Whether it was the attraction of the subject matter, an unfulfilled vision or a feeling of affinity with an epic tale, Cecil B. DeMille just couldn’t leave the story of The Ten Commandments alone. Far from satisfied with his 1923 attempt at telling the story of Moses and his plight to free his people, DeMille reassembled the tale in 1956, and the result is an incredibly entertaining, albeit extremely kitsch version of the Biblical saga – And one of the true classic films of the modern era.
Disregarding popular convention and 1950’s film noir, DeMille bucked the trend, delivering one of American cinema’s greatest epics, delving back into the art of traditional story-telling through the grandeur of the stage on screen.
Everything about the production is colossal, and DeMille spared no expense creating exactly the film he wanted to make.
It’s full of pageantry and religious mythology, and although DeMille used innovative freedom with a bit of the story, for the most part the historical inaccuracies and the subtle suggestion of certain facts, that were deemed unsuitable for 1950’s America, don’t hinder the story at all.
Many of the performances are effectively over-the-top, adding marvel to the theatrical production, as it just wouldn’t have been the same without Charlton Heston’s puffed-up barrel-chested Moses and Yul Brynner’s austere turn as the Pharaoh of Egypt, Ramses.
Both these actors gleam in their respective roles (Brynner for his acting prowess and Heston for his presence), as do the majority of the supporting cast, including Edward G. Robinson as the scoundrel, duplicitous Hebrew Dathan and, my personal favorite, Anne Baxter in the maximized role of the devilishly engrossing, melodramatic Egyptian Princess Nefertiti.
Shot on location in Egypt, the scenery is astounding, as are the special effect shots which, for the time, were extremely avant-garde and skillfully done. It is hard to argue a better scene in cinema history than Heston raising up the staff of God and parting the Red Sea, or watching him turn the waters of Egypt to blood with some very nice DeMille camera trickery.
It’s almost impossible to conceptualize a bigger, more spectacular production of a Biblical epic than DeMille’s The Ten Commandments. It just simply fascinates with its glorious settings, astonishing production design and dynamic performances – Paired with the buoyant melodrama which powers the story of one of the Bible’s most favorite sons.
By Brandon Colón