Ten Commandments, The (1956)

The Ten Commandments (1956), directed by Cecil B. DeMille

Every now and then I say to my wife "About time to watch The Ten Commandments again, eh?" She always responds by doing a breathy, spot-on Anne Baxter imitation: "Oh, Moses, Moses!" Then we watch something else.

No more stalling: the Blu-ray is gorgeous, one of the finest I have seen. Beautiful color.

Watching DeMille requires some mental adjustment: it's like a children's church pageant blown out to a tremendous, cast-of-thousands scale. (According to the commentary track, he was going for a retro-epic look, evoking the pageants of his youth). Although I can be moved by Bible films (see David and Bathsheba (1951) and Ben Hur (1959)) this one is just too stiff and pompous to be more than spectacle. But as such there is nothing like it. I don't know how many of the subplots are mined from the midrash or other ancient texts.

Much as I like Charlton Heston, Yul Brynner gives a blazing performance, one of the few actors who looks like he belongs there. It makes me like his character more: Rameses is born to be pharaoh and is obviously built for the job. The pesky Hebrews are messing up his life, as is troublemaker Moses (both as prince and prophet), and his wife turns out to be a real piece of work. You can't help but feel his grief for the death of his son. He's also the ancient rationalist, explaining away the plagues, and the skeptic saying "You priests made the gods." Brynner never worked out or dieted, final proof that life is unfair.

I never noticed how much lascivious sexuality is used here as a mark of wickedness. Even though obviously meant to be family-friendly, they slip in some adult innuendo:


Nefretiri: I could never love you.

Rameses: Does that matter? You will be my wife. You will come to me whenever I call you, and I will enjoy that very much. Whether you enjoy it or not is your own affair. But I think you will...

Every Bible movie has dancing girls. It takes a while to accept Edward G. Robinson and Vincent Price in ancient costumes. I notice the blue screen scenes more now than I used to. The Angel of Death during the first Passover is quite eerie, and the voice of God on the mountain awfully dull.

Elmer Bernstein score.

ClassicFlix has the Blu-ray and sent both discs together as one rental. Netflix doesn't have it.

The commentary track by a film historian gives extensive detail on who and what is on the screen. Lots of stories. Audrey Hepburn was considered for the princess, but they thought those diaphanous robes would not hang well on such a thin frame. Anne Baxter is more of a full-figured gal.

"Moses, Moses": everyone says it, even the Voice from the burning bush.