Monday, April 09, 2012

The Ten Commandments (1956 film)

Based on the books Pillar of Fire by Joseph Holt Ingraham, On Eagle’s Wings by A.E. Southon, and Prince of Egypt by Dorothy Clarke Wilson, The Ten Commandments is the story of how the Hebrew-born Moses who is raised by Egyptian royals as he would become the leader of the Hebrews as he leads them to the Promised Land. Directed and narrated by Cecil B. DeMille and screenplay by Aeneas MacKenzie, Jesse J. Lasky Jr., Jack Garris, and Fredric M. Frank. The film is a dramatic take on the story of Moses as he would become the leader of the Hebrews and defy the Pharaoh. Playing Moses is Charlton Heston in one of his most iconic performances. With an all-star cast that includes Yul Brenner, Anne Baxter, Edward G. Robinson, Yvonne de Carlo, Debra Paget, and John Derek. The Ten Commandments is a sprawling yet engrossing epic from Cecil B. DeMille.

After the Pharaoh Seti I (Sir Cedric Hardwicke) orders the death of first-born Hebrew boys based on a prophecy, a woman named Yoshebel (Martha Scott) takes a baby to the Nile as her young daughter Miriam watches to see as the baby named Moses is given to the arms of Pharaoh’s sister Bithiah (Nina Foch) who will raise the child. Many years later, Moses becomes the Pharaoh’s pride and joy after leading a victory against Ethiopia and later build a city with the princess Nefretiri (Anne Baxter) in awe of Moses though Pharoah’s son Rameses (Yul Brenner) is filled with jealousy towards Moses as he seeks to find the Hebrew who would lead the slaves to rebel. Still, Moses is content with his life until Nefretiri learns from the maid Memnet (Judith Anderson) the truth about who Moses is as he asks Bithiah if it’s true. Notably as he would follow her to the home of Yoshebel as he recognized as the woman whose life he had just saved.

After learning about his true roots, Moses decides to become a slave to see how they live where he learns about their struggle. After master builder Baka (Vincent Price) takes the beautiful slave girl Liliah (Debra Paget) for his own where her lover Joshua (John Derek) tries to reclaim her. Moses come to their aid where the corrupt Hebrew overseer Dathan (Edward G. Robinson) learns the truth about Moses. After telling the news to Rameses who would reward Dathan, Moses is captured as he’s brought forth by Seti who is heartbroken over what Moses is as he denies him. Rameses has Moses be banished to the desert as Moses eventually finds shelter in a Bedouin sheik named Jethro (Eduard Franz) whose daughter Sephora (Yvonne de Carlo) becomes Moses’ new love. After a life of herding sheep and gaining a son in Gershom (Tommy Duran), Moses still seeks answers about his life when Joshua appears prompting Moses to climb Mount Sinai where he returns with a new role.

Deciding to return to Egypt with his family and Joshua, he learns that Rameses is the new Pharaoh as he asks Rameses to release the Hebrews. Rameses refuses as a series of plagues occur while Nefretiri tries to renew their relationship but Moses spurns her. Even as she would later plead to his wife to flee Egypt to save her child only to learn that next plague will kill all Egyptian first-born men and boys. Rameses gives in as all of the Hebrews leave including Dathan while Bithiah also joins Moses on their way to the promised land. Yet, the grief-stricken Nefretiri would tell Rameses to attack the Hebrews as they reach towards the Red Sea where Moses would make a miracle that will lead to him gaining God’s laws about the way to live.

The film is essentially the tale of Moses of how he was this prince of Egypt who was adored by many including the Hebrew slaves. Then once his true background is revealed, he is shunned only to return to live up to the prophecy that his adopted uncle feared only to deal with the man he once called brother. All of it told in a grand storyline that lives up to the epic films of the 20th Century as Cecil B. DeMille and his screenwriters explore the life of Moses. Particularly in the key moments of his life such as the Exodus to the Promise Land, telling Rameses to let his people go, and the presentation of the Ten Commandments. Still, it also explores Moses as a man unsure of the role he played as well as the fact that he is a Hebrew raised as a prince with two different mothers.

Cecil B. DeMille’s direction is truly a marvel to watch from the way he creates a film that is ambitious in its set pieces while utilizing wide depth-of-field shots to capture the large crowd shots for the film. Shooting on location in parts of Egypt along with studio shots set in Los Angeles for some of the film’s interior set pieces. DeMille is able to create scenes where he utilizes the wide shots that often accompanied by sweeping crane shots that move back to see how big the crowds are. There’s also shots that is quite intimate to display the drama that occurs between a few characters to express the situation that occurs in the film. Particularly as DeMille wants to maintain the situation that occurs which includes the haunting Angel of Death scene as Moses and his family watches a mist appear.

For some scenes that requires visual effects including background scenes due to inability of what DeMille wasn’t able to do. Using superimposed shots for the background as well as a few visual effects moments. The look of it is quite primitive since it was made of the 1950s. Notably the visual effects moments that involve the parting of the Red Sea or some of the visual tricks that Moses try to display to deal with Rameses. Still, there is something quite engaging to the way it looks as it’s meant to look otherworldly. Overall, DeMille creates a film that is all about spectacle to tell this amazing story about Moses and the Hebrews in their search for the Promised Land.

Cinematographer Loyal Griggs does brilliant work with the film‘s lush, Technicolor look of the film to capture the vibrant colors of some of the film‘s interior settings including Nile River along with some wonderful exterior shots for some of the film‘s landscape scenes. Editor Anne Bauchens does excellent work with the film‘s editing by creating wonderful transitional dissolves as well as utilizing straight rhythmic cuts to play up the film‘s action and dramatic moments to maintain its tight, methodical pacing. Art directors Albert Noziak, Hal Pereira, and Walter H. Tyler, with set decorators Sam Comer and Ray Moyer, do amazing work with the set pieces such as interior palace designs that the Egyptian royals live in to the lavish tents where Moses meets Jethro. Sound recorders Gene Garvin and Harry Lindgren do wonderful work in the sound to capture the crowds as well as the intimate moments in some of the film‘s set pieces.

The film’s score by Elmer Bernstein is magnificent for the soaring yet sweeping score that he provides filled with bombastic string and brass orchestral arrangements. Notably in creating themes that play up to the grandeur of the film while slowing things down to serene pieces to play up some of the drama and romance in the film. It is truly one of Bernstein’s most essential film scores of his glorious career.

The casting by Bert McKay is superb for the ensemble that is created as it would feature appearances from Woody Strode as the Ethiopian king, Fraser Heston as the baby Moses, John Miljan as the blind man in the Exodus to the Promised Land sequence, Julia Faye as Aaron’s wife Elisheba, Eduard Franz as Sephora’s father Jethro, Tommy Duran as Moses’ son Gershom, Eugene Mazzola as Rameses’ son, Oliver Deering as Moses’ sister Miriam, Babette Bain as the young Miriam, Judith Anderson as Bithiah’s maid Memnet, John Carradine as Moses’ brother Aaron, Vincent Price as the brutish master builder Baka, and Martha Scott as Moses’ real mother Yoshebel. Other notable supporting roles include Nina Foch as Moses’ foster mother Bithiah and Sir Cedric Hardwicke as Pharaoh Seti I who adores Moses only to be heartbroken over Moses’ true persona.

Debra Paget is pretty good as the beautiful slave girl Liliah who deals with her role as being a slave for Dathan while maintaining her love for Joshua. John Derek is excellent as the courageous slave Joshua who impresses Moses for his determination as he would become Moses’ right-hand man in aiding the Exodus to the Promised Land. Yvonne De Carlo is wonderful as Moses’ wife Sephora who teaches him how to herd sheep while aiding him in his new role as God’s messenger. Anne Baxter is great in the role of Nefretiri who loves Moses only to feel spurned where Baxter gets to chew up the scenery when she goads Rameses to seek vengeance. Edward G. Robinson is brilliant as the corrupt Dathan who tries to weasel his way into anything situation and defy Moses in any way he can.

Yul Brenner is terrific as Rameses for the way he maintains an intimidating presence while displaying a sense of jealousy towards Moses for taking away what should’ve been total love from his father. Finally, there’s Charlton Heston in what is definitely the performance that will be the performance of his career as Moses. It’s a role where Heston really gets to play a man that is lost about his destiny and true persona while later become this commanding presence as he asks Rameses to let his people go.

The Ten Commandments is an extraordinary epic from Cecil B. DeMille that features a towering performance from Charlton Heston. Along with an amazing ensemble that includes Yul Brenner, Anne Baxter, Yvonne De Carlo, and Edward G. Robinson and fantastic technical work. The film is truly a textbook of how epics are supposed to be made for its ambition and storytelling. Particularly for a story as universal that provides many discussions about faith and power. In the end, Cecil B. DeMille’s 1956 version of The Ten Commandments is a marvel of a film that is accessible and engaging.

© thevoid99 2012


Courtney Small said...

I found myself watching this film again over the weekend. I find the older I get the more I appreciate what they achieved in making this film. It is almost impossible to have such and epic film, especially at the length which the film is, made today.

Heston is an absolute beast in the film. He really takes command of ever scene he is in.

thevoid99 said...

I decided to watch the whole thing yesterday as I was watching The Last Temptation of Christ on Saturday. Plus, I figured it was the right time to see since it was Easter weekend.

You can't make this film right now. There's too many people who are too PC to have this film made and who in the hell will play Moses right now? Charlton Heston fuckin' owned that role.

Chip Lary said...

This film used to be on every Easter (and for all I know it still is.) About 10 years ago I finally gave in to my curiosity and sat down to watch the broadcast. Four hours later it was still going strong with no signs of stopping and I was starting to regret it. (Lots of commercials got added to the broadcast.) I stuck with it so that I could see it to the end.

I have to say that the parting of the Red Sea was still spectacular. Even ten years ago it could have easily been done on a computer, so knowing they did the effect back in the 50s was impressive.

thevoid99 said...

@Chip-Since it was always on Easter and for years, I never had the time to see the film as a whole. Finally, I decided to give in and just DVR the whole thing so I can watch it and fast-forward the commercials.

I think the visual effects in that film were still pretty good as primitive as it was. Yet, I'll take that over the computer effects of today.