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

You are watching: So it was written so it shall be done


The Egyptian sets are magnificent, enormous, glossy and also detailed, inhabited by hundreds of costumed extras. However the staging, perhaps inadvertently, goes beyond ‘authenticity’ –the lingering feeling of Hollywood grandiloquence generates skepticism that the next day Gene Kelly might stage a huge dance step on the very same set. The score through Elmer Bernstein, soaring and heroic, additionally raises the movie up yet sets it together a mid-century production.

When the action moves to medium shots of Moses (played by Heston’s infant son Fraser) gift rescued native the Nile, Israelites working in mud pits, or the alleys that Pithom, there is tiny sense the scale, depth, or dirt; this studio sets loss flat. Sadly, the most important magnificent interventions, the burning Bush, obelisk of Fire, Moses’ staff transformed into a snake, and also the fiery development of the tablet computers of the law, room animated. These flaming cartoon effects are about as unpersuasive together the ‘monster indigenous the id’ in one more 1956 hit, Forbidden Planet. Top top this we might pine for modern special effects.


But the film’s love is the acting, specific the see chewing love triangle the Heston, Yul Brynner, and Anne Baxter. Hoston – favored in part because that his same to Michelangelo’s Moses – jobs a stolid upper Midwestern masculinity that is connected with few actors today. Unlike his revolutionary contemporary, Marlon Brando, Heston’s emotion and vulnerability had actually to it is in accessed v a tough shell. Over there is a straight line through Heston’s most famous roles, native Moses come Ben-Hur, every the means to George Taylor, marooned top top a earth of damned, dirty apes. The is slow to be provoked, but then, watch out.

In contrast, the Siberian born Brynner exuded exoticism, befitting a function like the King Mongkut of Siam, for which he had end up being famous in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King and I. His Rameses is additionally played within a small emotional range, v quiet seething and few outbursts. Yet Brynner’s organic authority was crucial to projecting both Rameses’s imperiousness and also blindness.


Finally, over there is Ann Baxter, nephew of a frank Lloyd Wright and also a Hollywood trip woman, who plays the vampish Queen Nefretiri together a manipulative bad girl. The subplot of her short-lived romance v Moses then unhappy marital relationship to Rameses is completely invented and also gives the movie a 1940s emotion of love triangles and femme fatales. But Baxter reliably delivers several of the film’s cheesiest (“Oh, Moses, Moses, friend stubborn, splendid, adorable fool!”) and also most bitterness lines (“You allow Moses death my son. No god can carry him back. What have you done to Moses? exactly how did he die? Did that cry for mercy when you tortured him? bring me come his body! I want to view it, Rameses! I desire to watch it!”)


To the contemporary eye, or certain contemporary sensibilities, the primary actors is also disconcertingly “white.” To respond to we might allude to the brief presence that the distinguished African American actor, and professional football player, Woodrow Strode, together the Ethiopian King, and several thousands Egyptian military personnel as, well, the Egyptian Army. Like any film, the is a product of its times.

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

But does the still work? The genuine star that The Ten Commandments is God, that speaks directly to Moses and also works miracles that at some point convince Rameses come let the Israelites go. Magnificent intervention and national liberation is the essence of the Biblical account. What a comparison with Ridley Scott’s 2014 retelling, whereby Moses is a freedom fighter and God a vision on by a blow to the head the a child brought, or the 1998 animated Prince of Egypt, whereby Moses cries since of the plagues and also with musical numbers that sound prefer rejects from Frozen.

In 1923 DeMille made 2 parallel story to to mark the degeneration of modern-day values, but in 1956 that opted for a more subtle approach. He renders God the star, and liberation the main theme, and also through clever dialogue and also narration Americanizes the Exodus as soon as again. However Cold war made the stakes far greater than even those that killed Mrs. McTavish. “Man took preeminence over male – the overcame were do to offer the conqueror – the weak made to server the strong,” the narrator – DeMille himself – intones. Moses’ last words in the film, “Go – proclaim liberty throughout every the lands, depend all the occupants thereof” (Leviticus 25:10), additionally inscribed on the Liberty Bell, do the connection between ancient Israel and also America clear.


Film tells us not ‘who us are’ however how we check out ourselves at any given moment. Probably every generation it s okay The Ten Commandments that it wants. There are no ‘timeless’ films however DeMille’s The Ten Commandments comes closer than many, since of its subject matter, epos scale, and also outsized social impact. Whether its messages of human liberty and the enduring connection of God and also the Israelites tho resonate, in America or elsewhere, is an additional question.

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

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