The Ten Commandments (VHS, 2001, Spanish Subtitled)
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So Let it Be Written, So Let it be Done: The Ten Commandments
May 9, 2003 (Updated May 9, 2003)
Review by George Chabot
Rated a Very Helpful Review
Pros:Yul Brynner, Costuming, Charlton Heston, Special Effects
Cons:Campy Dialog, Cheesy Sex, Slow Pace, Wooden Direction
The Bottom Line: A religious epic that the public absolutely loves, I found it had not aged very well with its 1950s campy language and wooden direction by Cecil B. DeMille.
"Nobody ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public." H. L. Mencken
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Prototypical Hollywood producer/director Cecil B. DeMille was a living example of one who believed implicitly in P. T. Barnum's most famous axiom, "There's one born every minute." DeMille was one of the few early silent directors who was able to cross over into the sound era. He specialized in large-scale epics, often loosely based on the Bible, liberally peppered with sex. Two of his earlier talkies, Cleopatra (1934), and 1932's Sign of the Cross represent the height of his work, in my opinion. As DeMille aged, he began to make bigger and more grandiose versions of his earlier films. One such work was The Ten Commandments, made as a silent film in 1923 and again as a talkie in 1956.
The Ten Commandments (1956) is a big movie. Clocking in at over 3 ½ hours, it is long enough to have an intermission break and comes packaged on two VHS cassettes or in a 2 disk deluxe edition DVD. The Ten Commandments is big in terms of the theme - the giving of the words of Almighty God to man through Moses, a man who led his people out of captivity, parted the Red Sea, and met God one-on-one on God's holy mountain; a man who is credited with the authorship of the first five books of the Bible.
Unfortunately the film, while impressive in 1956, fails to hold up today. The storytelling is grandiose and bloated; the majestic themes blunted by DeMille's stagy, static direction and the campy dialog by a trio of screenwriters. Plenty of love scenes between Hollywood heart-throbs, meant to spice up the story, do little more than slow the progress down. In the film's defense, the special effects, particularly parting the Red Sea, were excellent for the day and won a well-deserved Oscar. Unfortunately the effects happened mostly within the last half hour of the 3 1/2 h-o-u-r film. Similarly, the costumes were well done, particularly those of the villain, Pharaoh Ramses II (Yul Brynner).
The acting by the principal actors, Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner, is excellent, but I believe any stiltedness on the part of those two was again the fault of silent-screen director DeMille. Anne Baxter also does an excellent job with the villainess, Nefertiri. Plenty of ham from well-known stars Vincent Price, Edward G. Robinson, John Derek, John Carradine, Nina Foch, Debra Paget, and the cast of thousands.
DeMille narrated the film himself. He also introduced it in a short piece before the film starts. Unfortunately, DeMille's voice-overs sound dated and trite and come off as more pretentious than portentious. Composer Elmer Bernstein did his first big budget score here, but it is not so well suited to the visuals as his later works would be.
As fellow film buff Macresarf1 might say, it sounds like I have "described a film of considerable ineptitude" and he would be right. Audiences, however, consider this film a masterpiece and watch it in droves every Easter. The Ten Commandments is one of the top ten grossing films of all time. I personally am captivated by the magnificent visual of the parting of the Red Sea, as well as Heston's and especially Brynner's staunch performances under the wooden direction of Cecil B. DeMille.
Thanks for reading!
Trivia: Actor Yul Brynner made the following appraisal of Cecil B. DeMille:
"Cecil B. DeMille was also DePhony and DeHypocrite of all time. He genuinely gloried in being the biggest fly on the Hollywood sh!t-hill."
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