The Ten Commandments
"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.