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The Ten Commandments (1956 film)

The Ten Commandments is a 1956 motion picture that dramatized the Biblical story of Moses, an adopted Egyptian prince-turned deliverer of the Hebrew slaves. It was released by Paramount Pictures in VistaVision on October 5, 1956. It was directed by Cecil B. DeMille and starred Charlton Heston in the lead role. Co-stars included Yul Brynner as his adoptive brother, Pharaoh Ramesses II, Anne Baxter as Nefretiri, John Derek as Joshua, Edward G. Robinson as Dathan, Yvonne De Carlo as Sephora, Cedric Hardwicke as Pharaoh Seti I, Vincent Price as Baka, and John Carradine as Aaron.

This was the last film that Cecil DeMille directed. He was set to direct his own remake of The Buccaneer, but his final illness forced him to relinquish the directing chores for that one to his then-son-in-law, Anthony Quinn. He had also planned to film the life of Lord Baden Powell, the founder of the Scout movement, with David Niven; this project was never realized.

The Ten Commandments is partially a remake of DeMille's 1923 silent film. Some of the cast and crew of the 1956 version worked on the original. It has since been remade again as a television miniseries broadcast in April 2006.

Adjusted for inflation, it is the fifth-highest grossing movie of all time domestically, with collections of $838,400,000. In non-adjusted dollars, it held the record as the highest-grossing film with a religious theme until the 2004 film The Passion of the Christ.

In 1999, The Ten Commandments was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".

In June 2008, AFI revealed its "Ten top Ten"—the best ten films in ten "classic" American film genres—after polling over 1,500 people from the creative community. The Ten Commandments was acknowledged as the tenth best film in the epic genre.

Plot summary

The film covers the life of Moses from his discovery in a basket floating on the Nile as a baby by Bithiah, a childless young widow and daughter of the then-Pharaoh, Rameses I, to his prohibition from entering the land of Israel in the wake of God's judgment on him at the waters of Meribah. In between, the film depicts the early adulthood of Moses as a beloved foster son of Pharaoh Seti I (brother of Bithiah) and general of his armies, his romance with Throne Princess Nefertari (or Nefretiri, as she is called in the film) and rivalry with the Pharaoh's own son, Prince Rameses II.

Shortly after Moses' birth, Rameses I had ordered the slaying of all firstborn male Hebrews to prevent the prophecy of the Deliverer from coming true. Moses' mother (called "Yoshebel" in the film) had set him adrift on the Nile to escape, with his sister Miriam watching from a hidden spot. Bithiah discovers the Ark while playing with other young women in the banks of the Nile. She orders them to leave, then shows her servant Memnet the baby. Memnet warned Bithiah that the swaddling cloth was Levite, so the baby was placed there to escape Bithiah's father's edict. But Bithiah declared that this baby would be her son, and remembered when the pyramids were dust, and named "Moses" because she had drawn him from the Nile (the Hebrew name "Moshe" derived from the Hebrew word "Mashu", meaning "to draw"). Despite Memnet's protests about serving a son of Hebrew slaves, Bithiah ordered her to serve him and to swear to secrecy on pain of death. But Memnet hides the cloth under her clothes.

As a young general, Moses is victorious in a war with the Nubian people of ancient Ethiopia, loosing captured ibises to combat the serpents (as recorded by Josephus) and further impresses Seti I by being wily enough to enter into an alliance with the conquered Ethiopians rather than subjugate them. Moses then is charged with building a treasure city for Seti's Jubilee, that Rameses failed to complete (probably the Biblical treasure cities of Pithom and Ramases (Avaris)).

Meanwhile, Moses and Nefretiri are deeply in love; she is the "throne princess", who must marry the next Pharaoh. Rameses wants her for himself, not because of any liking for her but for the throne, but Nefretiri hates him.

When Moses assumes control of the project, he rescued an old grease-woman from being left to be crushed; unknown to him it was his birthmother Yoshebel. Moses tells the Egyptian Master Builder Baka, "blood makes poor mortar" and asks "are you a master builder or a master butcher?" And he frees Joshua the stonecutter who had struck an Egyptian, punishable by death, to try to save Yoshebel whom Joshua didn't know. Moses was impressed with Joshua's bravery and words, and institutes numerous reforms concerning the treatment of the slave workers such as one day in seven to rest and even going so far as to raid temple granaries for necessary food supplies. Moses questions Joshua about his God, and Joshua declares his strong faith but says that God's name is unknown.

Rameses uses these changes as proof that Moses is planning an insurrection by currying the slaves' favor, and points out that the slaves are calling Moses the "Deliverer" of prophecy. However, when Seti confronts Moses, Moses argues he is simply making his workers more productive by making them stronger and happier. He proves his point with such impressive progress on the project that Seti becomes convinced that Rameses falsely accused his foster brother. Seti promises that Moses will get credit for the new city. Rameses, meanwhile, has been charged by his father with the task of finding out if there really is a Hebrew fitting the description of the Deliverer, and is having no luck.

As Nefretiri is joyously preparing for marriage, Memnet informs her that Prince Moses is not a prince at all, but the son of Hebrew slaves. Nefretiri is furious at the accusation, whereupon Memnet produces the Levite cloth and tells Nefretiri to wrap their firstborn in it. Memnet also tells her that a little girl had led her to Yochebel to breastfeed Moses, which she realized must be the real mother. Nefretiri kills Memnet by pushing her over the balcony.

Moses learns of this, so asks Bithiah, who dissembles and reminds him of how he never doubted her when he held his hand as he took his first step. When Moses leaves, promising that no matter what he found, he would always love her. She rushes in a chariot to Yoshebel. Bithiah pleads with her not to reveal anything, since she has put the throne of Egypt within his grasp, and also declares how much she loved and cared for him, and promised to free them and make sure they were well cared for. But Moses had followed from a distance, and Yoshebel could not look him in the eyes and deny that she was his mother. And her robe matched the pattern of the much more faded Levite cloth Memnet kept. Then Yoshebel's adult children introduce themselves to Moses as, "I am your brother, Aaron," and "I am Miriam, your sister." Bithiah sadly departs.

Declaring he is not ashamed ("Egyptian or Hebrew, I'm still Moses"), but curious, he spends time working among the slaves to learn of their hardship, only to be rescued from the mudpits by Nefretiri. Moses then saves Joshua, a Hebrew stonecutter, from being whipped death at the hands of Baka; he kills Baka who was about to whip Joshua to death. Dathan, the devious and ambitious Hebrew overseer who's been charged by Rameses to help him find the Deliverer, watches from hiding. Moses confesses to Joshua that he himself is Hebrew; Joshua excitedly proclaims Moses the Deliverer, and although Moses denies it, Dathan has all the proof he needs. Revealing what he knows to Rameses, Dathan bargains for Baka's house, a post as Governor of Goshen and the ownership of Joshua's betrothed Lilia.

Moses is arrested and brought in chains before Seti, who begs him to say he is not the Deliverer. Moses does so, but avows that he would free the slaves if he could. Bithiah confesses to her brother Seti that she took Moses from the Nile knowing by the design on his blankets that he was Hebrew. In a short, impassioned speech, Moses says that it is evil to enslave or oppress people, "to be stripped of spirit, and hope and faith, all because they are of another race, another creed. If there is a God, He did not mean this to be so!" Seti is grievously hurt, since he said that he had always loved him as a son, more than his own real son Rameses. So Seti imprisons him and orders his name stricken from all records and monuments, to be unspoken in Egypt forever thereafter. Rameses banishes Moses to the desert, fearing to execute him lest he create a martyr. Meanwhile, Seti proclaims Rameses to be the next Pharoah. Nefretiri as the Throne Princess is required to marry the arrogant prince, to her great distress.

Moses makes his way across the desert, nearly dying of hunger and thirst. He comes to a well in the land of Midian. After drinking and eating dates from a nearby palm tree he passes out, to be awakened by the sound of seven sisters watering their flocks. Bullying Amalekites appear, pushing the girls aside, whereupon Moses wakes. Seemingly appearing out of nowhere he thrashes the Amalekites soundly with his staff, forcing them to wait their turn at the well. Moses finds a home in Midian with the girls' father Jethro, a Bedouin sheik, who reveals that he is a follower of "He who has no name", which Moses recognized as the God of Abraham. Jethro explains that they are the descendants of Ishmael, Abraham's first-born. Moses later impresses Jethro and the other shieks with his wise and just trading, so Jethro offers Moses one of his daughters as a wife. Moses chooses the eldest daughter, called Sephora in the film (the Greek form of her name), the least flamboyant but wisest, who was previously the one who had stood up to the Amalekites.

Back in Egypt, Seti dies heartbroken, with Moses' name on his lips, and Rameses succeeds him as Pharaoh (becoming Rameses II), taking Nefretiri as his Queen. Herding sheep in the desert, Moses finds Joshua, who has escaped from hard labour in the copper mines. Moses sees the Burning Bush on the summit of Mount Sinai; climbing up to investigate, he hears the voice of God. Naming himself "I Am That I Am", God charges Moses to return to Egypt and free His chosen people.

At Pharaoh's court, Moses comes before Rameses to win the slaves' freedom, turning his staff into a snake to show Rameses the power of God. Jannes and another magician do the same, but Moses's snake eats the others (not shown; the small son of Rameses and Nefretiri tells his mother with alarm). But the Pharaoh decrees that the Hebrews be given no straw to make their bricks, but to make the same tally as before on pain of death. As the Hebrews prepare to stone Moses in anger, Nefretiri's retinue rescues him; but when she attempts to resume their relationship, he spurns her, reminding her that not only is he on a mission, having been touched by God, but that he is also married.

As Moses continues to challenge Pharaoh's hold over his people, Egypt is beset by divine plagues. We see the water turned into blood, and hear of others. But Rameses hears of a naturalistic explanation of a mountain beyond the Nile cataract spewing red mud, although this would not have explained what the film showed: the red colour starting from where Aaron's stick touched the river and moving away, or the water in pitchers turning red as it was poured. but given this explanation, Rameses declared it not surprising that fish would die and frogs leave the water, and flies would bloat upon their carcasses and spread disease. So Moses predicts hot hail and three days of darkness; the hot hail comes shortly after and bursts into flame on the ground. Moses warns that the next plague would come from his own lips.

Enraged at the plagues and Moses' continuous demands, and at his generals and advisers telling him to give in. Rameses orders all first-born Hebrews to die, but just as Moses had foretold, this intention backfires. Although Nefretiri warns Sephora to escape with Gershom on a passing caravan to Midian, Moses tells her sadly that it is her own son who will die, and he cannot save him. In an eerily quiet scene, the Angel of Death creeps into Egyptian streets in a glowing green cloud, killing all the firstborn of Egypt, including the adult son of Pharaoh's top general, and Pharaoh's own child. Meanwhile, Bithiah is released to Moses.

Broken and despondent, Pharaoh orders Moses to take "your people, your cattle, your God and your pestilence" and go. Dathan is also ordered out when the Egyptian guards sees the sacrifice lamb's blood on the sides of his door frame, his position as an overseer counting for nothing with the Egyptians, the Hebrews resentful of him and refusing him the privileges he expects. The Exodus of the Hebrews from Egypt begins.

Goaded into rage by Nefretiri in her grief and anger at Moses, the Pharaoh arms himself and gathers his armies to chase the former slaves to the shore of the Red Sea. Held back by a pillar of fire, the Egyptian forces can only watch as Moses parts the waters ("Behold His mighty hand!") to provide his people an escape route. As the Hebrews race over the seabed, the pillar of fire dies down and the army rides in hot pursuit. The Hebrews make it to the far shore just in time to witness God's closing of the waters on the Egyptian army, drowning every man and horse. Rameses looks on in despair. All he can do is return to Nefretiri, confessing to her, "His god is God."

The former slaves camp at the foot of Sinai and wait as Moses again ascends the mountain. When Moses delays coming down from Sinai, the Hebrews lose faith and, urged on by the evil Dathan, build a golden calf as an idol to bear before them back to Egypt, hoping to win Rameses' forgiveness. Aaron is forced to help fashion the gold plating. He also orders Lilia to be sacrificed. The people proceed to indulge their most wanton desires in an orgy of sinfulness. Sephora, now re-united with Moses, tells the people that he has gone to receive God's Law, and Bithiah asks, "Would the God who's shown you such wonders let Moses die before his work his done?" But their defences are mostly disregarded after Dathan's demagoguery.

Meanwhile, high atop the mountain, Moses witnesses God's creation of the stone tablets containing the Ten Commandments. When he finally climbs down, Moses beholds his people's iniquity and hurls the tablets at the idol in a rage. The idol explodes, and Dathan and his followers (such as Korah) are killed, a burning crevasse swallows all who do not join Moses at his side. After God forces them to endure forty years' exile in the desert wandering lost to prove their loyalty, the Hebrews finally are on the eve of arriving in the land of Israel. An elderly Moses then appoints Joshua to succeed him as leader (with Lilia by Joshua's side), says a final good bye to his devoted wife Sephora, and goes forth out of Israel to his destiny.

Production and art design

The screenplay was the creation of a committee of writers, headed by J. H. Ingraham (actually a novelist who wrote Pillar of Fire) and A. E. Southon (author of the novel On Eagle's Wings), who were listed as reverends to add credibility to the script. Dorothy Clarke Wilson (writer of Prince of Egypt), Aeneas MacKenzie, Jesse Lasky, Jr., Jack Gariss, and Fredric M. Frank also contributed to the adaptation of the three books.

In the commentary for the DVD edition, Katherine Orrison (a protege and biographer of Henry Wilcoxon), describes the historical research that DeMille and associates did at the time. Orrison says that many details of Moses' life which were left out of the Bible are present in the Koran, which was sometimes used as a source. She also describes some coincidences in production; the man who designed Moses' distinctive rust-white-black striped robe used those colors because they looked impressive, and only later discovered that these are the actual colors of the Tribe of Levi. Arnold Friberg would later state that he was the one who designed Moses' costume. As a gift, after the production, DeMille gave Moses' robe to Mr. Friberg who still has it in his possession.

Charlton Heston's newborn son Fraser appeared as the infant Moses. According to Orrison in the DVD commentary, DeMille deliberately timed the filming of his scenes for when Fraser Heston was about three months old. This, and other stories about the making of the film, were related to her by producer/actor Henry Wilcoxon and his wife, Joan Woodbury. Orrison later wrote the book Written in Stone: Making Cecil B. DeMille's Epic, The Ten Commandments.

Jesse Lasky Jr., a co-writer on The Ten Commandments, described how the DeMille would customarily spread out prints of Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836-1912) paintings to indicate to his set designers the look he wanted to achieve. Artist Arnold Friberg, in addition to designing sets and costumes, also contributed the manner of Moses ordaining Joshua to his mission at the end of the film: hands on Joshua's head. Friberg, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, demonstrated the LDS manner of performing such ordinations, and DeMille liked it.

Pharaoh is usually shown wearing the red-and-white crown of Upper and Lower Egypt. For his pursuit of the Israelites, however, he wears the blue Uraeus helmet-crown, which the Pharaohs wore for battle.

For the original theatrical release of the film, DeMille filmed an onscreen introduction, which was included in home video editions of the film but not the telecasts. In some of his earlier films, DeMille had provided narration, especially at the beginning of the film. This was the only time he was seen as well as heard. He also narrated portions of this film, to provide some continuity between scenes.

Academy Award win and nominations

The parting of the Red Sea won the film its Oscar for Special Effects. DeMille was reluctant to discuss technical details of how the film was made, especially the optical tricks used in the parting. It was eventually revealed that footage of the Red Sea was spliced with film footage (run in reverse) of water pouring from large trip-tanks set up in the studio back lot. To see how the parting of the Red Sea was achieved by technicians, read this article on special effects

Aside from winning the Academy Award for Best Effects, Special Effects, it was also nominated for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Color, Best Cinematography, Color, Best Costume Design, Color (Edith Head, Ralph Jester, John Jensen, Dorothy Jeakins and Arnold Friberg), Best Film Editing, Best Picture and Best Sound, Recording.

Popularity

Critics have argued that considerable liberties were taken with the Biblical story, affecting the film's claim to authenticity, but this has had little effect on its popularity. For decades, a showing of The Ten Commandments was a popular fund-raiser among revivalist Christian churches, while the film was equally treasured among film buffs for DeMille's "cast of thousands" approach and the heroic but antiquated silent-screen-type acting. In the United States, the movie has traditionally been shown on television annually since 1973 on ABC around Palm Sunday, Easter, or Passover.

Due to its fame and popularity the film has been parodied quite some times. Heston's version of Moses was spoofed in History of the World, Part I (1982), in which Mel Brooks, playing Moses, brings fifteen commandments, with the extra five written on a third tablet. He drops and breaks the third tablet and hastily says, "Fifteen, er, ten commandments!"

In The Simpsons the film's setting was spoofed at the beginning of the episode Homer vs. Lisa and the 8th Commandment. And obviously in the second segment of The Simpsons Bible Stories wherein Millhouse plays the part of Moses, but also briefly in the third segment where Bart Simpson plays David. When Bart is imprisoned, Chief Wiggum mockingly says: "Where's your Messiah now?", a famous line from the Ten Commandments, said by Edward G. Robinson, on whose voice Chief Wiggum's voice is based. In both segments Wiggum has the same outfit as Robinson in the film.

Cast

Other well-known talent in the film's "cast of thousands" included Herb Alpert as a Hebrew drummer, Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer as a slave, Michael Ansara as an Egyptian taskmaster, Robert Vaughn as a spearman and a Hebrew, Clint Walker as a Sardinian captain and DeMille himself as the film's narrator, all uncredited. In the film's release to theaters (and its subsequent release on home video), DeMille also appeared on screen to introduce the film.

Sets, costumes and props from the film The Egyptian were bought and re-used for this. As the events in The Egyptian take place 70 years before the reign of Rameses II, an unintentional sense of continuity is created. DeMille did not want to cast anyone who had been in The Egyptian, but did accept Michael Ansara (who'd played the Hittite Commander), Mimi Gibson (who'd played Ankhsenpaaten) and John Carradine (who had a cameo as a tomb robber). In addition, the white-clad girl attendants in the court of Pharaoh are played by the same actresses who had these roles in The Egyptian.

An Egyptian wall painting was also the source for the lively dance performed by a circle of young women at Seti's birthday gala. Their movements and costumes are based on art from the Tomb of the Sixth Dynasty Grand Vizier Mehu. The expression "the son of your body" for a biological offspring is based on inscriptions found in Mehu's tomb.

Supporting cast and characters

Actor Character
Julia Faye Elisheba
Henry Wilcoxon Pentaur
Lawrence Dobkin Hur Ben Caleb
Fraser Clarke Heston Infant Moses
H.B. Warner Amminadab (his last role)
Woody Strode King of Ethiopia/Bithiah's litter carrier-slave
Rushdy Abaza Rushti Abaza
Henry Brandon Commander of the Host
Dorothy Adams Slave Woman/Hebrew at Golden Calf/Hebrew at Rameses' Gate
Maude Fealy Slave Woman/Hebrew at Crag & Corridor
Gail Kobe Pretty Slave Girl
Henry Corden Sheik of Sinai
Onslow Stevens Lugal
Frank Dekova Abiram
Ian Keith Rameses I
Eugene Mazzola Rameses' son
Paula Morgan Hebrew Woman/Slave Woman
Kenneth MacDonald Hebrew at Crag & Corridor/Slave
Dorothy Neumann Hebrew at Crag & Corridor/Slave/Hebrew at Dathan's Tent
Diane Gump slave
Donald Curtis Mered
Eduard Franz Jethro
Lisa Mitchell Jethro's Daughter
Noelle Williams Jethro's Daughter
Pat Richard Jethro's Daughter
Joyce Vanderveen Jethro's Daughter
Joanna Merlin Jethro's Daughter
Abbas El Boughdadly Rameses' Charioteer
John Miljan The Blind One
Francis McDonald Simon
Tommy Duran Gershom, Moses' son
Ramsay Hill Korah
Joan Woodbury Korah's wife
Paul De Rolf Eleazar
Robert Carson Eleazar as an Adult
Esther Brown Princess Tarbis, sister of the Ethiopian King
E.J. André Sheik of Hazerath
Eric Alden High Ranking Officer/Taskmaster/Slave/officer
Kay Bell Taskmaster/Red Bearded slave
Baynes Barron Taskmaster
Mary Benoit Guardian of the Prince/Court Woman/Hebrew at Dathan's Tent/
Hebrew at Crag & Corridor/Mother
Rus Conklin Whip Scarred Brick Carrier/Hebrew at Dathan's Tent
Babette Bain Little Miriam
Bobby Clark Little boy in Exodus, grandson of the Blind One
Mimi Gibson Little Egyptian Girl, granddaughter of the Blind One
Kem Dibbs Corporal
Edna Mae Cooper Woman of the Women
Nancy Hale Court Lady in Pool
June Jocelyn Court lady/Hebrew at Crag & Corridor/Hebrew at Dathan's Tent/
Wife of Overseer
Irene Martin Tuya, one of the court ladies at the pool
Richard Kean Old Hebrew at Moses Houses/Hebrew Toward Corridor
Fred Kohler Jr Foreman
Peter Mamakos Chief Driver
George Melford Hebrew at Golden Calf/Nobleman
John Merton Architect Assistant
Amena Mohamed Architect Assistant
John Parrish Sheik of Rephidim
Amanda Webb Hebrew at Golden Calf/Young Woman/Hebrew in Exodus
Jeane Wood Slave/Hebrew at Crag & Corridor/Hebrew at Golden Calf
Rod Redwing Taskmaster/Hebrew at Golden Calf
Frank Wilcox Wazir
Addison Richards Fan Bearer
Keith Richards Hebrew at Golden Calf/Courtier/Slave/Hebrew at Dathan's Tent/
Hebrew at Crag & Corridor/Overseer
Marcoreta Starr Slave/Hebrew at Golden Calf

Uncredited cast

Actor Character
Luis Alberni Old Hebrew
Delos Jewkes God
Herb Alpert Drummer Boy
Peter Baldwin Courtier
Dehl Berti Pharaoh's Man Servant/Architects Assistant
Gorgen Raymond Aghayan Hebrew at Golden Calf
Lillian Albertson Slave
Clare Andre Slave
Dorothy Andre Slave
Maria Elena Aza Dancing Girl
Bart Antinora Slave
Alan Aric Hebrew at Golden Calf
Joel Ashley Taskmaster
William Bagdad Slave
Judith Barrett Hebrew at Golden Calf
Norman Bartold Signalman
Betty Bassett Court Woman
Ahmed Salah Sayed Ahmed Slave
Ted Allan Hebrew at Rameses' Gate
Vicki Bakken Egyptian Courtesan
Patti Balloon Hebrew girl at Rameses' Gate
George Baxter 2nd Wazir
Steven Benson Kid in massive march
Abdullah Abbas Taskmaster
Arthur Batanides Hebrew at Rameses' Gate/Hebrew at Golden Calf
Prudence Beers Hebrew at Crag and Corridor/Hebrew at Golden Calf
Jack Baston Fan Bearer
Polly Burson Slave
Herbert Butterfield Royal Physician
Lesley-Marie Colburn Slave Child

Decalogues

One legacy of the movie are scores of public displays or monuments of the Ten Commandments that DeMille paid to be erected around the country as a publicity stunt. Known as decalogues, the displays were set up by the group Fraternal Order of Eagles, sometimes in or near government buildings. Several have been involved in court battles over whether their presence is said to violate the First Amendment to the United States Constitution's Establishment Clause.

Another "legacy" of the film's version of the Decalogue is that it portrays it inaccurately. The film shows the Lord inscribing five Commandments on each of the two tablets. In fact, Hebrew texts state that the two tablets were identical copies, with all ten of the Commandments inscribed upon each.

Problematic Pharaoh identifications

Some variances in the film are simply factual errors. In the scene in which Moses refers to the monumental stele commemorating "Seti's victory over the Hittites at Kadesh", the obvious error is that it was Ramses II, not his father, Seti (I), who fought the Hittites at Kadesh. This does several things to the movie's narrative. Most obviously, it means that Yul Brynner, billed as "Ramses", is in fact playing Merenptah, Ramses II's heir, and Sir Cedric Hardwicke, billed as "Seti" (I) is actually portraying Ramses II. This is further confirmed by "Seti" dying at an advanced age after a long reign; Seti (I) reigned for only 11 years, while Ramses II's reign lasted 67 years, prior to his death at age 90. (See Seti I and Ramses II.) This error also moves the Exodus forward in time, by approximately six decades. Additionally, the Battle of Kadesh is believed to have ended in a draw, which led to a peace treaty, rather than a decisive victory for the Egyptians, as depicted in the film.

Differences from the Bible

There are many differences between the movie story line and the Exodus story as traditionally understood from the Bible. According to the commentary in the DVD, some details are taken from sources such as Josephus, the Sepher ha-Yashar, and the Chronicle of Moses, as well as the Qur'an. Some are fictional inventions.

In the film, the kings of Egypt are all named: Ramesses I, Seti I, Ramesses II. In the Bible, they are given no names but simply called "Pharaoh." See article Pharaoh of the Exodus, and the section above on problematic Pharaoh identifications.

In the Bible, the wives of the Pharaohs are not even mentioned. In the film, we see a great deal of Queen Nefretiri. Her name is a variant of Nefertari, the Great Royal Wife of Rameses II. But Egyptian records show that Rameses loved Nefertari, while in the film Nefretiri hated him. The Bible says "The Lord hardened Pharaoh's heart", and the film makes clear that Nefretiri's schemes are the means through which God does this.

The story of Shiphrah and Puah (Exodus 1:15-21) has been omitted in the film. Some Talmudic commentaries identify them as none other than Yokheved and Miriam.

The name of the birth mother of Moses in the Bible is Yokheved (Hebrew) or Jochebed (English). In the movie, this is changed to "Yoshebel." She is shown as a very oppressed and endangered slave working on a construction project under hazardous conditions. This may be problematic, since a strong case can be made that the tribe of Levi was not actually enslaved. Perhaps because of this, at one point Yoshebel states: "We are Levites, appointed shepherds of Israel."

While Pharaoh's daughter is no longer mentioned again after the rescuing story in the Bible, the film follows Bithiah's life well into her later years. The story of her following the Israelites out of Egypt is taken from the Midrash.

In the Bible, Moses was 80 during the Exodus, so Bithiah must have been older still, yet in the film she is portrayed as relatively young and healthy enough to carry a child in the trek away.

Baka (as played by Vincent Price) is never mentioned by name in the Bible, and he is not specifically mistreating Joshua when Moses kills him. In the Bible, Dathan is not mentioned as having been a witness to the killing (though, the Bible does mention that, in another incident after Moses kills an Egyptian, he confronts two quarreling Israelites, one of whom accueses Moses of having killed an Egyptian. The Midrash identifies the Israelites as Dathan and his brother Aviram, which may have been the inspiration for this part of the story).

In the film, on the first Passover night, the Destroyer is seen with a crescent moon in the sky. But Passover always begins in the middle of the Hebrew month of Nissan, during a full moon.

In the film, the young Moses is a successful military commander who defeats a Nubian army and makes the Ethiopians allies of Egypt. This is sourced in Josephus, but is not in the Bible.

In Exodus 2:11-12, Moses "looked this way and that way, and when he saw that there was no man, he slew the Egyptian and hid him in the sand." No such caution in the film: Moses jumps right in to fight the Egyptian. Instead of sensibly fleeing to Midian immediately, as he does in the Bible, he stays in Egypt and is arrested and exiled.

The movie adds a subplot about Joshua coming to Moses to beseech him to return to Egypt to free the Israelites.

In the Bible, Moses complains to the Lord that he is slow of speech, and of a slow tongue; in the film he only says "what words can I speak that they will heed?" DeMille considered having Moses stammer slightly, but Heston could not do it, and settled for speaking very slowly. Modern midrash asserts the relevance of the phrase "divine apostasia," which rehabilitates the term "apostasia" from its heretical or pejorative sense by defining it as an inability to articulate given the tools (or limitations rather) of language. This sense of the term apostasia asserts the moral humility and/or wisdom of silence or hesitance applied to speech and writing.

The story of Zipporah performing an emergency circumcision on her son by Moses (Exodus 4:24-26) is missing in the film.

The film shows four of the Plagues of Egypt: Blood, Hail, Darkness, and Death of the Firstborn, omitting the rest. DeMille could not figure out a way to enact the plagues of frogs, flies and so on, without it coming out as unintentionally humorous.

In the Bible, Moses did not say, "If there is one more plague on Egypt, it will be by your word that God will bring it" as he did in the movie, and Pharaoh did not decree that the firstborn of each house of Israel would die, beginning with the son of Moses. This is taken from a Midrash that expands the Biblical narrative in order to explain the origin of the tenth plague.

In the Bible, God executes the tenth plague alone, not by sending the Angel of Death.

Pharaoh may have drowned with his army in Exodus 15:19 (it is unclear; and if so, he was not Ramesses II). In the movie, he prudently stays in the rear and witnesses the parting of the waters.

In Exodus, the Israelites, led by Miriam, sing and dance to celebrate the death of Pharaoh and the Egyptian army, and their own liberation. In the film, they stand still in stunned silence.

The Biblical story of the attack by the Amalekites and the Battle of Rephidim has been omitted in the film.

The Biblical accounts of God supplying the Israelites with water, manna and quail are missing in the movie.

In the Bible, the reception of the Ten Commandments began as a national revelation, as opposed to the private one depicted in the DeMille film. The story of Moses and seventy Elders of Israel eating and drinking in the presence of God (Exodus 24:9-11) is not found in the film.

The story of Korah and his rebellion, which occurs much later in the Bible narrative, is conflated with that of the Golden Calf in the film. Korah himself plays only an assistant to the ringleader Dathan. Further, in the Bible, Dathan does not die during the Sin of the Golden Calf (nor do his brother Aviram or Korah), but during Korah's rebellion.

In the Bible, God gave Moses not just ten commandments, but 613 Commandments.

DVD releases

The Ten Commandments has been released to DVD on three occasions:

First Edition released on March 30, 1999 as a two disc set, with the following specs:

Disc One & Two: The Movie (1956, 220 minutes) + Extras

  • 1.78:1 Widescreen (Enhanced for 16x9)
  • Audio Tracks: English (Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround 2.0), French (Dolby Mono 2.0)
  • Subtitles: English
  • Scene Selection (48 Chapters)
  • Trailers:
    • 1956 "Making of" Trailer
    • 1966 Re-Release Trailer
    • 1989 Re-Release Trailer

Second Edition released on March 9, 2004 as a two disc set (Special Collector's Edition), with the following specs:

Disc One & Two: The Movie (1956, 220 minutes) + Extras

  • 1.78:1 Widescreen (Enhanced for 16x9)
  • Audio Tracks: English (Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround 2.0), French (Dolby Mono 2.0)
  • Subtitles: English
  • Scene Selection (48 Chapters)
  • Commentary by Katherine Orrison, Author of Written in Stone: Making Cecil B. DeMille's Epic, The Ten Commandments
  • 6-Part Documentary: (Approximately 37 minutes)
    • Moses
    • The Chosen People
    • Land of the Pharaohs
    • The Paramount Lot
    • The Score
    • Mr. DeMille
  • Vintage Newsreel: The Ten Commandments - Premiere in New York
  • Trailers:
    • 1956 "Making of" Trailer
    • 1966 Re-Release Trailer
    • 1989 Re-Release Trailer

Third Edition released on March 21, 2006 as a three disc set (50th Anniversary Collection), with the following specs:

Disc One & Two: The Movie (1956, 220 minutes) + Extras

  • 1.78:1 Widescreen (Enhanced for 16x9)
  • Audio Tracks: English (Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround 2.0), French (Dolby Mono 2.0)
  • Subtitles: English
  • Scene Selection (48 Chapters)
  • Commentary by Katherine Orrison, Author of Written in Stone: Making Cecil B. DeMille's Epic, The Ten Commandments
  • 6-Part Documentary: (Approximately 37 minutes)
    • Moses
    • The Chosen People
    • Land of the Pharaohs
    • The Paramount Lot
    • The Score
    • Mr. DeMille
  • Vintage Newsreel: The Ten Commandments - Premiere in New York
  • Trailers:
    • 1956 "Making of" Trailer
    • 1966 Re-Release Trailer
    • 1989 Re-Release Trailer

Disc Three: The Movie (1923 Version, 136 minutes)

  • 1.37:1 Academy Ratio (4:3 Standard)
  • Audio Tracks: English (Dolby Stereo 2.0)
  • Subtitles: French
  • Commentary by Katherine Orrison, Author of Written in Stone: Making Cecil B. DeMille's Epic, The Ten Commandments
  • Hand-tinted footage of the Exodus and Parting of the Red Sea Sequence

Trivia

  • Although Rameses II and Seti I were historical figures, Rameses' wife's name was Nefertari, not "Nefretiri", as in the film. This queen, though well-known, is not to be confused with the even more famous queen Nefertiti, who lived 75 years earlier. Both names mean "Beautiful."
  • The place of the "Throne Princess" was real, and was designed to ensure legitimacy as well as symbolizing the presence of the Goddess Isis in the royal lineage. Ancient Egyptians traced heritage through the maternal, not the paternal line; the royal line of succession was through the women.
  • DeMille's original choice for the role of Nefretiri was Audrey Hepburn. His ultimate decision not to cast her was due to her less-than-voluptuous figure. Anne Baxter, the final choice for the role, filled out her sheer costumes in a manner that more closely resembled period wall paintings of Egyptian ladies.
  • The voice of God at the burning bush scene is Charlton Heston's, slightly slowed down and deepened. Heston's voice was recorded for the film in the marble chapel at Fairhaven Mausoleum in Santa Ana, CA. The voice of God at the giving of the Ten Commandments is a chorus of several male voices including, principally, Heston's and DeMille's - recorded separately with one track laid on top of the other and tinkered with electronically. It is said that this was a very time-consuming and difficult process (it would be less so today). The other voices of this chorus were those of actor and singer Delos Jewkes and DeMille's publicist and biographer Donald Hayne.
  • The Paramount mountain at the beginning of the movie is replaced with Mount Sinai and the sky is red.
  • Due to Charlton Heston's (Moses) recent death on April 5, 2008, Paget (Lilia), Foch (Bithia), and Connors (Amalekite Herder) are the only remaining surviving main cast members (as of April 6, 2008).

Footnotes

References

  • Orrison, Katherine (1990). Written in Stone: Making Cecil B. DeMille's Epic, The Ten Commandments. New York: Vestal Press. ISBN 1-879511-24-X.

External links

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