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Overall Rating
4.32

Awesome62%
Worth A Look: 14%
Average: 20%
Pretty Bad: 2%
Total Crap: 2%

2 reviews, 38 user ratings


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Ten Commandments, The (1956)
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by Alexandre Paquin

"Ah, that old chestnut"
3 stars

A perennial classic to the point where its intrinsic quality really isn't questioned anymore, though perhaps it should be.

Cecil B. DeMille's The Ten Commandments, a remake of his 1923 film of the same title, was the director's last picture and is now his chief claim to fame forty-five years after his death; it is also his most pronounced demonstration of his career-long assertion that more is always better. Based on the Bible and other religious texts, The Ten Commandments follows the life of Moses (Charlton Heston) as he grows up as an Egyptian prince before realizing that his true parents are Hebrew slaves. Moses is subsequently banished from Egypt but, with the help of Joshua (John Derek), returns to free the Hebrew people from the dictatorial rule of the Egyptian pharaoh Rameses (Yul Brynner).

It has become a tradition to constantly weigh the DeMille film against Ben-Hur, the two "epics" being annually called into service during the Passover/Easter period. Both pictures have their own flaws and overstay their welcome by at least a full thirty minutes, but the former is the better one, if only for DeMille's adroitness at the genre which made his reputation. In comparison, Ben-Hur director William Wyler was renowned for his versatility, but spectacle was clearly not his cup of tea. And while one might have chided DeMille for predictably turning the Old Testament and other Scriptures into flag-waving propaganda, Ben-Hur, based on a nineteenth-century novel set against the background of the life of the Christ, was really to religion what Kraft Dinner is to gastronomy.

What sets the DeMille picture above Wyler's and most other religious films is that it maintains a directorial vision among all the reverence and overwrought lavishness. Ironically, its strengths lie in its greatest faults -- The Ten Commandments is a textbook example of the cinematic glorification of kitsch that nevertheless works best as a spectacle and a repository of stilted dramatics that gracefully harks back to the silent days. Even its screenplay, penned in a fashion reminiscent of second-rate Victorian melodramas, succeeds in enthralling the audience. Charlton Heston characteristically overacts, but few actors from the period would have been able to convey Moses's spiritual fortitude with as much conviction. Yul Brynner was an ideal choice for the role of Rameses, particularly because the actor had developed the habit of shaving his head with the beginning of the Broadway run of The King and I -- this would become his trademark for the rest of his acting career. The character actors are a rather mixed bag, ranging from the gifted and inspired, most notably Edward G. Robinson as the quisling Dathan and Sir Cedric Hardwicke as Rameses's father, to the impossibly bland and insipid, such as John Derek and Debra Paget (playing Joshua's love interest).

The DeMille picture also competently combines exterior shots, some of which were filmed in Egypt, with the obvious studio work, to create a compelling result, heightened by Elmer Bernstein's memorable musical score and Loyal Griggs' cinematography. Unlike the director's previous film, The Greatest Show on Earth, The Ten Commandments won few awards, losing the Best Picture Oscar to Around the World in Eighty Days, but outlasted the Jules Verne adaptation, not least of all because of DeMille's attempt at making religion relevant to twentieth-century moviegoers.

According to DeMille's posthumously published Autobiography, The Ten Commandments was intended to provide a parallel with the ongoing Cold War. "The Bible story was timeless. It was also timely. It is a story of slavery and liberation, two words that the world's experience since 1923 had saturated with more vivid meaning, with more real fear and more anxious hope. When Moses stood before Pharaoh, voicing the divine demand, "Let my people go!", the same two forces faced that confront one another today in a world divided between tyranny and freedom. When Moses led his people to Mount Sinai, they learned, as the world today must learn, that true freedom is freedom under God," he wrote. He had made the same allegorical comparison in his prologue to the film.

Thus the director, for all his forays into the Biblical genre, did not have the makings of an exegetist; his interest in the Scriptures lay less in a desire to further the audience's understanding of religion than to use it to further his own rectitude and, as seen above, his patriotism. The director's next project, although safely within secular territory, betrayed his moralistic considerations. According to Donald Hayne's epilogue to DeMille's autobiography, the director was working on two more pictures at the time of his death, but only one seemed to have been seriously considered. According to David Niven's book Bring on the Empty Horses, DeMille had offered the actor the lead in his next film, which he described as " my last film, and my greatest" -- a biopic of Baden-Powell and the Boy Scouts. "I am appalled by the violence in the world today, and I am going to do something about it. I am going to show that there is something else for youth besides street gangs and switch blades," he told Niven in 1959. The director did not survive the year's first month, and the project was abandoned. (The other venture, I have since read elsewhere, was, of all things, a science fiction film called "Project X".)

The Ten Commandments might be yet another bloated epic from the Eisenhower era, but it also is the last film from a legendary craftsman, and although it has become an unfortunate tradition in some circles to deride and debunk classic Hollywood films -- Gone With the Wind is probably the most notorious casualty -- DeMille's epic has the power to captivate its audience and retain its attention for a period of nearly four hours through sheer spectacle. It is also the embodiment of what movies used to be about, a first-rate tribute to the legacy of the silent days that could never have been made today without half its footage ending up on the cutting room floor, or without the film being shown in two parts, as is frequently done on television now.

Review originally published June 1, 2004.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=2447&reviewer=287
originally posted: 04/28/06 23:45:37
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User Comments

3/28/16 Anne at times overdone, yet the message is clear 4 stars
4/07/12 Rosey Posey Saw this pc when I was a kid, thought I would be a senior citizen by the time it was over. 2 stars
2/22/10 Steve Hock Watch every Lent / Easter & be nice to folks! 5 stars
3/02/08 Pamela White Bible at its best Heston great 5 stars
2/05/08 Paul Shortt Outstanding spectacle of epic grandeur and great vivid storytelling 5 stars
1/26/08 paul wonderful epic, highly enjoyable and striking storytelling with marvellous grandeur 5 stars
1/08/07 action movie fan a true classic!! parting of the red sea is awesome 5 stars
12/11/06 R.W.Welch Anything that holds up this well over half a century rates 5 sporks. 5 stars
12/31/05 Michael Off base a bit 3 stars
4/10/05 dwarzel not bad...and that elderly Vulcan lady from Star Trek 3 is in it! 4 stars
12/01/04 priest best bible movie ever! 5 stars
11/17/04 trixy good i quess 4 stars
6/20/04 Gray I couldn't help but watch it mst300 style ie the kid's corpes must have reeked after a week 4 stars
5/16/04 DM Hilariously overblown and overacted - I love it 5 stars
4/11/04 tony montana Only worth watching for the music. The best movie music ever. 5 stars
1/14/04 MetallicA overlooked masterpiece 5 stars
12/10/03 moses watch it again if you havent noticed the brilliance of it 5 stars
12/05/03 john interesting in terms of film history but it's just not that good! 3 stars
11/07/03 Capt' Fox Xtian myth filmed with gaudy, over done costumes and white folks playing middle easterners 1 stars
8/02/03 Lucas one of the best movies ever! (no argument) 5 stars
1/30/03 The Aussie Film Reviewer Good for its time, but doesn't trip my trigger to five-star status. 3 stars
1/26/03 Nicole I have loved this movie since I was a little kid 5 stars
8/26/02 TIM SCOTT I marveled at this film as a child. It is still an all-time favorite. 5 stars
5/24/02 Charles Tatum As good as "Dogma" 4 stars
2/16/02 Adam Gauvin His God is God! Heston and Brynner both make the Bible better. 5 stars
12/10/01 Katrine Muradyan Very good 5 stars
8/17/01 the scarecrow Tell me, am I the only person who still likes Charlton Heston? 4 stars
7/03/01 J It is good but it did not exactly feel "classic" to me. 4 stars
7/03/01 Boomshanka "Let... my... people... GOOOOO!" Hate Heston as a person, but this is a great flick. 5 stars
4/14/01 Catherine This is the kinda movie I can suggest to anyone! 5 stars
4/09/01 Al Steuart Good, not great 3 stars
11/01/00 Ron Miller Studio system at it's finest. Still impressive after all these years. 5 stars
9/20/00 Israel Maldonado Bible stories are powerful 5 stars
9/06/00 Monday Morning Bull-bitchin', ass-kickin' moviemakin'. 5 stars
6/30/00 mathew Excellently authentic film, in story and appearance 5 stars
5/30/00 todd Incredible 5 stars
4/17/00 Nolan Wrage by far the best movie that Charlton Heston has ever made 5 stars
1/26/00 Chuck Fisher "Still the Greatest Event in Motion Picture History!" 5 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  05-Oct-1956 (NR)
  DVD: 29-Mar-2011

UK
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