The Ten Commandments (VHS, 2001, Spanish Subtitled)

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The Ten Commandments: Moses didn't really look like Charleton Heston

Dec 31, 2001
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:terrific special effects. an exciting story.

Cons:melodramatic. REALLY bad dialogue.

The Bottom Line: Hard to know how to rate this. For kids, great. For groups, maybe.For the pleasure of watching alone, no. But the acting makes me give it a no vote.


The most spectacular film Cecil B. De Mille made was also his last. The Ten Commandments which stars Charleton Heston as Moses and De Mille himself as the voice of G-d, though a blockbuster in its own day, is melodramatic and over the top. It's melodramatic acting may have been the style for silent films where the story had to be portrayed with a minimum of text. However, for those used to sound, watching great actors performing in this way is often painful, or laughable, or even both.

This is a fun movie for kids. It is also great fun in groups for those who like to comment on dialogue and action. It is, however, so stylized as to be nearly unwatchable for those who really want to watch a good drama. The special effects, at times, are truly remarkable. Overall, however, I would leave this one on the shelf.

*SPOILER: The following gives major details about the story*

The movie tells the story of Moses. The first part of the movie shows how the son of slaves from the tribe of Levi ends up living in the house of Pharoah Sethi (Sir Cedric Hardwicke) as a prince of the land. At this time, he is unaware of his heritage. He helps with construction of the pyramids. Also living in the house of Sethi is Ramses (Yul Brynner) and Princess Nefretiri (Anne Baxter). Everything seems to come easier to Moses than to Ramses. The slaves like Moses better. Nefretiri likes him better. Sethi likes him better. While out working on the construction project for Sethi, Moses saves the life of an old Hebrew woman who was going to be crushed by the stones. He gets to tell the task master who would have seen her crushed rather than stopping the stone that "Blood makes poor mortar." These are terrific actors who are given a good story written with drippy dialogue. One can't help but wince.

When back at home, it becomes clear that Moses and Nefertiri (who describes him as "You stubborn, splendid, adorable fool) are going to marry, an old servant named Memnet reveals his secret. Nefertiri kills her, but Moses finds out the truth anyway. Moses is banished by his half-brother Rameses when it is discovered that he is an Israelite and Princess Nefretiri upon his banishment marries Ramses instead.

In the next part of the story, Moses finds himself among the Midianites where he finds a wife and then finds his calling when G-d (Cecil B. De Mille) speaks to him from a burning bush. He returns to Egypt. It's time for G-d to release his people from bondage. Sethi has died while Moses was away and now Ramses is the ruler. It is him and his lovely wife Nefertiri that Moses must confront. What follows are the scenes of the ten plagues. Though I find much fault with the acting of this tale, the plagues are superbly done. When one considers the limited technology of the era in which this film was made, the effects are even more spectacular. I especially should comment on the superb plague of blood when the Nile turns red. It may not seem like a big deal now, but this is a beautifully moving scene.

The scenes in which the Children of Israel flee is spectacular for its sheer scope. The number of performers involved is amazing. The pillar of fire is a pretty week special effect after the plagues, but the parting of the Red Sea makes up for it. At one point an old man comments "G-d opens the sea with the blast of his nostrils." The child with whom I was watching this summed up the response to that line as "Ewwww!" Even so, the scene works beautifully. Ramses melodramatic moment as he finds his troops drowned is the one time in the movie where the melodrama really works.

Finally, we get to what the movie is all about - the Ten Commandments. While the finger of G-d carves out the tablets, the Israelites below are having a whee of a good old time making and worshipping an idol of a golden calf. The scene culminates in a little orgiastic revelling just as Moses comes down with the tablets of the law and stops the whole shebang. The movie ends with Moses not going into the promised land, but watching as those he led do so.

This movie, made during the era of the code, hints at sex without ever showing any. The language is clean. It is a film you can watch with children. However, it is quite long and you might want to schedule it in pieces rather than a single sitting. I, myself, would be happy never watching this version again. If you really want to know about this story, remember that the book is better.


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