You are watching: Who said so let it be written, so let it be done
The Egyptian sets are magnificent, enormous, glossy and detailed, populated by thousands of costumed extras. Yet the staging, possibly inadvertently, goes past ‘authenticity’ –the lingering sense of Hollywood grandiloquence generates skepticism that the following day Gene Kelly might stage a gigantic dance scene on the very same set. The score by Elmer Bernstein, soaring and heroic, additionally raises the film up but sets it together a mid-century production.
When the activity moves to tool shots of Moses (played through Heston’s infant son Fraser) being rescued indigenous the Nile, Israelites working in mud pits, or the alleys of Pithom, there is tiny sense the scale, depth, or dirt; this studio sets fall flat. Sadly, the many important magnificent interventions, the burning Bush, column of Fire, Moses’ staff transformed into a snake, and the fiery production of the tablets of the law, room animated. This flaming cartoon results are about as unpersuasive together the ‘monster native the id’ in an additional 1956 hit, Forbidden Planet. Top top this we may pine for modern special effects.
But the film’s heart is the acting, namely the scenery chewing love triangle the Heston, Yul Brynner, and Anne Baxter. Hoston – liked in component because of his same to Michelangelo’s Moses – tasks a stolid top Midwestern masculinity the is associated with few actors today. Unequal his revolutionary contemporary, Marlon Brando, Heston’s emotion and also vulnerability had actually to be accessed v a hard shell. There is a straight line with Heston’s most well known roles, indigenous Moses to Ben-Hur, every the way to George Taylor, marooned on a world of damned, dirty apes. The 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 that Siam, for which he had become famous in Rodgers and also Hammerstein’s The King and I. His Rameses is also played in ~ a narrow emotional range, through quiet seething and few outbursts. Yet Brynner’s organic authority was vital to projecting both Rameses’s imperiousness and blindness.
Finally, over there is Ann Baxter, granddaughter of a frank Lloyd Wright and also a Hollywood trip woman, that plays the vampish Queen Nefretiri as a manipulative poor girl. The subplot of she short-lived romance with Moses climate unhappy marriage to Rameses is completely invented and gives the film a 1940s emotion of love triangles and femme fatales. Yet Baxter reliably delivers some of the film’s cheesiest (“Oh, Moses, Moses, friend stubborn, splendid, lover fool!”) and also most bitter lines (“You let Moses death my son. No god can bring him back. What have you done to Moses? how did he die? Did that cry because that mercy when you torture him? carry me come his body! I desire to check out it, Rameses! I want to see it!”)
To the contemporary eye, or certain contemporary sensibilities, the primary actors is also disconcertingly “white.” To counter we might point to the brief presence of the identified African American actor, and professional soccer player, Woodrow Strode, as the Ethiopian King, and also several thousands Egyptian military personnel as, well, the Egyptian Army. Like any kind of film, that is a product that its times.
For every impressive actor choose Cedric Hardwicke (Seti) or Nina Foch (Bithia) there are one-dimensional hacks prefer John Derek (Joshua) or the annoying girls who played Jethro’s daughters as giggly flibbertigibbets. Still, DeMille to be both a craftsman and also eminently practical; rope swinging hunks like Derek were box office draws, and veteran character actors choose Edward G. Robinson, Vincent Price and John Carradine maintained the non-Biblical B-story going as soon as Heston and also Brynner were turn off screen.
But does that still work? The real star the The Ten Commandments is God, that speaks directly to Moses and works miracles that eventually convince Rameses to let the Israelites go. Divine intervention and national liberation is the significance of the Biblical account. What a contrast with Ridley Scott’s 2014 retelling, wherein Moses is a freedom fighter and God a vision on by a blow to the head the a boy brought, or the 1998 man Prince that Egypt, wherein Moses cries since of the plagues and also with musical numbers the sound favor rejects native Frozen.
In 1923 DeMille made 2 parallel story to to mark the degeneration of modern-day values, yet in 1956 that opted for a an ext subtle approach. He provides God the star, and also liberation the main theme, and through clever dialogue and narration Americanizes the Exodus as soon as again. But Cold war made the comb far greater than even those that killed Mrs. McTavish. “Man took dominion over man – the conquered were do to offer the conquer – the weak made come server the strong,” the narrator – DeMille himself – intones. Moses’ critical words in the film, “Go – proclaim liberty throughout all the lands, depend all the occupants thereof” (Leviticus 25:10), likewise inscribed on the Liberty Bell, do the connection between ancient Israel and also America clear.
Film tells us not ‘who we are’ but how we see ourselves at any given moment. Possibly every generation it s okay The Ten Commandments that it wants. There room no ‘timeless’ films but DeMille’s The Ten Commandments come closer than many, due to the fact that of its topic matter, epos scale, and outsized society impact. Even if it is its message of human liberty and the enduring partnership of God and also the Israelites tho resonate, in America or elsewhere, is an additional question.
Alex Joffe is the editor the The old Near east Today.
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