to carry the secret of Moses to their graves. "The day you broke this oath will be the last your eyes will ever see," Bithia threatens. and she means it.

Moses (Charleton Heston) grew up in court of the great Pharaoh Sethi (Sir. Cedric Hardwicke), next to Sethi's own son, Rameses (Yul Brynner). Moses became a great warrior, bringing back wealth from Ethiopia, conquering cities for the Pharaoh, and gaining his respect and trust.

Rameses however is jealous, and fights to gain the throne of Egypt from his father. The Pharaoh would sooner have Moses become Pharaoh, but it is a difficult decision to make. Who would get the throne and who would get Nefratiri (Anne Baxter), his daughter.

Nefratiri is approached by Memnet one day. she is told the secret of Moses birth, and, as per the foreshadowing, Memnet is killed.

Moses soon learns of his heritage, and condemns himself to live among the Hebrews as a slave. Found by Nefratiri and captured by Rameses Moses is brought before the Pharaoh Sethi to answer to charges of treason. "No son could have more love for you than I," Moses claims of his love for the Pharaoh. "Then why do you force me to destroy you?" Pharaoh asks.

But Sethi just can't do any harm to Moses, and lays the task on the hands of his son, Ramese. Set adrift in the great desert to die with only a day's rations of bread and water, Moses listens to the new Pharaoh's final words: "Here is your king's sceptre, and here is your kingdom," Rameses states, "with the scorpion, the cobra, and the lizard for subjects. Free them if you will. Leave the slaves to me."

Moses travels across the desert, nearly dying along the way. Moses finally makes it to Mount Sinai, finding comfort and nutrition in a kindly old man and his seven daughters. One of them, Lilia (Debra Paget), he marries.

They eventually have a son, and live comfortably at the foot of Mount Sinai. One day Joshua, an old friend of Moses, arrives on the scene. Joshua has escaped the Egyptians, and has come to bring Moses, the deliverer, home. Joshua tells him that he is the one to lead the Hebrews out of slavery in Egypt.

Moses does not know what he should do, so he climbs Mount Sinai, because God has called. Moses is to confront God, to find out what his fate is to be. Moses must realize that he is the chosen one, the savoir of the Hebrews.

Cecil B. De Mille is one of the greatest director / producers in motion picture history. His last - and greatest - work is none other than this very film, The Ten Commandments. It is an extraordinary masterpiece that has a timeless quality to it. It will never go out of style, and so long as there is religion in the world, this film will live on.

People loves this film almost as much as they love It's a Wonderful Life at Christmas time. THE ABC network has shown this film almost every year at Easter for decades; the one year they didn't, 1999, they received more irate complaints for this one incident than for any other incident during the last year.

Cecil B. De Mille is a cinematic genius. He knows how to tell a great story that the people will want to see. De Mille combines a great story with amazing visual effects, staging and pageantry of an epic film. What we get is a masterpiece of cinema that we've come to expect from a De Mille movie.

The most iconic scene from the movie is that of Moses parting the red sea. He stands there, at the edge of the water, Egyptian chariots hot on his heels. The Hebrews are scared for their lives, and so, to save them, Moses uses the hand of God to part the water and save his people. With a combination of visual effects and amazing acting (as always), the magnificent scene has been burned in the pop culture consciousness.

Cecil B. De Mille's amazing adaptation of his own film blew away any other film in quality that year, 1956, but failed to be recognized for what it was: the best picture of the year. Even De Mille himself didn't earn a nomination for direction, a snub felt to this day.

And how could Charleton Heston's performance NOT be nominated as well? The man flat out blew away every other actor that year. Heston uses every possible style of acting, every emotion, to create one of the greatest screen characters ever. He is a commanding presence, heroic and handsome. His is a performance all actors should take notes from. One of the greatest ever filmed.

Yul Brynner should have been nominated for best supporting actor, and won that Oscar, not the one for The king and I. But what's done is done, and history cannot be changed. Thank God this film was nominated for Best Picture, as to deny it that would have been a travesty the Academy would never recover from!

To say this film isn't De Mille's best, to say this film wasn't as good as Around the World in Eighty Days is an admission of limited knowledge of movies. The film has everything a movie fan could want: a great story, terrific characters, wonderful acting performances and visual effects that, although they look dated, still move the imagination.

You can say what you will about religion, but that aside, the power of this film will astound you with everything it has to offer. Many have imitated this film, but never again will there be a film so powerful, so passionate, so moving. The best picture of the year that never was.

11-04-04
Updated: 05-04-10

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