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The Ten Commandments (1956)


Charlton Heston as Moses
Charlton Heston as Moses


'The Ten Commandments' is a biblical epic film made in 1956, produced and directed by Cecil B. DeMille and with an all star cast of Hollywood past and present, including Charlton Heston, Yul Brynner, Anne Baxter, Edward G. Robinson, Yvonne De Carlo, Debra Paget and John Derek. Supporting players include Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Nina Foch, Martha Scott, Judith Anderson, Vincent Price and John Carradine.

On release the film was an immediate hit with the public and went on to be the highest grossing film of the year, easily recouping the then-enormous $13 million cost of production. It has continued to be popular, particularly around Easter time when it is a staple of television listings. It is the sixth highest grossing film of all time in America and Canada, adjusted for inflation.

The movie was a bigger and more flamboyant version of a black and white silent film of the same name which producer and director Cecil B. DeMille had made in 1923. In 1956 he was in his 75th year and he actually suffered a heart attack during filming. He recovered quickly and returned to work after only two days. He died in 1959 without making another movie.

'The Ten Commandments' was nominated for Academy Awards in seven categories including Best Picture, and won one Oscar for Best Visual Effects. In 1999, the Library of Congress selected the movie for preservation in the National Film Registry as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".

Plot

The movie draws on the Bible and numerous other sources to depict the life of Moses, played by Charlton Heston, from his humble birth and abandonment in the bull rushes, to his young manhood as a member of the Egyptian ruling class. Yul Brynner plays Ramses, Moses' rival for the love of Nefetiri, played by Anne Baxter.

When Moses discovers his humble origins he re-adjusts his life and ambitions to become an instrument of the Hebrew God and begins a long struggle to free his people from their slavery under the Egyptians.He finally ascends Mount Sinai and is given the Ten Commandments by God. Along the way he performs some useful miracles like parting the Red Sea, turning the Nile into a river of blood, and changing his staff into a snake.

Main Cast

Charlton Heston ... Moses
Yul Brynner ... Rameses [II]
Anne Baxter ... Nefretiri
Edward G. Robinson ... Dathan
Yvonne De Carlo ... Sephora
Vincent Price ... Baka
John Derek ... Joshua
Sir Cedric Hardwicke ... Sethi
Nina Foch ... Bithiah
Martha Scott ... Yochabel
Judith Anderson ... Memnet
Debra Paget ... Lilia

Charlton Heston (1923-2008) brings great dignity and understanding to the role of Moses. He appeared in 100 films over the course of a 60 year career becoming well known for heroic roles in Biblical epics like 'The Ten Commandment' and 'Ben Hur' as well as for his right wing stance on political subjects such as gun control. His finely chiselled features and tremendous screen presence made him an ideal leading man.
Yul Brynner (1920-1985) The Russian born Brynner was a charismatic and versatile actor who became famous for his portrayal of the King of Siam in 'The King and I' in 1956. He plays a memorable Rameses whose envy and hatred of Moses is completely convincing.
Anne Baxter (1923-1985) The granddaughter of architect Frank Lloyd Wright, Anne Baxter first made a name for herself as a teenager on the Broadway stage. She soon graduated to Hollywood and became famous for her performances in such films such as 'The Magnificent Ambersons', 'The Razor's Edge', 'All About Eve' as well as 'The Ten Commandments'. Her performance as the glamorous Nefetiri is deliciously forceful and utterly believable.
Edward G. Robinson (1893-1973) Better known for his early Hollywood classic gangster roles such as Rico in 'Little Caesar' in 1931, Robinson convincingly plays the double-crossing Hebrew Dathan.
Yvonne De Carlo (1922-2007) plays the beautiful shepherdess whom Moses falls in love with. She was a Canadian-born actress who, after appearing in many Hollywood movies, eventually achieved lasting fame on television in the mid 1960's as Lily Munster in 'The Munsters'.
Vincent Price (1911-1993) in fine form as the cruel master builder, Baka, Price made his name in horror movies such as 'House of Wax' in 1953 after appearing in a number of well received films in the 1940's, such as 'Laura' with Gene Tierney.

Credits

Director ... Cecil B. DeMille
Producer ... Cecil B. DeMille
Associate Producer ... Henry Wilcoxon
Screenplay ... Aeneas MacKenzie, Jesse L. Lasky, Jr., Jack Gariss, Fredric M. Frank
Based on ... The Holy Scriptures, Prince of Egypt by Dorothy Clarke Wilson, Pillar of Fire by Joseph Holt Ingraham, On Eagle's Wings by A.E. Southon
Narrated by ... Cecil B. DeMille Music ... Elmer Bernstein
Cinematography ... Loyal Griggs
Format ... Color (Technicolor)
Production Company ... Motion Picture Associates
Distribution Company ... Paramount Pictures
Release date ... August 11, 1956
Running time ... 220 minutes

Academy Awards

One Win:
Special Effects ... John Fulton
Six Unsuccessful Nominations:
Best Picture ... Cecil B. DeMille
Cinematography ... Loyal Griggs
Art Direction/Set Direction ... Hal Pereria, Walter H. Tyler, Albert Nozaki, Samuel M. Comer, Ray Moyer
Costume Design, Color ... Edith Head, Ralph Jester, John Jensen, Dorothy Jeakins, Arnold Friberg
Film Editing ... Anne Bauchens
Sound Recording ... Paramount Studio Sound Department, Loren L. Ryder, Sound Director

Summary

When the movie was made, Hollywood was trying to combat the growing threat of television with great widescreen technicolor spectacle and ''The Ten Commandments'' is one of the best examples of this trend, with its massive cast and thrilling set pieces. Unfortunately parts of the film have not dated well, particularly the special effects. In 1956 they were electrifying, but now, some are almost comical, but the parting of the Red Sea is still worth watching. The movie contains all the expected ingredients of an DeMille epic - few subtleties, a cast of literally thousands, not CGI generated, enormous, wonderfully detailed sets, fantastic costumes, and a striking musical score - all combine with the grand Biblical theme to produce an epic movie to relish.