The Ten Commandments (1956) Review

Director: Cecil B. DeMille

Genre(s): Adventure, Drama

Runtime: 220 minutes (standard cut), 231 minutes (roadshow cut)

MPAA Rating: G

IMDb Page

All the way back in Biblical times, Moses (Charlton Heston), a Hebrew raised in the royal family of Egypt, sets out to free the Jewish people from their status as slaves in Egypt, putting him on a collision course with the dictatorial pharaoh, Rameses II (Yul Brynner). This is one of those spare-no-expenses epics from the Golden Age of Hollywood that throws everything imaginable at the audience in an effort to compete with the rising medium of television. It certainly is one of the biggest movies of all time, but is it one of the best?

Make no mistake, this is one very long picture, running nearly four hours in its roadshow form. However, it has a more purposeful gait than many of the other films in this style. It may have a leave-nothing-on-the-cutting-room-floor approach, but the story it tells largely justifies its marathonic runtime. Sure, some scenes probably could’ve been left out, but The Ten Commandments doesn’t exactly trudge along like a Biblical soap opera. It could easily be seen as a Cold War-era piece of propaganda…a sort of “take that!” to the godless commies.

Perhaps the best aspect of the work is Elmer Bernstein’s majestic musical score. It’s powerful and full of blood and thunder. The special effects and massive scope of the feature are hard to criticize. The heightened, theatrical performances border on high camp, but they work. Charlton Heston’s Moses, who balances stateliness with a Billy Badass attitude, holds the flick together. Some of the casting decisions are – er – interesting, such as Edward G. Robinson as Hebrew collaborator Dathan and Vincent Price as Egyptian slavedriver Baka.

The Ten Commandments, and that other ancient-era epic, Spartacus (1960), stand out from the rest of the sword-and-sandal crowd because of their compelling stories, and because their narratives don’t just sit around, letting spectacle do all of the talking. Pacing is slow, but generally steady. This movie, with its colossal runtime, may be intimidating, but I find it relatively easy to recommend. Whether you believe that the events in the film took place or not, this is a flick that deserves to be watched.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

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