The Ten Commandments (1956) - Illustrated Reference
The Ten Commandments was directed by Cecil B. DeMille and premiered on 5th October 1956. Starring Charlton Heston, Yul Brynner, Anne Baxter, Cedric Hardwicke, Edward G. Robinson, Vincent Price, Yvonne De Carlo, Debra Paget, John Derek and John Carradine. Screenplay by Aeneas MacKenzie Jesse Lasky Jr., Jack Gariss and Fredric M. Frank. Music by Elmer Bernstein. 220 mins.
The story of Moses. A Hebrew child is found in the bulrushes and raised as a prince of Egypt by the Pharaoh Seti’s sister. Pharaoh loves the boy more than his own son Rameses, But the day comes when Moses discovers his true heritage. When Seti dies Rameses becomes Pharaoh of Egypt, he exiles Moses. God speaks to Moses and tells him to return to Egypt, free all the slaves and deliver them to the promised land.
Cecil B. DeMille (1881-1959) first directed The Ten Commandments in 1923, an epic silent movie which starred Theodore Roberts as Moses the Lawgiver.
Only about a third of the film concerned the story of Moses and the Exodus, the rest of it is in a modern setting. A morality parable about two brothers, one who follows the laws of the Ten Commandments and is poor the other brother breaks every commandment and becomes rich, though his life is soon cut short.
Cecil B DeMille announced in the Aug 1952 issue of Daily Variety that he would be remaking The Ten Commandments and that this time it would be all about the life of Moses. He intended the film to be the biggest of his career.
Moses: The Lord of Hosts will do battle for us. Behold His mighty hand.
Charlton Heston (1923-2008) / Moses the Lawgiver, formerly a Prince of Egypt.
Born in Evanston, Illinois, Charlton Heston won a Best Actor Oscar for his role as Ben-Hur (1959). Other films include – The Greatest Show on Earth (1952), Touch of Evil (1958), The Big Country (1958), El Cid (1961), 55 Days at Peking (1963), The War Lord (1965), Khartoum (1966), Planet of the Apes (1968), The Omega Man (1971), Soylent Green (1973), Earthquake (1974), Midway (1976) and True Lies (1994).
Moses: You gave me this staff to rule over scorpions and serpents, but God made it a rod to rule over kings. Hear His word, Rameses, and obey.
Rameses: Obey? Moses, Moses. Are there no magicians in Egypt, that you have come back to make serpents out of sticks or cause rabbits to appear?
Yul Brynner (1920-1985) / Rameses II, Pharaoh of Egypt, son of Seti.
Born in Vladivostok, Russia, Yul Brynner won a Best Actor Oscar for his role as King Mongkut of Siam in the musical The King and I (1956). Other films include – Anastasia (1956), The Buccaneer (1958), Solomon and Sheba (1958), The Magnificent Seven (1960), Taras Bulba (1962), Cast a Giant Shadow (1966), Villa Rides (1968) and Westworld (1973)
Nefretiri: Oh Moses, Moses, you stubborn, splendid, adorable fool!
Anne Baxter (1923-1985) / Nefretiri, Pharaoh’s wife.
Born in Michigan City, Indiana, Anne Baxter won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role in The Razor’s Edge (1946) and was nominated Best Actress for All About Eve (1950). Other films include – The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), The Fighting Sullivans (1944), Yellow Sky (1948), I Confess (1953), The Spoilers (1955) and Cimarron (1960).
Edward G. Robinson (1893-1973) / Dathan, the Hebrew Overseer.
Born in Bucharest, Romania, Edward G. Robinson was one of the great Hollywood gangsters and ranked #24 on the AFI’s 50 Greatest Film Legends.
His films include – Little Caesar (1931), Kid Galahad (1937), The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse (1938), Confessions of a Nazi Spy (1939), Double Indemnity (1944), Key Largo (1948), The Violent Men (1955), The Prize (1963), The Cincinnati Kid (1965) and Soylent Green (1973).
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 it shall be written, so it shall be done.
Vincent Price (1911-1993) / Baka, the Master Builder.
Born in St. Louis, Missouri. After the success of House of Wax (1953), The Fly (1958) and The Tingler (1959), Vincent Price joined Lon Chaney, Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi as one of Hollywood’s horror greats.
Price appeared in over 100 movies including – The Invisible Man Returns (1940), Laura (1944), Dragonwyck (1946), The Three Musketeers (1948), House of Usher (1960), Pit and the Pendulum (1961), The Raven (1963), The Masque of the Red Death (1964), The Last Man on Earth (1964), Witchfinder General (1968), The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971), Theater of Blood (1973), The Great Mouse Detective (1986 voice only) and Edward Scissorhands (1990)
Debra Paget (1933-) / Lilia, the water girl.
Born in Denver, Colorado, Debra Paget’s films include – Demetrius and the Gladiators (1954), Love Me Tender (1956), From the Earth to the Moon (1958) and The Haunted Palace (1963).
John Derek (1926-1998) / Joshua, the stonecutter.
Born in Hollywood, California, John Derek’s films include – All the King’s Men (1949), Rogues of Sherwood Forest (1950), Prince of Players (1955), Omar Khayyam (1957) and Exodus (1960). He later directed 4th wife Bo Derek in critically slated films like Tarzan the Ape Man (1981) and Bolero (1984).
Yvonne De Carlo (1922-2007) / Sephora, wife of Moses.
Born in Vancouver, Canada, Yvonne De Carlo’s films include – Salome Where She Danced (1945), Criss Cross (1949), The Desert Hawk (1950), Band of Angels (1957) and Munster Go Home (1966). De Carlo starred as Lily Munster in the TV series The Munsters (1964-1966).
Sir Cedric Hardwicke (1893-1964) / Seti, Pharaoh of Egypt, son of Rameses I.
Born in Worcestershire, England, Sir Cedric was Knighted by King George V in 1934 for services to drama. His films include – Things to Come (1936), King Solomon’s Mines (1937), Stanley and Livingstone (1939), Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939), Suspicion (1941), Ghost of Frankenstein (1942), Rope (1948), A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1949), Salome (1953), Helen of Troy (1956) and Around the World in 80 Days (1956).
Nina Foch (1924-2008) / Bithiah, sister of Seti and Moses adoptive mother.
Born in Leiden, Netherlands, Nina Foch was Oscar nominated Best Supporting Actress for Executive Suite (1954), her films include – An American in Paris (1951), Scaramouche (1952), Illegal (1955) and Spartacus (1960).
Martha Scott (1912-2003) / Yochabel, mother of Moses.
Born in Jamesport, Missouri, Martha Scott was Oscar nominated Best Actress for Our Town (1940). Her films include – The Desperate Hours (1955), Sayonara (1957), Ben-Hur (1959) and Airport 75 (1974). She would again play Charlton Heston's mother in Ben-Hur.
Dame Judith Anderson (1897-1992) / Memnet, slave attendant to Bithiah and Nefretiri.
Born in Adelaide, Australia, Dame Judith received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her most famous role as the evil housekeeper Mrs. Danvers in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca (1940). Other films include – Kings Row (1942), Laura (1944), And Then There Were None (1945), Salome (1953), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958) and Star Trek III The Search for Spock (1984).
John Carradine (1906-1988) / Aaron, brother of Moses.
Born in New York City, John Carradine has appeared in over 200 films and was the father of actors David, Keith and Robert Carradine.
John’s films include – Bride of Frankenstein (1935), Jesse James (1939), Stagecoach (1939), The Grapes of Wrath (1940), House of Frankenstein (1944), House of Dracula (1945), Around the World in 80 Days (1956), The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), Billy the Kid vs Dracula (1966), The Shootist (1976) and The Howling (1981).
Opening Narration: So did the Egyptians cause the children of Israel to serve with rigor, and their lives were made bitter with hard bondage. And their cry came up unto God. And God heard them and cast into Egypt, into the lowly hut of Amram and Yochabel, the seed of a man upon whose mind and heart would be written God's law and God's commandments, one man alone against an empire.
Charlton Heston was the voice of God in the burning bush scenes, his voice was electronically distorted to get the required effect.
The infant Moses was played by Fraser Clarke Heston, Charlton’s son. Fraser recently produced a tribute to his father for the Blu-ray release of Ben-Hur, using never before seen home video clips of the making of the film.
Audrey Hepburn was considered for the part of Nefretiri but DeMille decided she was too flat-chested and not sexy enough for the role.
Moses: Let my people go!
The Exodus featured some 10,000 extras and 15,000 animals were used, a record at the time.
Some scenes were filmed in Egypt, the only major cast members to shoot on location were Charlton Heston, Yul Brynner and Henry Wilcoxon.
One of the plagues of Egypt, the plague of frogs, was filmed but not used in the film. The 10 plagues as they appear in the Bible - Water into blood, frogs, lice, flies, disease, boils, hail, locusts, darkness and death of the first-born.
Little Boy: The wind opens the sea.
The Blind One: God opens the sea with a blast of his nostrils.
The films most spectacular sequence the parting of the Red Sea, was partly accomplished by pouring 300,000 gallons of water in a massive studio tank and than reversing the film superimposing it with other elements. One of the most elaborate effects shots ever devised at the time.
The rolling cloud effects were created by pouring paint into a tank of water with the camera filming underneath, the processed film was than matted into the sky shots. Steven Spielberg would utilise the same technique for his film Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977).
According to Paramount studio records several of the animators who worked on the burning bush, finger of God and the pillar of fire were borrowed from the Walt Disney Studios.
The studios report noted that the writing of the commandments on the stone tablets was accomplished by animating three different drawings for each frame, and that nine shades of colour were used for the animation of the pillar of fire.
H.B.Warner played the very old man being helped during the Exodus sequence. Warner had played a 52 year old Jesus in Cecil B. DeMille’s King of Kings (1927) but he’s probably best remembered now as the old (was he ever young?) druggist Mr. Gower in Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life! (1946).
Victor Young, DeMille’s favourite movie composer was too ill to work on the film and Elmer Bernstein was brought in to compose the score, his only other major score at the time was for The Man with the Golden Arm (1955).
Surprisingly Elmer Bernstein’s excellent music for The Ten Commandments wasn’t nominated for an Oscar and ironically the winner that year was Victor Young for Around the World in 80 Days.
The Ten Commandments was nominated for seven Academy Awards winning one for Best Special Effects. The other nominations were – Best Picture, Best Art Direction, Best Editing, Best Cinematography, Best Costume and Best Sound. Around the World in 80 Days won Best Picture of 1956 and George Stevens Best Director for Giant.
The film was chosen for preservation in 1999 by the National Film Registry for being culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.
At a cost of $13 million The Ten Commandments was the most expensive film ever made at the time, but it was worth every penny the film was a colossal success grossing $187m in 1956-1957.
It was the most successful film of the 1950’s only Gone With the Wind (1939) was a bigger hit.
Pentaur: Let us go from this place, men cannot fight against a God.
Rameses: It is better to die in battle with a God, than to live in shame.
The Ten Commandments (1956) would be the last film Cecil B. DeMille produced and directed. He suffered a near-fatal heart attack while making the film and never fully recovered. DeMille died of heart failure in January 1959, he was 77.
Despite stilted dialogue and some stiff acting The Ten Commandments is a magnificent eyefilling epic its popularity would be an enduring tribute to one of the greatest showmen in cinema history.
The Critics Wrote –
"Commandments is too long. More than two hours pass before the intermission and the break is desperately welcome. Scenes of the greatness that was Egypt, and Hebrews by the thousands under the whip of the taskmasters, are striking. But bigness wearies. There's simply too much." (Variety)
"I'm sure DeMille could have had any actor he wanted Yet the actors he chose with few exceptions are second and third rate... Heston has a fine hatchet face on which a beard looks well, and nothing else... John Derek and Debra Paget have faces on which neither mind nor heart has left a trace. And how ridiculous Edward G. Robinson and Vincent Price are in Egyptian costumes!... The visual representation of supernatural occurrences are inexcusably crude... And I cannot understand how Mr De Mille allowed a voice on the soundtrack to represent the voice of God." (Henrietta Lehman, Films in Review)
"This is unquestionably a picture to which one must bring something more than a mere wish for entertainment in order to get a full effect from it. But for those to whom its fundamentalism will be entirely credible, it should be altogether thrilling and perhaps even spiritually profound." (Bosley Crowther, New York Times)
"The idea - a romantic screen biography of Moses - is inherently ludicrous and irreverent, and the producer-director, himself something of a legend, has exercised a heroic bad taste to create an epic of balderdash." (Robert Hatch, Nation)
"I left the theatre with bed-sores... Anyone with a nostalgic feeling for the DeMille badness of the past will be sorry that this film, which may be the last of its genre from the master, had to be such an utter catastrophe." (Robert Evett, New Republic)
"I am afraid that long before the time was up I was silently imploring Mr DeMille to let his people go." (Dilys Powell)