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The cross of the Red Sea, a composited photo that includes live action, matte paintings, and also special effects.

You are watching: So it is written so it shall be done


The Egyptian sets room magnificent, enormous, glossy and detailed, populated by numerous costumed extras. Yet the staging, perhaps inadvertently, goes past ‘authenticity’ –the lingering sense of Hollywood grandiloquence generates suspicion that the following day Gene Kelly could stage a huge dance scene on the same set. The score through Elmer Bernstein, soaring and heroic, also raises the film up however sets it as a mid-century production.

When the action moves to medium shots of Moses (played by Heston’s infant child Fraser) gift rescued native the Nile, Israelites functioning in dirt pits, or the alleys of Pithom, over there is tiny sense the scale, depth, or dirt; these studio sets fall flat. Sadly, the most important divine interventions, the burn Bush, pillar of Fire, Moses’ employee transformed right into a snake, and the fiery creation of the tablet computers of the law, room animated. These flaming cartoon effects are around as unpersuasive as the ‘monster from the id’ in another 1956 hit, Forbidden Planet. ~ above this we might pine for modern special effects.


But the film’s love is the acting, namely the see chewing love triangle that Heston, Yul Brynner, and also Anne Baxter. Heston – favored in component because that his resemblance to Michelangelo’s Moses – jobs a stolid upper Midwestern masculinity that is linked with few actors today. Unlike his revolutionary contemporary, Marlon Brando, Heston’s emotion and vulnerability had to it is in accessed v a difficult shell. Over there is a straight line through Heston’s most famed roles, native Moses come Ben-Hur, all the means to George Taylor, marooned top top a world of damned, dirty apes. That is slow-moving to it is in provoked, but then, watch out.

In contrast, the Siberian born Brynner exuded exoticism, befitting a duty like the King Mongkut that Siam, for which he had end up being famous in Rodgers and also Hammerstein’s The King and also I. His Rameses is additionally played within a small emotional range, v quiet seething and couple of outbursts. Yet Brynner’s herbal authority was critical to projecting both Rameses’s imperiousness and also blindness.


Finally, over there is Ann Baxter, granddaughter of a candid Lloyd Wright and also a Hollywood journey woman, that plays the vampish Queen Nefretiri together a manipulative bad girl. The subplot of her short-lived romance v Moses then unhappy marital relationship to Rameses is entirely invented and gives the movie a 1940s feeling of love triangles and femme fatales. Yet Baxter reliably delivers few of the film’s cheesiest (“Oh, Moses, Moses, you stubborn, splendid, adorable fool!”) and also most bitter lines (“You allow Moses kill my son. No god can bring him back. What have you done to Moses? just how did the die? Did the cry because that mercy when you tortured him? bring me to his body! I desire to watch it, Rameses! I desire to check out it!”)


To the modern eye, or certain modern-day sensibilities, the primary cast is additionally disconcertingly “white.” To respond to we might allude to the short presence of the differentiated African American actor, and professional soccer player, Woodrow Strode, together the Ethiopian King, and several thousand Egyptian military personnel as, well, the Egyptian Army. Like any film, it is a product that its times.

For every superior actor prefer Cedric Hardwicke (Seti) or Nina Foch (Bithia) there are one-dimensional hacks prefer John Derek (Joshua) or the stroked nerves girls that played Jethro’s daughters together giggly flibbertigibbets. Still, DeMille to be both a craftsman and also eminently practical; rope swinging hunks prefer Derek were box office draws, and veteran character actors like Edward G. Robinson, Vincent Price and John Carradine retained the non-Biblical B-story going when Heston and Brynner were turn off screen.

But does it still work? The genuine star that The Ten Commandments is God, who speaks straight to Moses and also works miracles that eventually convince Rameses to let the Israelites go. Divine intervention and also national liberation is the significance of the Biblical account. What a comparison with Ridley Scott’s 2014 retelling, wherein Moses is a flexibility fighter and also God a vision on through a blow to the head the a kid brought, or the 1998 animated Prince the Egypt, whereby Moses cries since of the plagues and with music numbers the sound prefer rejects indigenous Frozen.

In 1923 DeMille made 2 parallel stories to highlight the decay of modern-day values, but in 1956 that opted for a more subtle approach. He makes God the star, and also liberation the central theme, and through clever dialogue and narration Americanizes the Exodus once again. However Cold battle made the comb far higher than also those that killed Mrs. McTavish. “Man took rule over male – the overcame were made to serve the conqueror – the weak made come server the strong,” the narrator – DeMille self – intones. Moses’ critical words in the film, “Go – proclaim liberty throughout every the lands, depend all the occupants thereof” (Leviticus 25:10), also inscribed ~ above the Liberty Bell, make the connection between ancient Israel and also America clear.


Film tells us not ‘who us are’ yet how we check out ourselves at any type of given moment. Perhaps every generation gets The Ten Commandments that it wants. There room no ‘timeless’ films yet DeMille’s The Ten Commandments come closer 보다 many, because of its topic matter, epic scale, and outsized social impact. Whether its messages of human liberty and the enduring connection of God and also the Israelites still resonate, in America or elsewhere, is one more question.

Alex Joffe is the editor the The ancient Near eastern Today.

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