After growing up in a life of luxury as a prince of Egypt, Moses (Charlton Heston) learns of his true Hebrew heritage and God’s divine mission for him to free his people from slavery.
It would take more than a man to lead the slaves from bondage. It would take a god.
Easter was yesterday, and the go-to movies to celebrate the holiday are usually of the religious variety. The Ten Commandments is the biggest of all biblical epics, focusing on a story that most everyone is familiar with even if they don’t follow the religion. It plays every year on TV on Easter weekend, and yet I’d never even seen parts of it growing up; I guess my family would either be out or watching something else. Anyway, I finally did get around to seeing it, and I’m glad I waited so long to see it as I saw it on the big screen thanks to TCM and Fathom Events. It’s rare for me to see a movie as old as this (celebrating its 60th anniversary this year) for the first time in a theater, so it was a special and rewarding experience. It’s one of my favorite bible stories and one that’s always fascinated me, and this film adaptation was no exception. The movie has barely aged with special effects that are still a marvel to behold, and despite its near four-hour running time, it remains engaging throughout.
Many aspects of The Ten Commandments work so well, such as the gorgeous production design and costumes, but it would’ve been all for naught if it weren’t for the stellar cast. It seemed like half of Hollywood was in here, and the film’s supporting players are just as great in their small roles as the film’s stars, especially Judith Anderson, Vincent Price, and Edward G. Robinson. Charlton Heston’s usual stiff acting works in his favor here as he’s perfectly stoic as Moses, though Yul Brynner practically steals the show as Rameses. But my favorite performance of the cast has to be Anne Baxter as Nefretiri; though she played a conniving sort of character in All About Eve before this, she’s not the first actress I’d think of to play the queen of Egypt, Hollywood whitewashing aside. The actors may be overdoing it at times, and the film itself can be a bit melodramatic, but I think it works considering the story. It’s a spectacle in every sense of the word, and only a director such as Cecil B. DeMille could’ve executed it as finely as this.
The Ten Commandments (1956)
Directed by: Cecil B. DeMille
Starring: Charlton Heston, Yul Brynner, Anne Baxter, Edward G. Robinson, Yvonne De Carlo, Debra Paget, John Derek
Oscar Nominations: Best Effects, Special Effects [WON]; Best Picture; Best Cinematography, Color; Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Color; Best Costume Design, Color; Best Sound, Recording; Best Film Editing
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6 thoughts on “2016 Blind Spots: The Ten Commandments”
I’ve never watched this before but might be time now to do so. It looked so long and boring (before DVDs, this movie had multiple disks attached to it, hence my first impression of it). Good review!
Thank you! I had the same reservations for years, that running time is daunting. It really only starts to feel slow towards the end after the big parting of the Red Sea. Otherwise it’s a pretty thrilling movie.
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I’m so jealous that you got to see this on the big screen, films always have a different feeling when viewed in that context and this is the sort of film that just cries out for that type of experience.
Mine was one of those families that watched this every year on Easter, along with the very different Easter Parade, and it’s overwrought and at times absurd but I love every minute of it. Heston is the perfect actor for Moses, actually he might be the most ideally suited to this type of role and vehicle that Hollywood ever turned out. Somewhat stiff, an air of self importance but most importantly a gravitas and magnetism that pulls the viewers eye to him whenever he’s on screen. He grounds the center of the film and is able to carry it without breaking a sweat, something that is vital for films like this and based on most recent big budget epics nearly impossible to find. Russell Crowe was able to do it in Gladiator but I can’t think of another current example.
Anne Baxter, a high priestess of perfect pronunciation and the pregnant pause, is also the right actress to handle the purple prose that the script is loaded with. It’s funny that the performer who seems the most out of place in the whole cast is the one who SHOULD make the most sense, Edward G. Robinson.
Aside from the effects, which are still impressive all these years later, is something these old films do so well that is seriously lacking in the wannabe epics of today, their sense of pageantry. No matter how they manipulate CGI it can’t replicate the feeling of real buildings and especially the cast of thousands that these film pulled together routinely. Those masses of humanity give the film a completely different energy that a bunch of faceless pixels filling out a screen are incapable of.
Thank you for your comment, I couldn’t have said it all better myself! You’re right about Charlton Heston, he really does excel in these types of movies as Ben-Hur was another great vehicle for him.
Easter Parade is an Easter staple for me, and now I’ll probably add The Ten Commandments to the mix.
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