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

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The Egyptian sets space magnificent, enormous, glossy and also detailed, populated by thousands of costumed extras. Yet the staging, possibly inadvertently, goes past ‘authenticity’ –the lingering feeling of Hollywood grandiloquence generates hesitation that the next day Gene Kelly could stage a giant dance scene on the very same set. The score through Elmer Bernstein, soaring and heroic, also raises the movie up yet sets it as a mid-century production.

When the activity moves to tool shots of Moses (played by Heston’s infant son Fraser) being rescued native the Nile, Israelites working in mud pits, or the alleys that Pithom, there is tiny sense of scale, depth, or dirt; this studio sets autumn flat. Sadly, the most important divine interventions, the burn Bush, pillar of Fire, Moses’ staff transformed into a snake, and also the fiery development of the tablet computers of the law, are animated. This flaming cartoon results are around as unpersuasive as the ‘monster indigenous the id’ in one more 1956 hit, Forbidden Planet. On this we may pine for modern special effects.


But the film’s heart is the acting, specific the see chewing love triangle of Heston, Yul Brynner, and Anne Baxter. Hoston – favored in component because the his same to Michelangelo’s Moses – projects a stolid top Midwestern masculinity that is connected with couple of actors today. Uneven his revolutionary contemporary, Marlon Brando, Heston’s emotion and vulnerability had actually to it is in accessed with a difficult shell. Over there is a straight line with Heston’s most famed roles, indigenous Moses to Ben-Hur, every the method to George Taylor, marooned top top a world of damned, dirty apes. That is slow to be provoked, but then, clock out.

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


Finally, over there is Ann Baxter, nephew of a open minded Lloyd Wright and a Hollywood journey woman, that plays the vampish Queen Nefretiri together a manipulative negative girl. The subplot of her short-lived romance v Moses then unhappy marriage to Rameses is entirely invented and gives the movie a 1940s feeling of love triangles and also femme fatales. However Baxter reliably delivers several of the film’s cheesiest (“Oh, Moses, Moses, you stubborn, splendid, lover fool!”) and most bitterness lines (“You allow Moses death my son. No god can carry him back. What have actually you excellent to Moses? how did that die? Did he cry because that mercy as soon as you tortured him? lug me to his body! I desire to check out it, Rameses! I want to check out it!”)


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

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

But does the still work? The real star the The Ten Commandments is God, who speaks directly to Moses and also works miracles that at some point convince Rameses to let the Israelites go. Divine intervention and national liberation is the essence of the Biblical account. What a comparison with Ridley Scott’s 2014 retelling, whereby Moses is a flexibility fighter and also God a vision on by a punch to the head of a kid brought, or the 1998 animated Prince the Egypt, where Moses cries due to the fact that of the plagues and with music numbers the sound like rejects indigenous Frozen.

In 1923 DeMille made 2 parallel stories to highlight the decay of modern-day values, but in 1956 the opted because that a an ext subtle approach. He provides God the star, and liberation the main theme, and also through clever dialogue and narration Americanizes the Exodus when again. Yet Cold war made the stakes far higher than also those that eliminated Mrs. McTavish. “Man took ascendancy over man – the dominated were made to offer the conquer – the weak made come server the strong,” the narrator – DeMille himself – intones. Moses’ critical words in the film, “Go – proclaim liberty throughout all the lands, depend all the inhabitants thereof” (Leviticus 25:10), also inscribed on the Liberty Bell, make the connection between ancient Israel and America clear.


Film tells united state not ‘who we are’ yet how we see ourselves at any type of given moment. Probably every generation it s okay The Ten Commandments that it wants. There are no ‘timeless’ films however DeMille’s The Ten Commandments come closer than many, since of its subject matter, epic scale, and outsized society impact. Whether its message of person liberty and the enduring partnership of God and the Israelites quiet resonate, in America or elsewhere, is another question.

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

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