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The Ten Commandments Movie Review

moses mille color egypt

1956 – Cecil B. De Mille –

Upon hearing the word “epic,” often the first film to come to mind is Cecil B. De Mille's lavish production of The Ten Commandments. So popular that it is reshown on network television every Easter/Passover season, the biblical blockbuster includes a bit of every genre: action, romance, philosophical reflection, and disasters (plagues of hail, locusts, blood and death long before disaster epics became a genre). Actually, it was De Mille's second try with the material; he had shot a silent version in 1923.

The story is central to the religious traditions of at least two faiths—Christianity and Judaism. It is also central to the political ideals of freedom as a right and the defiance of tyranny as a duty. Moses (Charlton Heston, in one of his many memorable roles) has every reason to be comfortable; he has been rescued from Hebrew slavery and now is an adopted Prince of Egypt, likely to beat out Yul Brynner's Rameses for the Pharoah's throne. He also is the central love interest of Rameses' intended, Princess Nefretiri, and under the careful protection of his princess mother. But the cries of his tortured people are too much for Moses. He kills an Egyptian overseer and flees Egypt to the desert, only to meet God face to face—and return to lead his people to freedom.

Shot mostly in Egypt, the Exodus itself is one of the grandest sequences ever shot, employing 12,000 Arabs and 15,000 animals. The parting of the Red Sea (done by pouring 300,000 gallons of water into a tank and then reversing the film) was spectacular for 1956, and such effects won the film its only Oscar. The acting may be broad (Edward G. Robinson as a Jewish governor?), the subplots a bit simplistic and melodramatic, the scenes often mere tableaux, but the power of the great story and its brilliant, full-color, huge-screen dramatization make it a perennial favorite.

Cast: Charlton Heston (Moses), Yul Brynner (Pharoah Rameses), Anne Baxter (Nefretiri), Edward G. Robinson (Dathan), Yvonne de Carlo (Sephora), Debra Paget (Lilia), John Derek (Joshua), Cedric Hardwicke (Sethi), Nina Foch (Bithiah), Martha Scott (Yochabel), Judith Anderson (Memnet), Vincent Price (Baka), John Carradine (Aaron), Eduard Franz (Jethro), Olive Deering (Miriam), Donald Curtis (Mered), Douglas Dumbrille (Jannes), H.B. Warner (Amminadab), Henry Wilcoxon (Pentaur), Fraser Heston (infant Moses), Woody Strode (King of Ethiopia), Mike Connors (herder), Clint Walker (Sardinian captain), Michael Ansara (taskmaster), Carl “Alfalfa” Switzer (slave), Robert Vaughan (spearman/Hebrew at Golden Calf), Herb Alpert (drummer) Screenwriter: Aeneas MacKenzie, Jesse Lasky Jr., Fredric M. Frank, Jack Gariss Cinematographer: Loyal Griggs, John F. Warren, W. Wallace Keley, J. Peverell Marley Composer: Elmer Bernstein Producer: Cecil B. De Mille for Paramount Running Time: 220 minutes Format: VHS, LV Awards: Academy Awards, 1956: Special Effects; Nominations: Art Direction/Set Decoration (color), Color Cinematography, Costume Design (color), Editing, Picture, Sound Budget: $13.5M Box Office: $34.2M (initial release); $83M (by 1959).

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