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The crossing of the Red Sea, a composited photo that includes live action, matte paintings, and special effects.

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


The Egyptian sets space magnificent, enormous, glossy and detailed, inhabited by hundreds of costumed extras. However the staging, probably inadvertently, goes beyond ‘authenticity’ –the lingering sense of Hollywood grandiloquence generates skepticism that the next day Gene Kelly can stage a giant dance scene on the same set. The score by Elmer Bernstein, soaring and also heroic, also raises the movie up however sets it together a mid-century production.

When the activity moves to tool shots that Moses (played by Heston’s infant son Fraser) being rescued from the Nile, Israelites working in mud pits, or the alleys that Pithom, over there is small sense the scale, depth, or dirt; this studio sets autumn flat. Sadly, the most important divine interventions, the burning Bush, shaft of Fire, Moses’ employee transformed into a snake, and also the fiery creation of the tablet computers of the law, are animated. These flaming cartoon effects are around as unpersuasive together the ‘monster indigenous the id’ in another 1956 hit, Forbidden Planet. Top top this we might pine for modern-day special effects.


But the film’s love is the acting, namely the see chewing love triangle of Heston, Yul Brynner, and also Anne Baxter. Hoston – preferred in part because of his same to Michelangelo’s Moses – projects a stolid upper Midwestern masculinity the is linked with couple of actors today. Unequal his revolutionary contemporary, Marlon Brando, Heston’s emotion and also vulnerability had to be accessed with a hard shell. There is a directly line v Heston’s most renowned roles, native Moses come Ben-Hur, all the way to George Taylor, marooned ~ above a earth of damned, dirty apes. He is slow to it is in provoked, yet then, watch out.

In contrast, the Siberian born Brynner exuded exoticism, befitting a duty like the King Mongkut the Siam, because that which that had end up being famous in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King and also I. His Rameses is also played within a narrow emotional range, v quiet seething and few outbursts. But Brynner’s natural authority was an important to projecting both Rameses’s imperiousness and blindness.


Finally, there is Ann Baxter, nephew of a frank Lloyd Wright and a Hollywood journey woman, that plays the vampish Queen Nefretiri as a manipulative bad girl. The subplot of her short-lived romance with Moses then unhappy marriage to Rameses is entirely invented and also gives the movie a 1940s feeling of love triangles and also femme fatales. Yet Baxter reliably delivers few of the film’s cheesiest (“Oh, Moses, Moses, you stubborn, splendid, lover fool!”) and also most bitterness lines (“You permit Moses death my son. No god can lug him back. What have you excellent to Moses? exactly how did the die? Did he cry for mercy once you torture him? lug me to his body! I desire to watch it, Rameses! I want to check out it!”)


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

For every impressive actor like Cedric Hardwicke (Seti) or Nina Foch (Bithia) there are one-dimensional hacks choose John Derek (Joshua) or the annoying girls who played Jethro’s daughters together giggly flibbertigibbets. Still, DeMille to be both a craftsman and also eminently practical; rope swinging hunks like Derek were crate office draws, and also veteran character actors prefer Edward G. Robinson, Vincent Price and also John Carradine kept the non-Biblical B-story going when Heston and Brynner were turn off screen.

But does the still work? The actual star of The Ten Commandments is God, who speaks straight to Moses and also works miracles that ultimately convince Rameses come let the Israelites go. Divine intervention and also national liberation is the essence of the Biblical account. What a comparison with Ridley Scott’s 2014 retelling, where Moses is a freedom fighter and God a vision on by a blow to the head of a kid brought, or the 1998 animated Prince that Egypt, whereby Moses cries because of the plagues and also with musical numbers the sound like rejects indigenous Frozen.

In 1923 DeMille made two parallel stories to highlight the decay of contemporary values, yet in 1956 the opted for a much more subtle approach. He makes God the star, and liberation the central theme, and through clever dialogue and also narration Americanizes the Exodus once again. But Cold battle made the crest far higher than even those that eliminated Mrs. McTavish. “Man took ascendancy over guy – the overcame were make to offer the conquer – the weak made come server the strong,” the narrator – DeMille himself – intones. Moses’ last words in the film, “Go – proclaim liberty throughout every the lands, unto all the inhabitants thereof” (Leviticus 25:10), also inscribed on the Liberty Bell, do the link between old Israel and America clear.


Film tells us not ‘who we are’ but how we check out ourselves at any type of given moment. Maybe every generation it s okay The Ten Commandments the it wants. There are no ‘timeless’ films but DeMille’s The Ten Commandments come closer than many, because of its subject matter, epic scale, and outsized social impact. Whether its messages of person liberty and the enduring relationship of God and also the Israelites tho resonate, in America or elsewhere, is another question.

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

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