Sunday 18 August 2013

The Ten Commandments (1956) - ★★

Director: Cecil B. Demille
Writers: Twas a large collaboration
Stars: Charlton Heston, Yul Brynner, Anne Baxter, Edward G. Robinson, Yvonne De Carlo, Debra Paget, John Derek, Cedric Hardwicke, Nina Foch, Martha Scott, Judith Anderson, Vincent Price

I think critics forgive a lot of faults when it comes to epic movies. In particular, Cecil B. Demille epics. The Ten Commandments is a movie so grand in scale that people don't sweat the little stuff, and focus on the amazing special effects and cinematography. As for me, I found there were too many unforgivable problems to call this a good movie. The acting was atrocious by almost the entire cast, and the dialogue was highly laughable (for it was a terrible mixture of Hollywood cheese and Bible-esque speech). The story itself is highly interesting, but it drags on so long in this movie that I lost almost all interest in the film. The only thing that kept me going was the hope for an epic 'plagues of Egypt' sequence.

The first time I ever heard the story of Moses (Charlton Heston) was through the animated film, The Prince of Egypt. I loved that movie, and still do. "There can be miracles, when you believe!" I grew up a Catholic, and came to really enjoy the story of the Ten Commandments, because its such an epic, action-packed tale of an underdog with the power of God on his side. Cecil B. Demille took my love for the story, over-complicated it, then produced a terrible film that just happens to be a visually stunning epic.

Yul Brynner impressed me, while the rest did not.
When I think of a movie set in Ancient Egypt, I think "Vincent Price, Edward G. Robinson, Anne Baxter, Debra Paget and Judith Anderson." In case you couldn't tell, I was being sarcastic. WHO WAS IN CHARGE OF THE CASTING HERE? This is arguably the most miscast film of all time. The performances are just terrible from nearly all of the supporting characters. There isn't a single natural performance other than Yul Brynner's. 

The Ten Commandments took overacting to a whole new level! Anne Baxter is terribly miscast as a sultry, seductive, vindictive Queen of Egypt. She was the worst of the cast when it came to overacting, and her Hollywood glamour appearance stuck out like a sore thumb in this film. Sir Cedric Hardwicke is a legendary actor, but he is easily the most unconvincing Pharaoh I've ever seen in my life. Casting a predominantly English cast to play Egyptians looked as ridiculous to me as casting John Wayne as Genghis Khan. 

I don't know whether I hate her more as Eve Harrington or as this colossal bitch!
The funniest piece of casting above all was Vincent Price as an Egyptian slave-whipper! MY GOD! Now that IS as bad as John Wayne playing Genghis Khan! Don't even get me started on the chemistry between Heston and the leading ladies... there is zero chemistry. Nada. Zilch (as usual). Judith Anderson and Edward G. Robinson surprised me with their performances though. They'd be the last actors I'd imagine to suit an epic film set in Ancient Egypt (other than Vincent Price), but they pulled it off somehow.

I've seen Charlton Heston in only four movies. Ben-Hur, Soylent Green, Planet of the Apes, and now The Ten Commandments. In all four of those films, he has played practically the same character, just under different names. Heston suits the films he's cast in, but to me he has never given a truly great performance. In this movie, he has the strong voice, powerful figure, and piercing eyes. He was a great choice to play Moses, but he gave the same performance he always gives. It was good, but not great.

Judah Ben-Hur... woops, I mean "LET MY PEOPLE GO!"
I found the narration to be extremely unnecessary. We don't need someone telling us what's happening on screen. We can clearly see that they're churning clay, cutting wheat, and toiling in the hot son, slaving away. DeMille is the kind of director that likes to hold the audiences hand and walk them through the movie. He over-simplified the emotions of the characters, over-complicated the story by adding extra sub-plots, and over-stretched his mark when he decided to make a 3 hour and 40 minute epic.

The cinematography is, at times, absolutely stunning. There are some truly beautiful scenes of ancient Egypt. But for the most part, I wasn't too impressed with the set production. It was clear to me which scenes were shot in a studio, because the props and set looked really unrealistic. Most people forgive shoddy set production (such as in Ben-Hur), because such an epic film can't always be perfect. Also, one has to take into consideration the time the film was made. Well, if I'm being honest, I found it hard to take this film seriously BECAUSE of the set production. If it doesn't look real, then it takes me out of the moment. Once I'm out of the moment, I find it easy to notice terribly delivered lines by the actors, thus taking me further out of the moment. Let's just say that I was so far out of the moment for most of the movie, that I was at the point of no return. I just could not get back into the film at all. The unrealistic sets and the overplayed performances were just too silly for my liking. The score by Elmer Bernstein is spine-chillingly awesome though!

I can't help but pose a question to Christians and Jews who believe in this story. If God did kill the first-born of each Egyptian, how can you possibly justify such a despicable action? An eye for an eye? Do the ends justify the means? Well I think that's absolutely disgusting. I'd never follow a God that would kill innocent children because an insolent Pharaoh wouldn't obey his orders. You see Moses and his family sitting around a table, eating dinner whilst mothers are screaming over the death of their children. Any respect I had for Moses was lost in this scene, because regardless of God's will, it's inhuman to justify the death of innocent infants.

I definitely have a lot of respect for the things DeMille achieved in the making of The Ten Commandments. The parting of the sea is, in my opinion, one of the greatest scenes in cinematic history. It's breathtaking, a true marvel of cinema. But for every great scene there was in this film, there were about 9 really crummy scenes to follow. Had they cast better actors for the roles, and edited down the unnecessary dialogue, this would have been one of the greatest movies of all time. Even though DeMille did some great things with The Ten Commandments, he should have focused on the narrative, which is always more important to a movie than the visuals.


  1. Apparently you think this movie is the Bible. Well I have read my Bible in it's entirety and I know whether something is biblically accurate or not. I can also inform you that God made it VERY CLEAR to the Israelites and Egyptians that if they wanted to keep their firstborn sons they would have to kill a sheep or a goat and smear the blood on their doorsteps and the Angel of the Lord would pass over their houses and spare them and ANYONE who DIDN'T heed the precaution DISOBEYED of their OWN FREE WILL. Think about it this way, if these people REALLY LOVED, CARED and VALUED their children they would have followed the warning. They had already seen NINE PLAGUES and they didn't need to see another one to know that God existed. God was testing them to see if they really loved their children. The people who didn't put sheep or goat's blood on their doors had hardened their hearts; they would rather have their children die than bow down to a Sovereign God. The people who put blood on their doors CHOOSE to obey God and were spared.

    1. Sir their children deserved to be killed then? :)

      What's your point?

  2. I’m sorry if I sounded harsh or sarcastic. I’m not knocking you for your dislike of this film; you gave reasons and you discussed and supported them in a respectful and intelligent manner.

    I just can’t get over what you said at the end of your review though. You have completely neglected to mention how God told everybody if they wanted to escape the tenth plague, they would have to kill a lamb and smear some of the blood on their doorsteps. (Exodus 12:1-13) How is that unfair? He gave them explicit instructions on how to survive. If you hear on the weather channel a hurricane is coming to your town what do you do—pack up and leave until it is gone or stay to endure it? God gave the Egyptians and the Israelites a choice—to save their children or let them die and anyone who didn’t heed the safety instructions disobeyed of their own free will. Read Exodus if you want to know the real story because movies deviate from the book all the time.

    I find it fascinating you would consider the Egyptians helpless victims of circumstance and as such I have some questions.

    Have you not read how they made the Israelites find their own straw to make bricks?

    Have you not read how they gave them taskmasters?

    Have you not read how the first Pharaoh conducted a massacre of all male Israelite children in order to decrease the surplus population?

    Have you not read how the next Pharaoh refused to free them? Yes, God hardened his heart but when he sent nine plagues he gave him opportunity after opportunity to change his mind. People say all the time they would believe God existed if they see a miracle. Pharaoh and the Egyptians saw all kinds of wonders, lice, frogs, darkness, river turning into blood, etc.) So there was no excuse for their behavior.

    Yes, those children that died that night were innocent and God took them on to Heaven but there had to be a punishment for those people that treated the Israelites like dirt—who didn’t even value their children enough to follow a simple instruction—put lamb’s blood on the door.

    And the Israelites were not helpless victims either. They sinned from time to time and God punished them too. Remember the golden calf? After seeing ten plagues and the parting of the Red Sea, after God had gone through such great pains to set them free they stomped all over him with their new idol. And God still gave them a chance to repent. He told Moses to say “Whoever is for the Lord, come to me.” Some of them listened and came over to Moses. Once again, anyone who stayed behind did so of their own free will. So God told his followers to take swords and kill them all for their great wickedness.
    Have you ever read about how David committed adultery with one of his officer’s wives then killed him to cover it up? (2 Samuel 11 and 12) God sent a sickness to kill their illegitimate child. Of course, that child was innocent and went to Heaven but David had to be punished for what he did.

    Some people don’t want to understand that God is a just god. That he punishes sin. Maybe not always in this life but certainly in the next.

    Playing the victim, blaming someone else for your wrongdoings is quicker, easier and more convenient because it encourages people to take their focus off of you and onto the scapegoat. It also means no moral obligations to society. You don’t have to be held accountable for your actions; you don’t have to swallow your pride, admit your faults and do a thorough honest self-examination to see if you need to re-arrange your priorities. But that won’t get us out of trouble on the Judgment Day. Each person will be judged according the decisions they have made in this life. We have been made with a free will and we choose whose side we are on--the side of sin or righteousness.

    1. Thanks for your lengthy response, I do see what you're saying. I simply do not agree with you.

      Those who did not obey God's instructions to smear lamb's blood on their doors were wrong to even risk that. However, it's still mind-boggling to me that you still think it is just for God to take innocent children's lives based on the actions of their parents. I'm truly shocked that anyone can justify that.

      You're undoubtedly more well-read than I with the Bible. However, even after reading your response, I stand by what I said now more than ever.

    2. Ben ... you should watch Heston in SECRET OF THE INCAS and WILL PENNY, two of his greatest performances.

  3. Yup Brynner, the costumes, and special effects are why I like this movie.