UA (Michael Todd Inc.)
“The Ten Commandments,” Cecil B. De Mille’s last feature (he died in 1959), is his most extravagant, displaying his signature narrative and visual strategies of the past four decades.
The picture’s all-star cast includes. Charlton Heston, Yul Brynner, Anne Baxter, Edward G. Robinson, Yvonne De Carlo, Debra Paget, John Derek, Cedric Hardwicke, H.B. Warner, Judith Anderson, Vincent Price, John
Carradine, and Woody Strode as the king of Ethiopia.
The epitome of kitsch, “Ten Commandments” is full of the absurdities vulgarities, and excessiveness that one expects of a DeMille work.
Not surprisingly, the biblical epos is based on a shallow, preposterous scenario, co-written by Aeneas MacKenzie, Jesse Lasky Jr. and Jack Gariss, based on several sources: The Prince of Egypt by Dorothy Clarke Wilson, Pilar of Fire by the reverend J.H. Ingraham, and On Eagle’s Wings by the reverend G.E. Southon. Additional
subplots and characters derive from the biblical ancient texts of Josephus, Eusebius, Philo, and even the Midrash.
Size matters: This grand-scale epic stars the muscular Charlton Heston as Moses, chosen by God to lead his fellow Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. The flight from Egypt, the parting of the Red Sea, and Moses’ receiving of the Commandments are highlights.
Critics often single two or three big scenes, one of which is the exodus itself, with huge aerial shots. But there are some compelling dialogue scenes, as the one that describes Hardwicke’s Sethi, confronted by the unchained Moses, hands the succession to Yul Brynner’s Rameses.
As a remake of De Mille’s own 1923 silent picture of the same title, it benefits from the technology of the times it was made by way of special effects. Viewers went to see the picture multiple times in order to experience the parting of the Red Sea.
That said, some elements of the production design are still striking and the color scheme is particularly ravishing. Here is a spectacle that exhibits not so much DeMille the director as De Mille the circus showman. To his credit, DeMille truly believed in this style of filmmaking and the movie shows more than anything else his obsessive righteousness.
The movie is bombastic and pretentious too, what with DeMille’s introduction and own narration. Known for his meticuolous attention to detail, DeMille reprotedly spent over three weeks shooting the orgy scene alone. Yet, the spectacle is a must-see for students of Hollywood’s history in its combination of the ludicrous and preposterous with the magnificent and splendid.
Oscar Nominations: 8
Picture, produced by
Art Direction-Set Decoration (color): James W. Sullivan, Ken
Adams; Ross J. Dowd
Costume Design (color): Miles White
Editing: Gene Ruggiero, Paul Weatherwax
Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture: Victor Young
Oscar Awards: 5
The big winner in 1956 was another spectacle, albeit of a different kind, “Around the World in 80 Days.”
Moses (Charlton Heston)
Rameses (Yul Brynner)
Nefretiri (Anne Baxter)
Darthan (Edward G. Robinson)
Sephora (Yvone de Carlo)
Lilia (Debra Paget)
Joshua (John Derek)
Sethi (Cedrick Hardwicke)
Bithiah (Nina Foch)
Yochabel (Martha Scott)
Running Times: 219 Minutes.
MPAA Rating: G