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The Ten Commandments: The movieDaniel Johnson, Deputy Executive Editor
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.
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 Salem-News.com since March 2009 and, as of spring 2012, has published more than 200 stories.
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