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The cross of the Red Sea, a composited photo that includes live action, matte paintings, and also special effects.

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The Egyptian sets space magnificent, enormous, glossy and also detailed, inhabited by thousands of costumed extras. But the staging, possibly inadvertently, goes beyond ‘authenticity’ –the lingering feeling of Hollywood grandiloquence generates skepticism that the next day Gene Kelly could stage a giant dance step on the exact same set. The score by Elmer Bernstein, soaring and also heroic, likewise raises the movie up yet sets it together a mid-century production.

When the activity moves to tool shots that Moses (played by Heston’s infant child Fraser) gift rescued from the Nile, Israelites functioning in dirt pits, or the alleys the Pithom, there is tiny sense that scale, depth, or dirt; these studio sets fall flat. Sadly, the many important magnificent interventions, the burning Bush, shaft of Fire, Moses’ employee transformed right into a snake, and the fiery production of the tablets of the law, are animated. These flaming cartoon results are around as unpersuasive as the ‘monster from the id’ in an additional 1956 hit, Forbidden Planet. Top top this we may pine for modern-day special effects.


But the film’s heart is the acting, specific the scenery chewing love triangle the Heston, Yul Brynner, and Anne Baxter. Hoston – preferred in component because the his same to Michelangelo’s Moses – tasks a stolid upper Midwestern masculinity the is connected with couple of actors today. Unequal his revolutionary contemporary, Marlon Brando, Heston’s emotion and vulnerability had to be accessed with a tough shell. Over there is a straight line with Heston’s most famed roles, indigenous Moses to Ben-Hur, every the way to George Taylor, marooned top top a world of damned, dirty apes. He is sluggish to be provoked, however then, watch out.

In contrast, the Siberian born Brynner exuded exoticism, befitting a function like the King Mongkut that Siam, for which he had end up being famous in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King and also I. His Rameses is additionally played in ~ a small emotional range, through quiet seething and couple of outbursts. However Brynner’s herbal authority was vital to projecting both Rameses’s imperiousness and also blindness.


Finally, over there is Ann Baxter, nephew of a candid Lloyd Wright and a Hollywood journey woman, who plays the vampish Queen Nefretiri together a manipulative bad girl. The subplot of she short-lived romance through Moses then unhappy marital relationship to Rameses is entirely invented and also gives the film a 1940s emotion of love triangles and also femme fatales. But Baxter reliably delivers several of the film’s cheesiest (“Oh, Moses, Moses, girlfriend stubborn, splendid, lover fool!”) and also most bitter lines (“You allow Moses kill my son. No god can bring him back. What have actually you done to Moses? exactly how did the die? Did that cry because that mercy when you tortured him? bring me to his body! I want to check out it, Rameses! I desire to check out it!”)


To the contemporary eye, or certain modern sensibilities, the primary cast is likewise disconcertingly “white.” To respond to we might allude to the short presence that the identified African American actor, and professional football player, Woodrow Strode, as the Ethiopian King, and also several thousands Egyptian military personnel as, well, the Egyptian Army. Like any film, that is a product that its times.

For every impressive actor like Cedric Hardwicke (Seti) or Nina Foch (Bithia) there room one-dimensional hacks like John Derek (Joshua) or the stroked nerves girls who played Jethro’s daughters together giggly flibbertigibbets. Still, DeMille was both a craftsman and also eminently practical; rope swinging hunks prefer Derek were crate office draws, and veteran personality actors choose Edward G. Robinson, Vincent Price and also John Carradine retained the non-Biblical B-story going as soon as Heston and Brynner were off screen.

But does the still work? The actual star that The Ten Commandments is God, who speaks straight to Moses and also works miracles that eventually convince Rameses to let the Israelites go. Magnificent intervention and also national liberation is the essence of the Biblical account. What a contrast with Ridley Scott’s 2014 retelling, where Moses is a freedom fighter and also God a vision on through a punch to the head the a kid brought, or the 1998 man Prince of Egypt, whereby Moses cries due to the fact that of the plagues and also with musical numbers that sound prefer rejects native Frozen.

In 1923 DeMille made 2 parallel stories to highlight the degeneration of modern values, yet in 1956 he opted for a an ext subtle approach. He makes God the star, and liberation the central theme, and also through clever dialogue and narration Americanizes the Exodus when again. Yet Cold war made the comb far higher than also those that killed Mrs. McTavish. “Man took dominion over guy – the conquered were make to offer the conquer – the weak made to server the strong,” the narrator – DeMille self – intones. Moses’ critical words in the film, “Go – proclaim liberty throughout all the lands, depend all the occupants thereof” (Leviticus 25:10), additionally inscribed ~ above the Liberty Bell, make the connection between old Israel and also America clear.


Film tells united state not ‘who us are’ but how we check out ourselves at any type of given moment. Probably every generation it s okay The Ten Commandments that it wants. There space no ‘timeless’ films yet DeMille’s The Ten Commandments comes closer 보다 many, because of its topic matter, epos scale, and also outsized social impact. Even if it is its message of person liberty and also the enduring relationship of God and also the Israelites quiet resonate, in America or elsewhere, is one more question.

Alex Joffe is the editor that The old Near eastern Today.

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