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Jun-11-2012 23:39printcomments

The Ten Commandments: The movie

Rotten Tomatoes says: "Bombastic and occasionally silly but extravagantly entertaining, Cecil B. DeMille's all-star spectacular is a muscular retelling of the great Bible story".

(Calgary, Alberta) - I was recently given a copy of Cecil B. DeMille’s 1956 classic The Ten Commandments. I only ever saw it once—in 1956—and I thought it might be amusing to watch it fifty-six years later. My mistake.

I was nine years old when it came out and the church I was attending encouraged everyone to see it, so I went. The movie is still used today by Christian groups as a fund raiser.

It was DeMille’s last movie and one of the most financially successful films ever made, grossing over $65 million at the US box office. Adjusting for inflation, this makes it the sixth highest-grossing movie, with an inflation adjusted total of just over a billion 2012 dollars. It has not, in my opinion, stood the test of time.

The movie, currently holds a 91% "Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes; the consensus of the website calling it: "Bombastic and occasionally silly but extravagantly entertaining, Cecil B. DeMille's all-star spectacular is a muscular retelling of the great Bible story”.

Today, the lines are banal and the acting wooden. Charlton Heston played Moses and Yul Brynner his adoptive brother Rameses II and if you follow their subsequent careers, neither actor went beyond one-dimensional characters. In particular I think of Heston in Soylent Green and Omega Man.

The most interesting thing about the movie, in retrospect, is the connections of people.

  • Baby Moses was played by Heston’s son, Fraser, born in February 1955
  • Uncredited, Heston was also the voice of God from the burning bush
  • Herb Alpert, who became famous and popular as a band leader in the 1960s and 1970s (Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass) was a Hebrew drummer at Mt. Sinai.
  • Edward G. Robinson was Dathan. Robinson had already had a career in the 1930s as a gangster type and, a liberal Democrat, was threatened with blacklisting by the HUAC. This role put him back on track as an A-list actor. He died in 1973 at Mt Sinai hospital in Los Angeles
  • Some otherwise little knowns at the time were: Anne Baxter, John Carradine, Vincent Price and Carl Switzer (he had been “Alfalfa” of the “Little Rascals” of the late 1930s)
  • Yvonne de Carlo (later known as Lily Munster in “The Munsters”) was Moses’ wife
  • Robert Vaughan (“The Man from UNCLE”) was a Hebrew spearman

One thing DeMille would not do was reveal how the special effects of the movie were done but it was later revealed that the parting of the Red Sea was spliced with film footage (run in reverse) of water pouring from large U-shaped trip-tanks set up in the studio back lot.

DeMille was also the man who gave Ayn Rand her start in America. She was the rugged individualist who is quoted at the end of her magnum opus, Atlas Shrugged saying:

I had a difficult struggle, earning my living at odd jobs until I could make a financial success of my writing. No one helped me, nor did I think at any time that it was anyone’s duty to help me.”

What she disingenuously passed over is that on arriving here, she lived with and was supported by relatives in Chicago, the Portnoys, who bought her a ticket to Hollywood and gave her $100 to get started. In return, she promised them a Rolls-Royce.

In 1926 she saw DeMille sitting in his car and got his attention which got her a low level job that worked into a minor writing job. What she would have done without the Portnoys or the foot in the door provided by DeMille is an open question.

The plot of the movie itself was based on the Old Testament’s Exodus, the story of the Hebrews being expelled from Egypt. But, as Daniel Lazare writes in “False Testament” (Harper’s, March 2002):

Not only is there no evidence that any such figure as Abraham ever lived but archaeologists believe that there is no way such a figure could have lived given what we now know about ancient Israelite origins…. A growing volume of evidence concerning Egyptian border defenses, desert sites where the fleeing Israelites supposedly camped, etc., indicates that the flight from Egypt did not occur in the thirteenth century before Christ; it never occurred at all…. we now know that Moses was no more historically real than Abraham before him.

On a lighter note, here’s why there are Ten Commandments:

On Moses Mt Sinai and picked up the first two tablets and said: “Whoa, these are heavier than I expected. I’ll come back and get the others tomorrow.” Ba da boom.


Born and raised in Calgary, Alberta, Daniel Johnson as a teenager aspired to be a writer. Always a voracious reader, he reads more books in a month than many people read in a lifetime. He also reads 100+ online articles per week. He knew early that in order to be a writer, you have to be a reader.

He has always been concerned about fairness in the world and the plight of the underprivileged/underdog.

As a professional writer he sold his first paid article in 1974 and, while employed at other jobs, started selling a few pieces in assorted places.

Over the next 15 years, Daniel eked out a living as a writer doing, among other things, national writing and both radio and TV broadcasting for the CBC, Maclean’s (the national newsmagazine) and a wide variety of smaller publications. Interweaved throughout this period was soul-killing corporate and public relations writing.

It was through the 1960s and 1970s that he got his university experience. In his first year at the University of Calgary, he majored in psychology/mathematics; in his second year he switched to physics/mathematics. He then learned of an independent study program at the University of Lethbridge where he attended the next two years, studying philosophy and economics. In the end he attended university over nine years (four full time) but never qualified for a degree because he didn't have the right number of courses in any particular field.

In 1990 he published his first (and so far, only) book: Practical History: A guide to Will and Ariel Durant’s “The Story of Civilization” (Polymath Press, Calgary)

Newly appointed as the Deputy Executive Editor in August 2011, he has been writing exclusively for since March 2009 and, as of spring 2012, has published more than 200 stories.

View articles written by Daniel Johnson

Comments Leave a comment on this story.

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Natalie June 12, 2012 6:47 pm (Pacific time)

My condolences… to your ex. Irreconcilable differences, irreconcilable differences… I can see the real reason now.

You're a little too subtle for me tonight, Natalie. 

Natalie June 12, 2012 4:00 pm (Pacific time)

Oh, don’t be so upset, DJ. You can always switch back to watching The Three Stooges. It’s a perfect movie for highly intelligent people. I hear the actors look and sound naturally gorgeous, too. (cough-cough).

Switch back? I never left them. Nyuk, Nyuk. Actually, that could be my next movie review: "The Three Stooges" I'll begin it this way:

"Once upon  a time there were three retired rocket scientists, named Moe, Larry and Curly..."

anonymous June 11, 2012 9:01 pm (Pacific time)

Atheists have no authority, nor should have an opinion on religious matters. The fool says in his heart Hayah doesn't exist.

Anonymous June 11, 2012 4:19 pm (Pacific time)

My favorite seen was when Mr. Heston was on his charriot chasing the ape Ceasar through the splt in the sea. Will never forget that scene. You could even see the Sea Shepard in the distance with those two whales. Ummm, wonder if whale meat tastes muck like dolphin, which tastes a lot like porpoise.

Anonymous June 11, 2012 8:47 am (Pacific time)

Pot grows out of the ground, the ground that God created, not sure about the homo/porn stuff, I dont.. but if thats someones thing I dont care. On another note: The very essence of the Bible starts in the book of Genesis: Eve did not eat an apple, she had relations with the entity, thus: Cain Killing Able, all the wars etc. There is a two line seed, and one of the seed lines is the vatican/rothchilds/rockefellers. Since they own the world, they can indoctrinate thru movies, education and mainstream movies. I was taught when young that Eve ate an apple, once I got older and did my own study, and found the two line seed, the rest of the Bible made much more sense. Reearch "wheat and tares"

Anonymous June 11, 2012 6:40 am (Pacific time)

I is what it is. No doubt critics have been lampooning with jealous hearts throughout recorded history.

Anonymous June 11, 2012 3:28 am (Pacific time)

I am sure that you don't have anything good to say about a movie from the can understand this.mjust sit back and smoke your dope and I'm sure you would enjoy a porn much more than an old classical movie. And then we are surprised why this Country is going in a totally wrong direction, away from God, Jesus, the church,morales and values. The important thing are pot, homosexuality and porn. As long as it feels good

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