Like its source material this is epic stuff, folks. The story is of the birth of Moses and subsequently freedom. Director Cecil B. DeMille (The Greatest Show on Earth, Cleopatra) decides to right a wrong by telling about the life of Moses, including the 30 years that the Bible leaves out.
Ramses I, the pharaoh of Egypt, issues the edict that all first-born Hebrew males will be put to death. Yochabel (Martha Scott – Ben-Hur, Our Town) puts her son in a basket and sends him down the Nile. The childless sister of the Pharaoh, Bithiah (Nina Foch – Spartacus, Sliver), finds the child and adopts him as her own. This is despite the fact that her servant Memnet (Judith Anderson – Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Rebecca) tries to dissuade her as the boy is obviously a Hebrew, Bithiah insists.
Moses (Charlton Heston – Planet of the Apes, Any Given Sunday), now a grown man, is under consideration by the Pharaoh Sethi (Sir Cedric Hardwicke – Rope, Richard III) to succeed him. The other consideration as the next Pharaoh is Ramses II (Yul Brynner – The King and I, The Magnificent Seven) and he is intent at any cost to be the next Pharaoh. The next Pharaoh gets to marry Ramses I’s daughter, Nefretiri (Anne Baxter – All About Eve, The Magnificent Ambersons). Nefretiri and Moses are in love, but if Ramses II is named she has no choice but to marry him.
While he is building a city in honor of Sethi Moses finds out the truth about himself, that he is an Hebrew. Moses is arrested and brought to Sethi in chains. Sethi asks him if he is the deliverer that the prophets have spoken of. Moses says he is not sure what he is, but that if he had the chance he would free the slaves.
Not wanting to have him killed for fear that he become a martyr, Sethi banishes Moses to the desert. After Sethi dies Ramses becomes the next pharaoh and Nefretiri is his queen. Moses climbs the mountain at Sinai where he hears the voice of God. He decides to return to Egypt in order to free the chosen people.
The theme of the film is whether men are to be ruled by God or a dictator? You don’t have to believe in God to like it as it is really about a man who fights for equality, freedom from slavery for all men and against evil.
Everything about the picture is huge. The costumes, cast, budget, story, acting, music, and sets. For God’s sake, they even depict the parting of the Red Sea! It even has an intermission as it is 3 hours and 39 minutes long. Nothing subtle about it. Even after 50 years it is still impressive visually and stylistically.
The entire cast is up to snuff in this epic. Charlton Heston in his iconic turn as Moses. He totally possesses the look; it almost seems like he towers over everyone else in the film. And the voice – slow, commanding and almost scary – well, don’t even get me started! No one plays pompous majesty like Yul Brynner. Arrogant and a snob, Brynner’s Ramses II is a man you love to hate. Anne Baxter is totally campy in her turn as the temptress, Nefretiri.
An hour-long documentary on the making of The Ten Commandments, “Making Miracles.”
* Commentary by Katherine Orrison, author of “Written in Stone: Making Cecil B. DeMille’s Epic, The Ten Commandments” on both the 1956 Feature Film and the 1923 Silent Film.
* Newsreel footage from the 1956 World Premiere in New York.
* An extensive photo gallery packed with never-before-seen photos from the Cecil B. DeMille’s BYU Archives.
* A “Making of” Trailer from 1956 as well as Theatrical Trailers for subsequent re-releases of the film
* Hand-tinted footage of the Exodus and Parting of the Red Sea Sequence from the 1923 Silent Film.