The Ten Commandments (1956)

ten commandments poster 1956 movie
9.0 Overall Score
Story: 9/10
Acting: 8/10
Visuals: 10/10

Amazing visuals for the time, epic film

Long, not the best acting

Movie Info

Movie Name: The Ten Commandments

Studio: Paramount Pictures

Genre(s): Drama/Seasonal/Family

Release Date(s): October 5, 1956

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

ten commandments bithiah moses basket nile nina foch

Score! Free baby!

Yoshebel (Martha Scott) sends her child down the Nile to protect him from the Pharaoh’s attempt to prevent a prophecy that a slave will overthrow him. Found by Bithiah (Nina Foch), Moses (Charlton Heston) is raised as a prince…never knowing his true heritage. Favored by Ramses I (Ian Keith), Moses is selected to be the next pharaoh over the Pharaoh’s own son Ramses II (Yul Brynner). When Moses learns his true origin and kills a slave master (Vincent Price) trying to hurt another Jewish worker named Joshua (John Derek), Moses is exiled to the desert. Moses finds himself touched by God and returns to Egypt to lead his people to freedom.

Directed by Cecil B. DeMille, The Ten Commandments is a Biblical epic drama.  The film was released to positive reviews and was one of the biggest money makers of all time.  The film also became a televised Easter holiday tradition over the years.  The film won an Academy Award for Best Special Effects with nominations for Best Picture (losing to Around the World in 80 Days), Best Color Cinematography, Best Color Art Direction-Set Decoration, Best Color Costume Design, Best Sound, and Best Film Editing.  It was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry in 1999.

ten commandments burning bush mount sinai charlton heston

Wait…you can be anything God and you choose a talking bush…that’s a…bold choice?

I can remember watching parts of The Ten Commandments growing up, but I probably did not watch the entire film until much later due to its length (3+ hours).  Despite this, I recall being terrified of the killer smog that wraps around the city during the night of Passover…and the movie continues to demonstrate the power of the Bible story (and honestly some of the weirdness of it).

Story-wise there is of course debate about the accuracy of the story that DeMille pieced together to make The Ten Commandments.  The film has the unusual introduction by DeMille admitting that the movie is not entirely Bible based, but also borrows from other texts and ideas to flesh out the Moses character.  The length of the film does make the film crawl, but the subject matter and the tradition factor built into The Ten Commandments allows it to be a comfort-type viewing…and it does a decent job streamlining the story into one tale.  It unintentionally draws questions to some of the stories from the Bible and of course the cruel nature of the Old Testament.

ten commandments charlton heston moses parts red sea

Moses on spring break

The movie is a Charlton Heston movie. The acting is over-the-top like Ben-Hur and other Heston films. It isn’t like movies like David Lean’s films like Lawrence of Arabia, Bridge on the River Kwai, or Dr. Zhivago where the acting is also top notch. The movie is filled with celebrities of the time including Yul Brynner, Anne Baxter, Edward G. Robinson, Yvonne De Carlo, Debra Paget, Vincent Price, and John Carradine among others. Here the acting is so-so on most parts, and the movie mostly relies on the grandiose effects and sets.

The Ten Commandments is a big epic style picture that doesn’t exist today. Movies like Gladiator and The Lord of the Rings might feel epic, but most of the effects are created through computers. When a movie like The Ten Commandments needed a mob, they had to get a mob of people. The Ten Commandments did rely on a lot of (at the time) cutting edge special effects. DeMille kept a lot of his tricks secret and events like the splitting of the Red Sea were unheard of before The Ten Commandments.  The visuals do still work in the context of when the film was made…it is visually a rather impressive film.

ten commandments charlton heston moses mount sinai

You guys are soooo busted!

The Ten Commandments is a tradition. Like other movies like The Wizard of Oz and The Sound of Music, it is a television institution that help establish the medium as it was taking over America by building family traditions.  Unlike The Wizard of Oz, it survived the conversion to VCR, DVD, and now Blu-Ray and continues to air on TV on a regular holiday basis.  If you are big fans of the film, you might want to check out the Blu-Ray since the transfer is fantastic (though too good at some points when you can see the weaknesses of some of the effects).   When something is always on, it tends to not be appreciated so check out The Ten Commandments and enjoy a classic.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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