In this movie review, I’ll be examining a 1950s classic biblical epic, a masterpiece of cinema, and a story with a scale and scope of biblical proportions (pun intended of course). Since my first viewing of The Ten Commandments from the age of 5, this movie has remained to be my most favorite movie of all time. Every viewing takes me back to the fame and ruthlessness of Egypt, the indignity and dirt of Hebrew slavery, and the power and wonder of God’s ability to free Israel from their 430 years of bondage. You don’t have to be a Christian, Jew, or Muslim to appreciate the story of Moses and how much it needed to be retold in a time such as the 1950s.
If there is one thing we must remember about man, it is that those who refuse to be ruled by God, will choose to rule others with hate. When God is taken out of society, only dread and darkness will follow. Likewise, the culture of the 1950s was bent on their desire for sin and adhered to their racist methods. In the film, Seti I, the father of Ramses and foster-parent of Moses, asks Moses what ‘evil’ caused him to want the slaves of Egypt to be free. Moses replies with this, “The evil that men should turn their brothers into beasts of burden…all because they are of another race, another creed.” These words were needed for those times, but it was not just about telling a good bedtime story, but there was a message behind it.
It was one thing to go against racism in a time when it was rampant with petty arguments and humanistic philosophies, but it is another when you do it with the authority of God. Cecil B. De Mille, the director of the picture, said this concerning the intention of making The Ten Commandments years after the release, “Our intention was not to create a story, but to be worthy of telling a divinely inspired story, created 3,000 years ago, [which were] the five books of Moses.” Now, he did admit that they used other sources as well, “The Holy Bible omits some 30 years of Moses’ life…to fill in those missing years, we turn to ancient historians, such as Philo and Josephus…These historians had access to documents long since destroyed – or perhaps lost, like the Dead Sea Scrolls.” This great director, who won an Academy Award, humbled himself to the very Word of God, our sacred text. He knew there was no better way of changing society, than by bringing God back.
Don’t believe me? The tagline of the film: “It would take more than a man to lead the slaves from bondage. It would take a God.” When the crew and cast of the film say that they are not just making a movie, but they are submitting themselves to the Scriptures and to its power, then we have to understand that we have come across an entirely different kind of picture. Why did I rate this film a 10/10? For this reason: not only did the cast and crew say that they did their absolute best to stick to Scripture (which I would say they did very well with), but they also executed the picture with flawless direction, acting, production design, cinematography, and special effects.
As I have said before, director and producer Cecil B. De Mille not only succeeded in his attempts to make a good picture, but also in faithfulness to historical and biblical accounts of Moses’ life. His ability to handle thousands of extras, a huge budget, a constrained schedule, and many top-billed actors is beyond extraordinary. It’s also worth mentioning that he would invite the cast of film over to his house to discuss the gospel of Christ. That is unheard of in today’s Hollywood.
I don’t even know where to begin. Charlton Heston as Moses is one of, if not the best, casting choices in film history. He absolutely deserved his Oscar nomination for this iconic role, which has inspired all art depicting Moses post-1956. Who can forget the beard, the Hebrew robe, and the gruff, manly voice that he gave Moses? Who can forget the iconic role of Ukrainian actor Yul Brynner, who played Ramses with a menacing presence? There was also the beautiful Anne Baxter, who played the woman who loved Moses, yet married Ramses. Her character was not the typical damsel in distress, but rather how Moses described her in the film, “the lovely dust that God will use for his purpose [to soften or harden Pharaoh’s heart].” I could go on about the cast, and I am not lying when I say every cast member gave an amazing performance.
It’s almost a cheat to say a biblical epic made in the 1950s had good production design. The costumes were beautiful and accurate, the enormous sets were built by crew and construction workers, and the designs were superb and jaw-dropping. Though expected for 1950s cinema, I still can’t help, but marvel at what kind of practical sets and costumes Hollywood had before CGI and ‘gritty’ movies.
The shots that the camera crew were able to capture are just spectacular. The shots of the Sinai desert, the Egyptian landscapes, and the the planned camera work was executed perfectly.
I still wonder to this day this question: how was a 1956 film crew able to film the scene where God parts the Red Sea (click here to watch)? Also, most people don’t know that The Ten Commandments was revolutionary when it came to special effects, as it was one of the first major technicolor productions to use blue screen on a large scale, and combine practical sets with special effects. That is a wonderful achievement, and I would say that the special effects have aged like fine-wine (especially when you have the HD remastered edition like myself).
Overall, I would definitely have to give the film The Ten Commandments a 10/10. Not only do I give the film a high rating because it is a classic example of the golden age of Hollywood, but also because the cast and crew had immense respect for the material. When they made a movie based on the accounts of the Bible, they wanted to remain faithful to it. They knew that if they were to make a movie about man’s freedom from slavery and racism, then they would have to return to God. For that, the movie deserves my deepest respects, and maybe we will see another movie like that again in Hollywood.
Soli Deo Gloria.