The Ten Commandments is a 1956 American motion picture that dramatized the biblical story of Moses, an adopted Egyptian prince-turned deliverer of the Hebrew slaves. Released by Paramount Pictures in VistaVision on October 5, 1956. It was directed by Cecil B. DeMille and starred Charlton Heston in the lead role, Yul Brynner as his adoptive brother, Pharaoh Ramesses II, Anne Baxter as Nefretiri, John Derek as Joshua, Edward G. Robinson as Dathan, Yvonne De Carlo as Sephora, Cedric Hardwicke as Pharaoh Seti I, Vincent Price as Baka, and John Carradine as Aaron.
This was the last film that Cecil DeMille directed. It was also narrated by him.
The Ten Commandments is a remake of DeMille’s 1923 silent film.
Some of the cast and crew of the 1956 version worked on the original. It was remade again as a television miniseries broadcast in April 2006.
The Ten Commandments is one of the most financially successful films made, grossing over $65 million at the North American box office. Adjusting for inflation, this makes it the fifth highest grossing movie in North America, with an adjusted total of $977 million in 2010.
In 1999, The Ten Commandments was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”. In June 2008, AFI revealed its “Ten top Ten”—the best ten films in ten “epics” American film genres—after polling over 1,500 people from the creative community. The Ten Commandments was acknowledged as the tenth best film in the epic genre.
The Ten Commandments DVD cover. SOURCE
The Ten Commandments movie poster. SOURCE
Often shown on or a day before Easter Sunday, The Ten Commandments has become a perennial favourite.
What a spectacle of a movie it is.
The finding of baby Moses in the bulrushes by Ramses’s sister, Bithia. The Seven Plagues visited upon Egypt. The Passover of the Angel of Death, striking down with death Egypt’s firstborn. The parting of the Red Sea when the “stiff-necked Hebrews” left on their Exodus from bondage in Egypt. The burning bush of God’s voice when Moses went upon Mount Sinai.
The 10 Commandments etched into stone by the fingers of God. The golden calf idol. Moses bringing the children of Israel to the Promised land, and sorrowfully, his being denied entry into the new land because of his anger in breaking the tablets.
The beauty and the pagentry, and yes, some of the campiness of the lines and acting (Anne Baxter, as Nefetiri and Edward G. Robinson, as Dathan, most notably) still warms the heart. Yes, The Ten Commandments plays footloose and fast with the incidents depicted in the Bible, as well as the recorded history of ancient Egypt concerning the Pharoahs, but, as a movie, it is enjoyable in its drama, costumes, and cinematography. The dialogue is no slouch in memorable moments either.
And who can forget those memorable lines in the movie?
Moses: No son could have more love for you than I.
Sethi: Then why are you forcing me to destroy you? What evil has done this to you?
Moses: The evil that men should turn their brothers into beasts of burden, to be stripped of spirit, and hope, and strength – only because they are of another race, another creed. If there is a god, he did not mean this to be so.
Sethi: Harden yourself against subordinates. Have no friend. Trust no woman.
Sethi: Do you mean to tell me he would turn the slaves against me? I’ve been his father!
Jannes: Ambition knows no father.
Sethi: The one who I choose will be the best man to rule Egypt. I owe that to my fathers, not to my sons.
[Answering accusations that he is treating the slaves too generously.]
Moses: The city is made of bricks. The strong make many, the starving make few, the dead make none. So much for accusations.
Moses: Great one, I bring you Ethiopia.
[Trumpets play, Ethiopians step forward.]
Rameses: Command them to kneel before Pharaoh.
Moses: Command what you have conquered my brother.
Baka: We use the old ones for greasing the stones. If they are killed it is no loss.
Moses: Are you a master builder or a master butcher?
Baka: If we stop moving stones for every grease woman who falls, the city will not rise.
Overseer: If the slaves are not driven they will not work.
Joshua: If their work lags it is because they are not fed.
Moses: You look strong enough.
Joshua: I am a stone cutter. The pharoah likes his images cut deep.
Baka: Will you lose a throne because Moses builds a city?
Rameses: The city that he builds shall bear my name, the woman that he loves shall bear my child. So let it be written, so let it be done.
Sethi: Let the name of Moses be stricken from every book and tablet. Stricken from every pylon and obelisk of Egypt. Let the name of Moses be unheard and unspoken, erased from the memory of man, for all time.
Bithiah: Your tongue will dig your grave, Memnet.
Joshua: God made men. Men made slaves.
Nefretiri: You will be king of Egypt and I will be your footstool!
Moses: The man stupid enough to use you as a footstool isn’t wise enough to rule Egypt.
Moses: Love cannot drown truth, Nefretiri.
Nefretiri: Oh Moses, Moses, you stubborn, splendid, adorable fool!
Moses: What change is there in me? Egyptian or Hebrew I am still Moses. These are the same hands, the same arms, the same face that were mine a moment ago.
Baka: You make no outcry, Joshua, but you will; you will cry for the mercy of death.
Joshua: One day you will listen to the cry of slaves.
Baka: This is not that day, Joshua.
Rameses: You have a rat’s ears and a ferret’s nose.
Dathan: To use in your service, son of Pharaoh.
Rameses: Now speaks the rat that would be my ears.
Dathan: Too many ears tie a rat’s tongue.
Moses: It would take more than a man to lead the slaves from bondage. It would take a god.
Rameses: You will be mine, like my dog, or my horse, or my falcon, except that I shall love you more–and trust you less.
Sethi: With my last breath I’ll break my own law and speak the name of Moses… Moses.
Rameses: [banishing Moses to the desert] Here is your king’s scepter, and here is your kingdom, with the scorpion, the cobra, and the lizard for subjects. Free them if you will. Leave the slaves to me.
Moses: There is a beauty beyond the senses, Nefretiri. Beauty like the quiet of green valleys and still waters. Beauty of the spirit that you cannot understand.
Nefretiri: You need have no fear of me.
Sephora: I feared only his memory of you.
Nefretiri: You have been able to erase it?
Sephora: He has forgotten both of us. You lost him when he went to seek his god. I lost him when he found his god.
Nefretiri: I saved your son.
Moses: It is not my son who will die, it is the first born of Egypt, it is your son, Nefretiri!
Nefretiri: You would not dare strike Pharaoh’s son!
Moses: In the hardness of his heart, Pharaoh has mocked God and brings death to his own son!
Nefretiri: But he is my son. You would not kill my son.
Moses: Without God I am nothing. I am the tool by which he works his will.
Nefretiri: But I saved your son!
Moses: I cannot save yours.
Dathan: Moses has words. Pharaoh has spears!
Commander of the Host: Let us go from this place, men cannot fight against a God.
Rameses: Better to die in battle with a God then to live in shame.
Moses: The Lord of Hosts will do battle for us. Behold his mighty hand.
Little Boy: The wind opens the sea.
Old Blind Man: God opens the sea with a blast of his nostrils.
Moses: Go, proclaim liberty throughout all the land, and to all the inhabitants thereof.
Rameses:His God… *is* God!
And my most favourite one uttered by Rameses: “So, let it be written, so let it be done.”
The soundtrack/score by Elmer Bernstein is exquisite, from the opening trumpeting of horns to the violins and tympani drums crescendo, the music of The Ten Commandments is thrilling and stirring.
One major aspect left out of the movie is that of Moses wife Zipporah.
His Ethiopian wife.
This neglect and banishment to historical amnesia has kept Zipporah unknown to millions of people for centuries, and only recently are people learning of her existence.
Moses love for his black (Cushite) wife is vehemently opposed by his sister Miriam, and his brother Aaron in Numbers, Chapter 12:
1. And Miriam and Aaron spake against Moses because of the Ethiopian woman whom he had married: for he had married an Ethiopian woman. 2 And they said, Hath the LORD indeed spoken only by Moses? hath he not spoken also by us? And the LORD heard it. 3 (Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth.) 4 And the LORD spake suddenly unto Moses, and unto Aaron, and unto Miriam, Come out ye three unto the tabernacle of the congregation. And they three came out. 5 And the LORD came down in the pillar of the cloud, and stood in the door of the tabernacle, and called Aaron and Miriam: and they both came forth.
6 And he said, Hear now my words: If there be a prophet among you, I the LORD will make myself known unto him in a vision, and will speak unto him in a dream.
7 My servant Moses is not so, who is faithful in all mine house.
8 With him will I speak mouth to mouth, even apparently, and not in dark speeches; and the similitude of the LORD shall he behold: wherefore then were ye not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?
9 And the anger of the LORD was kindled against them; and he departed. 10. And the cloud departed from off the tabernacle; and, behold, Miriam became leprous, white as snow: and Aaron looked upon Miriam, and, behold, she was leprous. 11 And Aaron said unto Moses, Alas, my lord, I beseech thee, lay not the sin upon us, wherein we have done foolishly, and wherein we have sinned. 12 Let her not be as one dead, of whom the flesh is half consumed when he cometh out of his mother’s womb. 13. And Moses cried unto the LORD, saying, Heal her now, O God, I beseech thee. 14 And the LORD said unto Moses, If her father had but spit in her face, should she not be ashamed seven days? let her be shut out from the camp seven days, and after that let her be received in again. 15 And Miriam was shut out from the camp seven days: and the people journeyed not till Miriam was brought in again.
16 And afterward the people removed from Hazeroth, and pitched in the wilderness of Paran.
SOURCE: Numbers 12: 1-16, The King James Bible
The Ten Commandments was De Mille’s crowning achievement, drawing millions of people at the time of its release.
Very few movies have compared to The Ten Commandments “cast of thousands”, and the special-effects are mesmerizing: the Pillar of Fire that blocks Rameses’s chariots; the turning of the Nile to blood; the snakes of Moses’s swallowing up the snakes of Pharoah’s magicians.
As epics go, The Ten Commandments is a one-of-a-kind, and in a class by itself.
They definitely do not make them like this anymore.