Sunday, May 6, 2007

The Ten Commandments

The Ten Commandments; adventure, USA, 1956; D: Cecil B. DeMille, S: Charlton Heston, Yul Brynner, Anne Baxter, Edward G. Robinson, Nina Foch, John Derek, Vincent Price, John Carradine

Egypt, 1300 BC. Jews live like slaves under the rule of the Pharaoh. Bihtiah, the daughter of the Pharaoh, finds a baby boy in a basket floating in the Nile, names him Moses and raises him as her own child. Some 30 years later, the Pharaoh is doubting if he should leave the throne to Ramses or Moses. Moses is in love with Nefretiri and despises the Jews, until he discovers that he is actually adopted and of Hebrew heritage. Ramses becomes the new Pharaoh and expels Moses to the desert, where he settles in Midian and marries Sephora. But one day God gives him the order to bring Jews to freedom, out of Egypt. Moses sends curses on Egypt, until Ramses finally lets the Jews go. They pass the Red Sea and get the 10 Commandments.

"Ben-Hur" and "The Ten Commandments" are the two most influential and famous Bible epics from the 50s, as well as the two highest grossing films from that decade, but the critics cannot agree upon which one is better. Both are slightly outdated, but although "Ben-Hur" won 11 Oscars and the "Commandments" only one (for best special effects) out of 7 nominations, the latter is also dynamic and interesting. The 6th highest grossing movie of the 20th Century, adjusted for inflation, a one which sold a whooping 131 million tickets at the US box office, "The Ten Commandments" is a film that demands from the viewer to adjust to its 'mammoth style': Cecil B. DeMille is a too pompous director but he has a sense for spectacle, thus his "Commandments" would have probably cost 400 million $ if they were filmed today, while the best parts are subtle satirical commentaries towards the Biblical and religious dogmas: for instance, in one scene Ramses expels Moses to the desert and says that he should be "the savior of lizards and snakes and let his Jews alone". In another instance, he complains to his priests that they "only invented gods to control Egypt". After being expelled from Egypt, the Pharaoh orders his servants to remove every trace of Moses in the Hieroglyphs. The acting is wooden, but standard for that era, while the first half of the film is lax, yet the 2nd half compensates with a lot of grandeur (the sequence where God's fire tornado uses an arrow to chisel the ten commandments while Moses watches in awe is one of the most expressionistic moments of the 50s); some situations that give insight into the lives of slaves in Egypt during Pharaoh's rule are interesting - and curiously, the Exodus occurs only in the last quarter of the film. "The Ten Commandments" is an artificial, but full blooded four hour epic about the power of the will of the people who want to be free.


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