These days, when Hollywood attempts a Biblical epic for the big screen, the results are as likely to be embarrassing as edifying. Rather than rehashing the shortcomings of Noah (Galaxy Quest called, and they want their rock people back) or Exodus: Gods and Kings (nothing like God as a sulky kid), lets look at one time when the movie stars truly aligned.
A few years before his death, Cecil B. DeMille made the 1956 Old Testament drama The Ten Commandments which had its yearly ABC airing on Easter Sunday and here are 10 reasons why its awesome even today:
1: Men. Both Charlton Heston (Moses) and Yul Brynner (Ramses) may wear skirts for most of the movie and theyve got the legs for it but youd be hard-pressed to find two more naturally masculine actors squaring off. Theyre not overgrown boys trying to look tough, or angsty arrested adolescents, theyre just grown men, and they wear it as easily as they wear a a robe or a crown. Oh, yeah, and theres John Dereks stonecutter Joshua. Yes, there is.
2: Women. From Nina Fochs warm and sympathetic Bithia (Moses adopted mother) to Yvonne de Carlos quietly beautiful Sephora (Moses wife) to Anne Baxters delightfully snarky Egyptian princess Nefretiri and even the single line from the Ethiopian kings sister, uttered with purring perfection by Esther Brown the women are the glue that holds it all together.
3: The script. Its faithful to the Scriptures where it needs to be and at those moments, it can get a bit stiff and creaky but in between, the screenwriters have some fun, especially with the Pharaoh Seti (Cedric Hardwicke). As Moses arrives with the tribute from Ethiopia and the high priest intones Moses virtues, Hardwicke looks to Baxter and quips, Old windbag. Hes got a lot of those.
4: The special effects. From the raising of Setis treasure city to the parting of the Red Sea, the pre-CGI marvels are a testament to imagination and skill, with zero computer assistance.
5: Sets and costumes. Again, with no CGI to multiply crowds or create interiors from green-screen nothingness, the gorgeousness of the rooms and the props boggles the mind. Just to look at the bejeweled and embroidered accents on Baxters outfits in HD is enough of a treat.
6: Relationships. The tense father-son exchanges between Ramses and Seti; Ramses and Moses prickly brother dynamic; Setis broken heart at Moses betrayal of his Egyptian upbringing; Sephoras realization of the limitations of her marriage, whether the intrusion is Moses lingering love for Nefretri or his newfound passion for God; to Bithias enduring mothers love this movie gets how people love and hate each other.
7: Memnet. Although shes a slave and the daughter of a slave, Bithias (and Nefretiris) servant Memnet has pride in being Egyptian and deeply resents the son of Hebrew slaves being raised up close to the throne of her nation. Whether fueled by jealousy or patriotic pride, I love her slow-burn anger.
8: Dathan. Edward G. Robinsons obsequious Hebrew overseer with his rats ears and ferrets nose, as Ramses puts it is every political toady and self-hating yes man rolled into one oily package.
9: Respect. The script and production respect the Biblical source material, but they also respect Egypt (even if there are some howling historical inaccuracies). Both sides are taken seriously; both have their heroes and villains; and you feel for both.
10: God. Whether as a voice from the burning bush or the inscriber of the Ten Commandments, God is powerful, enigmatic and, well, godlike not a Monty Python cartoon character or a cranky child.
Dear Hollywood: Watch this one again, and take notes.