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The 10 Commandments

April 7, 2008

I had actually planned to write about Charlton Heston, the legendary Hollywood actor,who passed away couple of days back on April 5. But considering that Heston’s repertorie of movies
was way too vast to put in a review, my other option was to review one of his movies. Heston gained fame for playing Biblical and historical characters, and some of his more famous characters included Gen Gordon( Khartoum), Michaelangelo( The Agony and the Ecstasy), Mark Antony( Julius Caesar) to name a few. And though famed for his bilblical epics, Heston also acted in sci fi movies like Planet of the Apes and Solyent Green. To be honest Charlton Heston was never one of my favorite actors, i found him rather wooden and stiff, in most of his movies. But he had a good dialog delivery from his theater background, and coupled with his personality, made him perfect to be cast as the historical, larger than life characters in those numerous epics and costume dramas. And i personally feel Marlon Brando, Burt Lancaster, Robert Mitchum, Henry Fonda were much better actors of his generation. But for me Heston would be memorable because of the two Biblical epics, Ben Hur and The 10 Commandments.

The 10 Commandments is set in the ancient Egypt of the Pharaohs, under whom the Hebrew tribe worked as slaves. The Pharaoh, Ramses I, had ordered the slaying of all Hebrew first borns, after listening to a prophecy that one of the first born shall be the Deliverer, the one who shall deliver the Hebrews from bondage. One of the first borns is left in a wicker basket on the Nile river, where he is spotted by Queen Bitiah, the sister of Pharaoh Seti I. She names him Moses as she had found him by the side of the reeds, and she treats him as her own son. Moses(Charlton Heston) is now a victorious general, and takes up the challenge of building a city for the victory celebrations of Seti I. It is during this time he comes into contact with Hebrew slaves who are being used as forced labor. Appalled by the treatment meted out to them, Moses takes many steps for their welfare, which naturally angers his foster brother, and the Pharaoh’s actual son, Rameses( Yul Brynner). Rameses who is also jealous of Moses succesfully taking up the task he failed to do, tries to instigate the Pharaoh against Moses, saying that the Hebrew slaves consider him their Deliverer. Moses however convinces Seti, that he is making the workers more productive, by instituting such steps, and pleased with the progress on the city, the Pharaoh, does not trust Ramses.

Moses however comes to know that he is in reality a Hebrew slave and not the Prince of Egypt. Moses now renounces his royal comforts and begins to work with the slaves, to learn of their difficulties. The woman he loves Princess Nefretiri( Anne Baxter) tries to bring him out, but in vain. In the meanwhile Moses saves Joshua( John Derek) from death at hands of the Master Egyptian builder Baka. He is however turned to Ramses on the charge of murder by the devious Dathan( Edward G Robinson), a Hebrew himself, but one who betrays his own tribe, by working as an overseer for the Pharaohs. Moses informs Joshua that he is a Hebrew Slave actually, following which Joshua proclaims him as the Deliverer. Dathan uses his knowledge to his benefit, and bargains with Ramses for the post of Governor as also the hand of Joshua’s beloved Lilia, in favor of which he would hand Moses as a prisoner. Seti asks Moses to say he is not the Deliverer, to which he agrees provided he frees all the Hebrew slaves from bondage. Bitihia also confesses that she had picked up Moses from the reeds, and she knew that he was Hebrew from the cloth covering him. The grief stricken Seti banishes Moses to the Desert and proclaims Ramses to be the next Pharaoh, and also announces the marriage of Ramses to Nefretiri.

Watch the rest of the movie to see how Moses survives in the desert, his encounter with God, and how he finally delivers the Hebrews from bondage. The 10 Commandments is Hollywood spectacle at its best( or worst depending on your view point). Cecil B.De Mille was the master showman of Hollywood and he revelled in spectacle. And for a biblical epic, The 10 Commandments has some spectacular scenes.

* The parting of the Red Sea

* The inscription of the 10 Commandments by God.

* The scenes of the Exodus as the slaves migrate from Egypt.

* The scenes where the various plagues rain upon the Pharaoh and Egypt.

* The angel of death, taking away the first born child of every Egyptian.

* The scene where Moses succesfully manages to complete the building of the city.

* Moses first encounter with God on Mt.Sinai.

* Moses journey through the desert.

Also there are some excellent dramatic sequences too.

* Moses asking Seti to free the Hebrew slaves.

* Moses comming to know the truth about his birth.

* Dathan bargaining with Ramses and promising to turn Moses in.

* The scene where Nefretiri mocks Ramses at allowing the slaves to go.

On the flipside, the movie could have certainly done with a lot of trimming. Some of the scenes just go on and on, especially the interludes between Moses and Nefretiri. But then brevity and subtlety had never been the hallmarks of Cecil B De Mile’s movies. Also some of the scenes are too theatrical, and do not deliver the necessary impact.

The production values are top class, as can be seen by the detail given to the costumes and the way the ambience of ancient Egypt has been created. Eleanor Bermstein’s operatic score fits in perfectly with the epic nature of the movie.

Charlton Heston fits the role of Moses perfectly. As i had stated earlier, Heston, was not the greatest of actors, but his imposing physique and flawless diction made him perfect for these kind of Biblical roles.

Yul Brynner shines as the arrogant, insecure, jealous Ramsese. And he shows his vulnerable side too, when he breaks down over the death of his son.

Anne Baxter is however plain irritating as Princess Nefretiri, with her mannerisms and ham handed acting.

Edward Robinson is first rate as the slimy, scheming Dathan, with his smirks and devious expressions.

Inspite of its length and some very theatrical scenes, i would still recommend this movie for its sheer spectacle and some excellent dramatic scenes. Not to be missed at all.
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