Choosing one favorite movie for me is no easy task. I’m a certified movie buff. I have been for as far back as I can remember.
I chose the movie that I’m about to review as my favorite because it had the biggest impact on my life and who I would ultimately become as a human being. I was only six years old when the film came out and yet I vividly remember going to see this picture as if it were yesterday.
My dad, in one of his rare moments of fatherhood, took me to the movie and then made arrangements to pick me up after it was over. I found out later, however, that he actually bought a ticket and sat in the back of the theater to watch and make certain nothing would happen to me.
The film was Cecile B. DeMille’s “The Ten Commandments.” It starred Charlton Heston in what would become his most well known role, that of the biblical hero Moses. The movie also starred Yul Brenner, Anne Baxter, Nina Foch, Edward G. Robinson, Vincent Price, Yuvonne De Carlo, Debra Paget, John Derek, Martha Scott, (Dame) Judith Anderson, and John Carradine just to name a few.
At the time the movie was made, many thought DeMille had bitten off more than he could chew. The film was fraught with problems almost from the outset and budgetary costs skyrocketed beyond what most involved in the film could conceive. However, the director knew in his heart that the movie would be historical in more ways than one and refused to give into criticism and doubt.
He would, of course, be proven right when “The Ten Commandments” was nominated for countless awards, including best picture, and took home the Oscar for best special effects. He has since been vindicated countless times having produced one of the most beloved and highly respected films of all time.
“The Ten Commandments” focuses on the biblical story of Moses. As an infant, Moses was set adrift in the river by his mother and sister in order to prevent his death at the hands of a Pharaoh who feared the coming “deliverer” of the Jewish people. As luck would have it, of course, Moses was taken from the waters by the Pharaoh’s own sister (Foch) and raised as Egyptian royalty.
The movie really begins with Moses ensconced in a battle with the Pharaoh’s son, Rameses (Brenner) for the throne of Egypt as well as the hand in marriage of Nefretiri (Baxter). It is during his time building Rameses’ city that Moses learns the real truth of his birth.
That knowledge puts him on path in direct opposition to the will of the Pharaoh and drives him into the dessert to learn who and what he is expected to become. During the journey he crosses paths with others of his kind, meets and marries his wife Sephora (De Carlo) and becomes a shepherd. That is, until God calls him to the mountaintop and reveals through a burning bush his role in setting the Jewish people free.
He is then forced back to Egypt to confront the man he once called “brother,” in hopes of reasoning with him to let the Jewish people go. Rameses, now Pharaoh himself, declines which begins many plagues upon the Egyptian people, ending with the plague of the “death of the first born.”
With his son’s death, Rameses finally gives in and releases the Jews from slavery. An act he later regrets, causing him to chase after his slaves and leading to the death of many of his Egyptian warriors when the Red Sea, temporarily parted by Moses, collapses on top of them, awarding a watery grave.
There was so much about this film to like that it is hard to mention everything. The cast was strong, overall, although many to this day question the casting of Robinson and Price. While I though Price passable in his role, I wasn’t impressed with Robinson. He may not have been the best choice but he did draw many of his fans to the film and that was probably the ultimate goal.
Heston was the perfect choice as Moses and Brenner was equally strong as Rameses. It was a battle of the titans that moviegoers could not resist back then and still can’t resist today. The actors delivered with everything they had to offer and sealed those roles as among their all time best.
Baxter was also a great choice as the cunning Nefretiri. She could make you love her and feel sorry for her one minute and then make you hate her with equal passion the next.
Paget, a staple in Christian films of the era, did what she always did; look beautiful and emote whatever feelings were expected of her. A young and roguishly handsome, John Derek, also managed to seal his place in film history with a single role as that of Joshua.
In a day when special effects were still young, “The Ten Commandments” pulled out all of the stops with the help of Roger P. Fulton. The parting of the Red Sea; turning the Nile blood red; the plague of hail fire from the sky and so many more made this movie a must see for believers and non-believers alike. It was all about the action, the pageantry, the majesty, and the depth of the story.
The music by Elmer Bernstein fit perfectly into the pictures being displayed on the screen. The cinematography by Loyal Griggs was some of the best ever brought to film. Set decoration, art direction, costume and makeup were all nearly flawless and continue to hold up under the test of time.
As a child, the movie brought to life one of my most beloved biblical stories. It drove home the importance of God’s laws – – the Ten Commandments – – and underscored everything I was just beginning to learn about my religion.
Over the years, I’ve watched “The Ten Commandments” again with my own children and now with my grandchildren. It rings every bit as true and remains every bit as beautiful today as it was 53 years ago.
In a time when Christianity is under attack and hope seems to be diminishing, this movie continues to shine as an example of what determination, will power, belief, and faith can do. It lies not only in the ever-important story of Moses, but also in the vision of a great director who refused to give up on a dream. The dream lives on in the story and in the film.