The 1950’s was a decade home to many epics. Perhaps one of the best ones produced was 1956’s The Ten Commandments. This film fits the definition of an epic very well. It will fill you up with awe, with amazement, and with wonder due to the use of gigantic set pieces, colorful costume designs, a bombastic score, and storytelling that many of us know about (especially if you’re from Christianity or Jewish heritage). The film runs at a lengthy three hours and forty minutes, which is common for epics during the golden age of epics. Despite the lengthy film, I felt the movie had a good pace to it. It did not seem like a long movie, and I was almost disappointed when the credits appeared. When that happens in a 3+ hour film, you know you have a good film on your hands.
This film is based off historical events or to be more specific, the tale of Moses from his birth to his death. In Ancient Egypt, Pharoah Ramses I decreed all newborn Hebrew males shall die. However, a newborn male named Moses (Charlton Heston) was cast away in the Nile in a reed basket. He was saved by pharaoh’s daughter, Bithiah (Nina Foch), and he grew up in court of the pharaoh’s brother, Seti (Cedric Hardwicke). Moses made a name to himself and became a favorite to take the throne after Seti. But once Moses’s heritage is revealed, everything changes. Moses is cast from Egypt, where he marries and raises a family. He is commanded by God to return to Egypt so he can free the Hebrew people from slavery. However, Seti’s son, Rameses (Yul Brynner) does all he can to stop Moses.
There are just many scenes in the movies to goggle at. I am very impressed on how the story was told, and I can understand why the movie became a classic. Some of my favorite scenes are the parting of the Red Sea, where Moses splits the Red Sea so his people can cross the sea and be saved from Rameses, who was chasing them down. Another powerful scene I loved was when Yahweh was speaking to Moses on the top of Mount Sinai, issuing Moses the Ten Commandments while all his people were sinning at the base of the mountain. Just seeing God as a ball of fire, speaking with a commanding holy voice gave me the chills. Despite this being a film released in 1956, I believe the special effects hold up fairly well. The parting of the Red Sea is incredible, and it is amazing how that scene was done without the use of any CGI.
I have previously reviewed a movie from Cecil B. DeMille, which was released nine years previously in 1947 called Unconquered. That movie showed DeMille had a good hand in making entertaining epics. He really succeeds on the grand scale, as proved by the success of this film. The acting was also consistent and everyone seemed to have a fun time. Sometimes the acting would be downright silly, but there is no denying the fun the cast had. Charlton Heston is no stranger to epics, and I loved his performance here as Moses. Maybe towards the end when he becomes a whole new person he got a little silly, but overall he did a good job. Yul Brynner is good as Moses’s fiercest rival, Rameses, He created a memorable villain, who feels betrayed by his father that he would give power to Moses and not him. Anne Baxter does a good job as Nefretiri who was Mose’s love interest. Baxter did good, but sometimes her seductiveness would feel out of place in the film. Finally, I must mention Edward G. Robinson as Dathan, the man who was in charge of the slaves. I felt he gave a light, comedic touch to a man in what otherwise would be a sinister character.
Overall, The Ten Commandments is a great epic that holds up very well, nearly sixty years after its original release. The film does justice to the story, as told in the Bible. It’s obvious the film takes a stance against slavery, and its fun to see Moses outdo Rameses, The special effects are pretty cool, but get ready to be blown away by the Red Sea scene. This sweeping epic is a grand, fun movie. Not only does it enlighten people on the story of Moses and what he did for his people, but it also is fun, silly, and entertaining. The movie does a little into stretching the imagination, but its fun to watch and one of the best epics of all time.
My Grade: A