At the Movies with Alan Gekko: The Ten Commandments “56”

MPAA Rating: NR/ Genre: Biblical Drama/ Stars: Charlton Heston, Yul Brynner, Anne Baxter, Edward G. Robinson, Yvonne De Carlo, Debra Paget, John Derek, Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Nina Foch, Martha Scott, Judith Anderson, Vincent Price, John Carradine, Olive Deering, Douglass Dumbrille, Frank de Kova, Henry Wilcoxon, Eduard Franz, Donald Curtis, Lawrence Dobkin, H. B. Warner, Julia Faye/ Runtime: 220 minutes

At the beginning of time, the Lord created the Earth, the Heavens, and even found time to create little old us (and in his image no less). Yet while Man has become both tragically imperfect, and quite heavy in the way of sin since that day, can I just say that our species really has done some pretty amazing stuff during our time on this planet? I mean not only have we climbed to the highest of peaks and descending to the deepest depths, but we also have made things that to this day still have the propensity to conjure up a feeling of awe and wonder. Indeed Man truly has done all of these extraordinary things through that which your deity of preference has given us be it our assumed dominion over nature or our ingenious talent to reason and keep moving forward. As for the Earth, well we may have come from the dust of the earth, but it is on this planet that we see our species continue to find new ways to utilize everything we have been gifted for purposes both good and nefarious in nature. The reason I bring this up is because all the other extraordinary things mankind has created is the medium of art known as film. An art form that, although becoming tragically more and more corporatized, is still one in which I feel that we as a species can showcase our phenomenal gift of creativity and utilize it for a variety of purposes including recreating a specific era of history or in conjuring up a world of wonder the likes of which we have only been able to see, until that point, in the eye of our mind. The reason I bring this up to you dear reader is because there once was a man by the name of Cecil B. DeMille, chose to use film in order to retell for audiences the story found in the Bible of a man by the name of Moses. A man who, according to the Bible, was God’s chosen servant to lead his people, the Hebrews, out of bondage and through whom we were given a set of rules that, alongside the teachings of Jesus, remain cornerstone lessons in the faith known as Christianity. To that end, it should be noted that the film The Ten Commandments is a true accomplishment in both the legacy of mankind as well as that of film. Indeed it is a film of both visual awe as well as a loving and respectful retelling of one of the most significant tales ever told, but it is also even to this day a movie that is built upon a set of inspiring principles that now and always will be seen as significant to living your best possible life should you wish to do so.

The plot is as follows: In the aftermath of the days of Jacob and Isaac, as told by the Christian Bible, man was without someone to guide them and thus found themselves forming power dynamics that saw man ruling over his fellow man. Nowhere was this truer than in the land of Egypt where the Egyptian people ruled over a group known as the Hebrews who were for all intents and purposes their slaves that they put to work doing the most grueling and literally back-breaking work imaginable. Yet through all their misery, pain, and anguish, the Hebrews stayed strong due to their belief in the story that one day God would send one of their own to them who would be able to aid them in at long last becoming free men once more. However when Pharaoh Ramses I is told of this prophecy and on no less than the night the Hebrews’ alleged savior is to come into the world, we see this fearful ruler order the utter annihilation of ever Hebrew male child being born that night. During the chaos however, we see a babe by the name of Moses is inserted into a basket and sent on a little cruise down the Nile where he is eventually found by Pharaoh’s daughter Bithiah who comes to claim the child as her own. Thus as time passes we see Moses blossom into a truly great Egyptian man who not only is a fantastic leader of the military forces, but who also has the eye of his father and is believed to actually be named next ruler of Egypt over Pharaoh’s own son Ramses.

Thus, upon returning home from another triumphant military campaign in Ethiopia, we see that Moses is assigned to oversee construction of an immense city being built in honor of Pharaoh whilst Ramses is assigned to investigate further into trying to ascertain if there is any truth to this story of a savior that the Hebrew slaves continue to hold out hope for. Yet while overseeing the construction of the city, we see that Moses is finally able to witness just what the Hebrew people are going through for himself and as a result not only saves a woman from what would easily have been her death, but also instructs the Egyptian overseers to give the Hebrews grain and one day of relaxation per week of work for their efforts Of course neither Ramses nor dear ol’ dad are really approving of this particular chain of events, but making matters worse is that eventually it is uncovered just who Moses truly is and when this word gets back to Ramses we see that he is able to convince his father just to exile Moses since killing him might turn him into a martyr. To that end, while we see that Moses is left to die in the immense and hot desert of Egypt, we see that God’s plan for this man has now at long last been put into play. Thus we soon see that with God finally making himself known to our intrepid hero that Moses is assigned with the charge of living up to his destiny and becoming the very man that the Hebrews have been waiting for so long to come into their lives and at long last lead them home…

Now I think it should be noted right off the bat that The Ten Commandments is a movie that can speak for itself or rather speak for its distinct and iconic source material that it is an adaptation of. Indeed inspired by the book of Exodus found in the Bible, so called due to the huge-scale departure of the Israelites from Egypt, this film from helmer Cecil B. DeMille is not only a look at the tale of Moses, but also, according to the helmer himself, a tale of how freedom was born, and how the most fundamental wish of human beings is to live life the way they would like to rather than have someone else tell them how to live their life. Yet although that is the foundation of the narrative, we see that behind those 2 core concepts is also a story about God’s, according to Christianity, awe-inspiring power and overwhelming grace which makes up the heart of the film and which if the film lacked would result in the narrative not unfolding as majestically as it does. Indeed this is a film which more than all the astonishing visual effects work and the truly dynamic work from the cast it has assembled works because of the message that the strength of the Lord is such that it can defeat all obstacles, an idea incidentally that is a recurring theme in the Bible itself. Of course I guess you should know that the ideas of “ask and ye shall receive” and “look and ye shall find what thou is looking for” aren’t exactly old-school translations for “get what you want right now, and get it for free”. I mean I’m sorry to disappoint, but God, at least according to the Christian faith, is not the Genie from Aladdin. Yet be that as it may be though, the tale of the Israelites’ exodus is one that demonstrates for the believer of how God utilizes a mix of the things that we go through in this life and in truly phenomenal occurrences that truly defy all explanation to lead one man’s heart towards doing good and another’s heart to harden and become stubborn and obstinate. Indeed more than anything dear reader the tale of Moses is a tale about the majesty of God’s power, the power that faith can have in one’s life, and the strength a person can have when God finally fulfills his promises. Yes it was not easy for these people to believe for as long as they did, but nevertheless the tale does showcase just how important keeping the faith in any set of circumstances truly can be.

Now it shouldn’t be that much of a surprise to say there I feel that if the movie was just a one-note play by play of all the key moments in the tale of Moses then there would be no reason to sit down and watch this for four hours other than you really need something on to help you get a nap in. Suffice it to say then that this slice of cinematic pie needed to be something on the level, or as close to as possible, as the timeless tale that it is an adaptation of. Thankfully, this film is a truly timeless entry in the world of film that for some might not visually seem as magical as the films of today, but that from a thematic point of view is able to ensnare just what this narrative provides to its audience and does it with a majesty that even modern movie magic can rarely compete with. Yet what makes this film ultimately the most fulfilling it could hope to be is both the majesty and awe of the visuals and the truly top-notch acting work done by its powerhouse cast. Indeed in regards to the former, it should be noted that both the sets and the costumes in this film are truly something to behold. Indeed the movie seems deadset on conjuring up a phenomenal in the way of details period look which, although I’m unsure of the total accuracy of, does manage to dazzle with a lovely style that gives the film quite a bit of support visually to aid in the lifting of the important narrative at the heart of anything. As for the latter area, I feel it should be known that in the lead Charlton Heston is absolutely incredible. Indeed not only does he have a control of the part that is second to none, but the transformation he takes his character through is something else entirely though the physical aspects wilter just a tad in comparison to the pathos transformation that also takes place. Indeed it is Heston’s absolute masterclass performance that makes for enough reason to view this film even though the performance has a couple of moments where Heston, as he was kind of known for, overacts just a little bit. On the other side of the coin is the iconic thespian Yul Brynner who does a wonderful job at giving the role of Rameses a brilliant amount of arrogance and stoicism that manages to be brilliantly paired to the best descriptor of the character in the form of his “hardened heart” whilst also showcasing his single-minded obsession with taking Moses down a peg or 10 brilliantly. Yes the rest of cast of performers in this is absolutely phenomenal in their respective roles, but it is Heston and Brynner who take top honors. Not only for their clear way of taking over the screen and thus making the film theirs, but for how they take all these other performances and have them complement their performances rather than let the power of their performances utterly overwhelm everyone else’s.

All in all I am pleased beyond words to let you know dear reader that The Ten Commandments is one of the finest of the old-school epic films ever put to film and showcased on the silver screen. Yet not only is this film a truly riveting poster child for what filmmaking could accomplish during the Golden Age of Hollywood when it was working at the pinnacle of excellence, but it is also a film that is constructed around a truly eternal tale of belief, freedom, and the power to be stronger than any enemy put in your path that is taken straight from some of the holiest text on the planet, and transformed into a genuine masterpiece that is as glorious visually as it is riveting and satisfying from a thematic and pathos point of view and phenomenally orchestrated by both sides of the camera. Suffice it to say then that for a film legend like Cecil B. DeMille this is not only heck of a film to end your career on, but it is also an honor to have your last film turn out to be one of the finest films that anyone in the land of movie magic has ever made. On a scale of 1-5 I give The Ten Commandments “56” a solid 5 out of 5.