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The cross of the Red Sea, a composited image that consists of live action, matte paintings, and also special effects.

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The Egyptian sets are magnificent, enormous, glossy and detailed, lived in by numerous costumed extras. Yet the staging, possibly inadvertently, goes past ‘authenticity’ –the lingering sense of Hollywood grandiloquence generates suspicion that the following day Gene Kelly could stage a huge dance step on the exact same set. The score by Elmer Bernstein, soaring and also heroic, also raises the film up but sets it as a mid-century production.

When the action moves to medium shots the Moses (played through Heston’s infant boy Fraser) being rescued indigenous the Nile, Israelites working in mud pits, or the alleys of Pithom, there is small sense that scale, depth, or dirt; this studio sets fall flat. Sadly, the most important divine interventions, the burning Bush, pillar of Fire, Moses’ staff transformed right into a snake, and also the fiery development of the tablet computers of the law, room animated. This flaming cartoon impacts are about as unpersuasive together the ‘monster from the id’ in one more 1956 hit, Forbidden Planet. Top top this we may pine for modern-day special effects.


But the film’s love is the acting, namely the see chewing love triangle the Heston, Yul Brynner, and also Anne Baxter. Hoston – chosen in component because that his same to Michelangelo’s Moses – projects a stolid upper Midwestern masculinity that is associated with couple of actors today. Unlike his revolutionary contemporary, Marlon Brando, Heston’s emotion and also vulnerability had to it is in accessed with a hard shell. Over there is a directly line through Heston’s most famed roles, from Moses to Ben-Hur, all the means to George Taylor, marooned on a planet of damned, dirty apes. That is slow to be provoked, yet then, watch out.

In contrast, the Siberian born Brynner exuded exoticism, befitting a function like the King Mongkut of Siam, because that which the had come to be famous in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King and I. His Rameses is additionally played within a narrow emotional range, with quiet seething and couple of outbursts. However Brynner’s herbal authority was an essential to projecting both Rameses’s imperiousness and blindness.


Finally, over there is Ann Baxter, granddaughter of a candid Lloyd Wright and also a Hollywood journey woman, that plays the vampish Queen Nefretiri together a manipulative bad girl. The subplot of her short-lived romance through Moses climate unhappy marital relationship to Rameses is entirely invented and gives the movie a 1940s feeling of love triangles and also femme fatales. However Baxter reliably delivers some of the film’s cheesiest (“Oh, Moses, Moses, girlfriend stubborn, splendid, lover fool!”) and also most bitter lines (“You let Moses kill my son. No god can lug him back. What have actually you done to Moses? how did that die? Did he cry because that mercy when you torture him? carry me to his body! I desire to view it, Rameses! I desire to check out it!”)


To the contemporary eye, or certain modern sensibilities, the primary cast is likewise disconcertingly “white.” To counter we might suggest to the short presence that the distinguished African American actor, and also professional football player, Woodrow Strode, together the Ethiopian King, and several thousand Egyptian army personnel as, well, the Egyptian Army. Like any type of film, the is a product the its times.

For every impressive actor favor Cedric Hardwicke (Seti) or Nina Foch (Bithia) there space one-dimensional hacks like John Derek (Joshua) or the stroked nerves girls that played Jethro’s daughters as giggly flibbertigibbets. Still, DeMille to be both a craftsman and also eminently practical; rope swinging hunks favor Derek were crate office draws, and veteran personality actors choose Edward G. Robinson, Vincent Price and also John Carradine preserved the non-Biblical B-story going when Heston and also Brynner were turn off screen.

But does that still work? The actual star of The Ten Commandments is God, that speaks straight to Moses and also works miracles that at some point convince Rameses come let the Israelites go. Magnificent intervention and also national liberation is the significance of the Biblical account. What a contrast with Ridley Scott’s 2014 retelling, where Moses is a liberty fighter and also God a vision on by a punch to the head the a child brought, or the 1998 animated Prince of Egypt, where Moses cries because of the plagues and also with music numbers that sound favor rejects native Frozen.

In 1923 DeMille made two parallel story to highlight the degeneration of modern values, but in 1956 the opted for a more subtle approach. He renders God the star, and also liberation the central theme, and also through clever dialogue and narration Americanizes the Exodus once again. Yet Cold war made the comb far greater than also those that eliminated Mrs. McTavish. “Man took preeminence over male – the dominated were made to offer the conquer – the weak made to server the strong,” the narrator – DeMille self – intones. Moses’ last words in the film, “Go – proclaim liberty throughout all the lands, depend all the inhabitants thereof” (Leviticus 25:10), likewise inscribed ~ above the Liberty Bell, do the connection between old Israel and also America clear.


Film tells us not ‘who we are’ however how we see ourselves at any kind of given moment. Possibly every generation gets The Ten Commandments the it wants. There room no ‘timeless’ films but DeMille’s The Ten Commandments comes closer 보다 many, due to the fact that of its topic matter, epic scale, and outsized social impact. Whether its messages of human liberty and also the enduring relationship of God and the Israelites still resonate, in America or elsewhere, is one more question.

Alex Joffe is the editor of The ancient Near east Today.

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