Fathom Events, Turner Classic Movies and Paramount Pictures invite you to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Cecil B. DeMille’s epic film The Ten Commandments (1956) when it returns to select cinemas nationwide for a special two-day event on Sunday, March 20th and Wednesday, March 23rd.The same director had released an earlier film with the same title in 1923, but in this case the remake was far better than the original. They knew how to make 'em back in those days.
The script, by Æneas MacKenzie, Jesse L. Lasky, Jr., Jack Gariss, and Frederic M. Frank, was based partly on The Bible, but filled in the blanks in Moses’ life by incorporating material from several books, as well as the works of the ancient historians Philo of Alexandria, Josephus and Eusebius. The results were a speculative but compelling drama about two young men, Rameses (Yul Brynner) and Moses (Heston), raised together in the royal household, at odds over the princess Nefretiri (Anne Baxter), a ward of the Pharaoh Seti who must marry his successor. The movie opens, however, with a rapid succession of scenes adapted fairly literally from the Biblical Book of Exodus, with the infant Moses (played by Charlton Heston’s newborn son Fraser) being placed in a basket to float down the Nile, in attempt to avoid an infanticide holocaust by the reigning pharaoh who fears the birth of a messianic leader from among the Hebrew slaves and being discovered, and raised, by a daughter of pharaoh.
The Bible does not enlighten us on how Moses discovered his true ancestry, but in the hands of DeMille’s writers it’s the stuff of great soap opera. Nefretiri, who’s head-over-heels for Moses, murders an old family retainer (Dame Judith Anderson) who knows the truth and is going to spill the beans when it looks like Moses is going to ascend to the throne, and then spills her guts to Moses. Exodus records that the adult Moses eventually kills an Egyptian slave master who was smiting a Hebrew, and that’s pretty much the case in the movie. He then saves the life of stonecutter Joshua (John Derek) from the whip of vengeful Master Builder Baka (Vincent Price), killing Baka in the process. In the Bible, Moses flees Egypt. In “The Commandments,” he’s banished. In both, he later encounters a burning bush through which he hears the voice of God, ordering him to return to Egypt to demand freedom for the slaves.
Charlton Heston may be the only actor who’s had to play a character who unexpectedly finds himself face-to-face with God in two separate movies: as the title character in “Ben-Hur,” being force-marched to a living death as a galley slave, Heston is given water by Jesus Christ, whose face is never seen by the audience. He plays it pretty much the same in both films: an appropriate mixture of awe and incomprehension.
Past posts on the 1956 movie are here, here, and here.