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Still shot from the movie: The Ten Commandments.

The Ten Commandments

The biblical story of Moses comes to life in this 1956 epic film directed by the legendary Cecil B. DeMille. Charlton Heston plays the lead role, commanding Rameses (Yul Brynner) to "let my people go."

Overall Grade: A
Violence: B
Sexual Content: B
Language: A
Drugs/Alcohol: A
Release Date: 05 Oct 1956
Run Time: 220
MPAA Rating: G

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In-Depth Review

"Moses, Moses..." is perhaps the most uttered line in Cecil B. DeMille's epic production, The Ten Commandments. By the director's own admittance during his on-screen introduction to the movie, much of the prophet's early life is undocumented. However, that doesn't deter the Hollywood veteran from tackling the challenge of retelling the Biblical story. He simply applies artistic license--with a sense of relish.

DeMille's portrait made Charlton Heston the definitive Moses. Painted as wise beyond his years, the young man has no memory of his birth mother or the death sentence he narrowly escaped in a basket set afloat the Nile. Adopted by a daughter of the royal household and raised as a prince, he has been a constant rival to Rameses (Yul Brynner), the heir apparent. Because the aging Pharaoh favors Moses' leadership potential above that of his own son, the two cousins are now vying for the throne of Egypt. They are also competing for the affections of Nefretiri (Anne Baxter), the beautiful crown princess appointed to marry the next king.

Just when it appears Moses has won the kingdom and the maiden's heart, he discovers the truth about his lineage. Driven by his personal integrity, the would-be ruler seeks out the Hebrew slave who gave him life. After a taste of his forebears' bitter bondage, his sense of injustice is awakened. When sympathy moves Moses to kill an abusive taskmaster, the Israelites are convinced he is the deliverer promised by their God. But the Egyptians interpret his actions as treason and banish him to the desert.

The exiled stranger wanders in the hot sand until the family of Jethro rescues him. While dwelling in the tents of these simple shepherds, Moses learns of their common ancestor and the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Still, he cannot understand why any Deity would allow one nation to oppress another. The answer to that question comes from the burning bush, when the Lord commands him to return to the land of his nativity and tell Pharaoh, "Let my people go."

With DeMille's characteristic melodrama, The Ten Commandments brings the details of Moses' life to the big screen. Although many of these elements are violent, such as the slaughter of the Israelite infants, the turning of the Nile waters into blood, and the death of the first-born Egyptians, the film is careful not to wallow in their goriness. Nor does it portray the lasciviousness of the royal court or the erring Hebrews with more than verbal illusions and some scanty costumes.

The film also boasts wonderful set design, with incredible attention paid to reconstructing ancient Egypt. It's just too bad DeMille wasn't as careful about preserving scriptural facts. Those familiar with the Bible will find some blatant errors.

Yet even though it breaks a few commandments, the monumental nature of this motion picture stands as a fitting tribute to an equally significant scriptural figure. Using all the special effects available in 1956, the parting of the Red Sea and other ambitious recreations still make this film look quite miraculous.

Discussion Ideas: Talk About the Movie...

When Moses presents the Ten Commandments to the children of Israel, he tells them, “There can be no freedom without the law.” How are laws and freedom connected? Can you ever be assured of one without the other?

To distinguish fact from fiction, you can find the account of Moses in the Holy Bible’s book of Exodus.

Video alternatives

The life of Moses is also the basis for the animated movie, The Prince of Egypt. Charlton Heston plays another religious role in the epic Ben Hur. Yul Brynner makes a commanding performance in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical, The King and I.

Home Video Notes

Home Video Notes: The Ten Commandments: Ultimate Collectors Edition

Release Date: 3 September 2013

The Ten Commandments re-releases to home video in an Ultimate Collectors Edition. This 6-disc set is similar to the Limited Edition version releases in 2011. Bonus materials include:

- 6-disc (3 Blu-Ray and 3 DVD)

- Copy of 1956 movie: The Ten Commandments (Blu-ray and DVD)

- Copy of 1923 (silent version) of The Ten Commandments (136 min) in HD

- Making of documentary: The Ten Commandments, “Making Miracles.”

- Commentary by Katherine Orrison, author of “Written in Stone: Making Cecil B. DeMille’s Epic, The Ten Commandments” on both the 1956 Feature Film and the 1923 Silent Film.

- Newsreel footage from the 1956 World Premiere in New York.

- Photo gallery packed from the Cecil B. DeMille’s BYU Archives.

- Making of the trailer from 1956 as well as Theatrical Trailers for subsequent re-releases of the film.

- Hand-tinted footage of the Exodus and Parting of the Red Sea Sequence from the 1923 Silent Film.

- 2 booklets

Home Video Notes: The Ten Commandments (1956): Ultimate Collector’s Edition

Release Date: 3 September 2013

The Ten Commandments releases to Blu-ray in an Ultimate Collector’s Edition.

Blu-ray Notes: The Ten Commandments (1956): 2011 Restored Edition

Release Date: 29 March 2011

The Ten Commandments releases to Blu-ray on March 29, 2011 with the following bonus extras:

- Commentary by Katherine Orrison, author of Written in Stone: Making Cecil B. DeMille’s Epic, The Ten Commandments

- Newsreel: The Ten Commandments - Premiere in New York (in HD)

- Theatrical Trailers (in HD)

The Ten Commandments also releases on Blu-ray as a Limited Edition Gift Set. This 6-disc package includes all of the above, plus:

- 1923 Feature Film

- Hand-tinted Footage of the Exodus and Parting of the Red Sea

- The Ten Commandments: Making Miracles|75-minute documentary

- Photo Galleries—1923 and 1956

- 6-Disc Set (3 Blu-rays, 3 DVDs)

- Collector’s Box with Tablets

- Commemorative Photo and Archive Book

DVD Notes: The Ten Commandments: 50th Anniversary Collection

DVD Release Date: 21 March 2006

The Ten Commandments (1923) MPAA: Not Rated

The Ten Commandments (1956) MPAA: G

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of Cecil B. DeMille’s epic masterpiece, The Ten Commandments has been released to DVD in a three-disc set.

Along with the 1956 classic film, which was nominated for seven Academy award (although it took home only one statue for Best Special Effects), is DeMille’s 1923 adaption of this biblical story. Also named The Ten Commandments, this Oscar-winning, silent film now boasts a digitally recorded score. Shot in black and white (of course), this edition may prove more colorful than the remake—thanks to some very scantly clad (sometimes naked) female extras. Fortunately, the picture quality obscures most details. However, it is plainly evident how this first movie inspired the second with its art direction, set design and costumes. Hand-tinted footage of the Exodus and Parting of the Red Sea sequence are added as bonus features.

Other extras include an audio commentary by Katherine Orrison, author of Written in Stone: Making Cecil B. DeMille’s Epic, The Ten Commandments, for both the 1956 and 1923 versions, three theatrical trailers (the 1956 making-of trailer, as well as the 1966 and 1989 re-release trailers), newsreel footage of the New York premiere and a 6-part documentary containing interviews with cast and crew members. Here actor Charlton Heston credits his casting in the lead role to his resemblance to Michelangelo’s statue of Moses, composer Elmer Bernstein explains his fortuitous appointment to create the movie’s score, and DeMille’s granddaughter shares her memories of accompanying Grandpa to the studio. (A few profanities creep into these dialogues.)

This last picture to be made by the visionary director (DeMille was 75 year-old when it was completed) can now be heard in Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English) or Dolby Digital 1.0 (French), with subtitles available in English.

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About the Reviewer: Donna Gustafson

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