The Ten Commandments (1956 film)
|The Ten Commandments|
Original theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Cecil B. DeMille|
|Produced by||Cecil B. DeMille|
|Screenplay by||Aeneas MacKenzie
Jesse L. Lasky Jr.
Fredric M. Frank
|Based on||Prince of Egypt
by Dorothy Clarke Wilson
Pillar of Fire
by J.H. Ingraham
On Eagle's Wings
by A.E. Southon
Book of Exodus
Edward G. Robinson
Yvonne De Carlo
|Narrated by||Cecil B. DeMille|
|Music by||Elmer Bernstein|
|Cinematography||Loyal Griggs, A.S.C.|
|Edited by||Anne Bauchens|
Cecil B DeMille production
|Distributed by||Paramount Pictures|
|Box office||$122.7 million
The Ten Commandments is a 1956 American biblical epic film produced and directed by Cecil B. DeMille, shot in VistaVision (color by Technicolor), and released by Paramount Pictures. It dramatizes the biblical story of the life of Moses, an adopted Egyptian prince who becomes the deliverer of his real brethren, the enslaved Hebrews, and therefore leads the Exodus to Mount Sinai, where he receives, from God, the Ten Commandments. It stars Charlton Heston in the lead role, Yul Brynner as Rameses, Anne Baxter as Nefretiri, Edward G. Robinson as Dathan, Yvonne De Carlo as Sephora, Debra Paget as Lilia, and John Derek as Joshua; and features Sir Cedric Hardwicke as Sethi, Nina Foch as Bithiah, Martha Scott as Yoshebel, Judith Anderson as Memnet, and Vincent Price as Baka, among others.
Filmed on location in Egypt, Mount Sinai and the Sinai Peninsula, the film was DeMille's last and most successful work. It is a partial remake of his 1923 silent film of the same title, and features one of the largest sets ever created for a film. At the time of its release on November 8, 1956, it was the most expensive film made.
In 1957, the film was nominated for seven Academy Awards including Best Picture, winning the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects (John P. Fulton, A.S.C.). Charlton Heston was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture (Drama) for his role as Moses. Yul Brynner won the National Board of Review Award for Best Actor for his role as Rameses and his other roles in Anastasia and The King and I. It is also one of the most financially successful films ever made, grossing approximately $122.7 million at the box office during its initial release; it was the most successful film of 1956 and the second-highest-grossing film of the decade. According to Guinness World Records, in terms of theatrical exhibition it is the seventh most successful film of all-time when the box office gross is adjusted for inflation.
In 1999, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". In June 2008, the American Film Institute revealed its "Ten Top Ten"—the best ten films in ten American film genres—after polling over 1,500 people from the creative community. The film was listed as the tenth best film in the epic genre. Network television has aired the film in prime time during the Passover/Easter season every year since 1968.
Pharaoh Rameses I of Egypt has ordered the death of all the firstborn Hebrew male infants after hearing the prophecy of the Deliverer, but a Hebrew mother named Yoshebel saves her own infant son by setting him adrift in a basket on the Nile. Bithiah, the Pharaoh's daughter, who had recently lost both her husband and the hope of ever having children of her own, finds the basket and decides to adopt the boy even though her servant, Memnet, recognizes the child is Hebrew and protests. Because she drew the infant out of the water, Bithiah decides to name the baby Moses.
Many years later, Prince Moses grows up to become a successful general, winning a war with Ethiopia and then entering Egypt into an alliance with them. Moses loves Nefretiri, who is the throne princess and must be betrothed to the next Pharaoh. She reciprocates his love. While working on the building of a city for Pharaoh Sethi's jubilee, Moses meets the stonecutter Joshua, who tells him of the Hebrew God. An incident occurs when an elderly woman is almost crushed to death when her sash gets caught under the slab of stone, prompting Moses to scold overseer Baka. Moses frees the elderly woman, not realizing that she is his natural mother, Yoshebel.
Moses institutes numerous reforms concerning the treatment of the slaves on the project, and eventually Prince Rameses, Moses's "brother", charges him with planning an insurrection, pointing out that the slaves are calling him the "Deliverer". Moses defends himself against the charges, arguing that he is simply making his workers more productive by making them stronger and happier and proves his point with the impressive progress he is making. Rameses had earlier been charged by Sethi with finding out whether there really is a Hebrew fitting the description of the Deliverer.
Nefretiri learns from Memnet that Moses is the son of Hebrew slaves. Nefretiri kills Memnet but reveals the story to Moses only after he finds the piece of Levite cloth he was wrapped in as a baby, which Memnet had kept. Moses goes to Bithiah to learn the truth. Bithiah evades his questions, but Moses follows her to the home of Yoshebel and thus learns the truth, while also meeting his true brother, Aaron, and sister, Miriam.
Although Moses feels no real change from this revelation, he spends time working amongst the slaves to learn more of their lives. Nefretiri urges him to return to the palace so he may help his people when he becomes pharaoh, to which he agrees after he completes a final task. The master builder Baka steals Lilia, who is engaged to the stonecutter Joshua. Joshua rescues Lilia by causing a commotion in Baka's stables. Joshua strikes Baka in the process and gets captured; he is then whipped by Baka for this insult. Moses strangles Baka and frees Joshua, confessing to Joshua that he too is Hebrew. The confession is witnessed by the ambitious Hebrew chief overseer Dathan. In exchange for his freedom, riches and Lilia, Dathan tells about this to Rameses, who then arrests Moses. Brought in chains before Sethi, Moses explains that he is not the Deliverer, but would free the slaves if he could. Bithiah tells her brother Sethi the truth about Moses, and Sethi reluctantly orders his name stricken from all records and monuments, and Rameses is declared the next Pharaoh. Rameses, well aware of his father's (and Nefretiri's ) devotion to Moses, decides not to execute him and make a martyr out of him. Instead he banishes Moses to the desert, where Nefretiri will never know if he survives, or perhaps finds another love. He also tells Moses that Yoshebel had died after delivering a robe of Levite cloth for Moses.
Moses makes his way across the desert, nearly dying of hunger and thirst before he comes to a well in the land of Midian. At the well, he defends seven sisters from Amalekites who try to push them away from the water. Moses finds a home in Midian with the girls' father Jethro, a Bedouin sheik, who reveals that he is a follower of "He who has no name", whom Moses recognizes as the God of Abraham. Moses impresses Jethro and the other sheiks with his wise and just trading, and marries Jethro's eldest daughter Sephora.
While herding sheep in the desert Moses finds Joshua, who has escaped from the copper mines of Ezion-Geber that he was sent to after the death of Baka. Moses sees the burning bush on the summit of Mount Sinai and hears the voice of God. God charges Moses to return to Egypt and free His chosen people. In the meantime, in Egypt, Sethi dies, his last word being Moses's name. Before he dies, he hands over the reins to his son Ramseses, who becomes Rameses II.
At Pharaoh's court, Moses comes before Rameses to win the slaves' freedom, turning his staff into a cobra. Jannes does the same with his staves, but Moses's snake devours his. Rameses decrees that the Hebrews be given no straw to make their bricks, but to make the same tally as before on pain of death. As the Hebrews prepare to stone Moses in anger, Nefretiri's retinue rescues him. He spurns her when she attempts to renew her relationship with him by saying that he is on a mission and is also married.
As Moses continues to challenge Pharaoh's hold over his people, Egypt is beset by divine plagues. Moses turns the river Nile to blood at a festival of Khnum and brings burning hail down upon Pharaoh's palace. Moses warns him the next plague to fall upon Egypt will be summoned by Pharaoh himself. Enraged at the plagues and Moses' continuous demands, as well as his generals and advisers telling him to give in, Rameses orders all first-born Hebrews to die. Nefretiri warns Sephora to escape with her son Gershom on a passing caravan to Midian, and Moses tells the Queen that it is her own son who will die. In an eerily quiet scene, the Angel of Death creeps into Egyptian streets in a glowing green mist, killing all the firstborn of Egypt, including the adult son of Pharaoh's top general, and Pharaoh's own child. The Hebrews who have marked their doorposts and lintels with lamb's blood are eating a hasty meal and preparing to depart. Bithiah reunites with Moses and decides to go with him and his people when they leave. Broken and despondent, Pharaoh orders Moses to leave with the Hebrews. In the following day, the Hebrews, now homeless and uprooted, begin their exodus from Egypt with Dathan, reluctantly, also among them.
Rameses spends the next three days begging Seker to call life back into the body of his son. Nefretiri goads him into such a rage that he arms himself and gathers the elite Egyptian forces and pursues the former slaves to the shore of the Red Sea. When the people see the Egyptian troops heading for them, they beg Moses to save them. Dathan told the Israelites to bring Moses to Rameses. With God's help, he puts out a pillar of fire. Held back by this pillar, the Egyptian forces are afraid to passed the fire. Moses parts the waters with power. As the Hebrews race over, at the seabed, many of them are been injured by a mud, one of them struggling a wagon (at the middle of the road during the Crossing) because of a loose wheel. When they reach the other side of the stormy sea, Joshua told moses to climb at the stone. when the pillar of fire then dies down, Rameses and the army follows them, Rameses stays on the rock where Moses parts the waters. The Hebrews make it to the far shore, one Israelite shouted THE CHARIOTS! PHARAOH'S CHARIOTS ARE COMING! the Israelites run with panic, Dathan wants them come. Moses close the walls of water, drowning every man and horse, except Rameses, who looks on in despair. All he can do is return to Nefretiri, confessing to her, "His god is God". and he sits on the throne sadly.
The former slaves camp at the foot of Sinai and wait as Moses again ascends the mountain with Joshua. During his absence, the Hebrews lose faith. Urged by Dathan, they build a golden calf as an idol to take back to Egypt, hoping to win Rameses' forgiveness. They force Aaron to help fashion the gold plating. The people indulge their most wanton desires in an orgy of sinfulness, Dathan took Lilia for sacrifice for the calf. except for a few still loyal to Moses, including Lilia, Joshua, Sephora, Bithiah, Aaron, and Miriam.
High atop the mountain, Moses witnesses God's creation of the stone tablets containing the Ten Commandments. When Moses finally climbs down and meets Joshua, they both behold their people's iniquity. Moses hurls the tablets at the idol in a rage. The idol explodes, and Dathan and his followers are killed. After God forces them to endure forty years' exile in the desert to kill off the rebellious generation, the Hebrews are about to arrive in the land of Canaan. An elderly Moses, who is not allowed to enter the promised land, because of his disobedience to God at the waters of Strife, appoints Joshua to succeed him as leader, says a final good bye to Sephora, and goes forth to his destiny, Alone with God.... Moses dies. The film depicts With words saying : " IT WAS WRITTEN THAT IT SHALL BE DONE ".
- Charlton Heston as Moses and the voice of God as the Burning Bush in a low register.
- Fraser Heston as The Infant Moses
- Yul Brynner as Rameses II
- Anne Baxter as Nefretiri
- Edward G. Robinson as Dathan
- Yvonne De Carlo as Sephora
- Debra Paget as Lilia
- John Derek as Joshua
- Sir Cedric Hardwicke as Sethi
- Nina Foch as Bithiah
- Martha Scott as Yoshebel
- Judith Anderson as Memnet
- Vincent Price as Baka
- John Carradine as Aaron
- Olive Deering as Miriam
- Babette Bain as Little Miriam
- Douglass Dumbrille as Jannes
- Frank de Kova as Abiram
- Henry Wilcoxon as Pentaur
- Eduard Franz as Jethro
- Donald Curtis as Mered
- Lawrence Dobkin as Caleb
- Delos Jewkes as the voice of God 
- H. B. Warner as Amminadab
- Julia Faye as Elisheba
- Lisa Mitchell as Jethro's daughter (Lulua)
- Noelle Williams as Jethro's daughter
- Joanna Merlin as Jethro's daughter
- Pat Richard as Jethro's daughter
- Joyce Vanderveen as Jethro's daughter
- Diane Hall as Jethro's daughter
- Abbas El Boughdadly as Rameses's Charioteer
- Mimi Gibson as little girl
- John Miljan as The Blind One
- Francis J. McDonald as Simon
- Ian Keith as Rameses I
- Paul De Rolf as Eleazar
- Woodrow Strode as Merops
- Tommy Duran as Gershom
- Eugene Mazzola as Amun
- Ramsay Hill as Korah
- Joan Woodbury as Korah's Wife
- Esther Brown as Tharbis
- Cecil B. DeMille as the narrator
- Addison Richards as fan bearer
The final shooting script was written by Aeneas MacKenzie, Jesse L. Lasky Jr., Jack Gariss, and Fredric M. Frank. It also contained material from the books Prince of Egypt by Dorothy Clarke Wilson, Pillar of Fire by Joseph Holt Ingraham, and On Eagle's Wings by Arthur Eustace Southon. Henry Noerdlinger, the film's researcher, consulted ancient historical texts such as the Midrash Rabbah, Philo's Life of Moses, and the writings of Josephus and Eusebius in order to "fill in" the missing years of Moses' life, and as the film's last opening title card states, "the Holy Scriptures."
Charlton Heston, who had previously worked for DeMille in The Greatest Show on Earth, won the part of Moses after he impressed DeMille (at an audition) with his knowledge of ancient Egypt. Interestingly enough, William Boyd, was considered. Heston acted like a Hebrew character, and won the audition to be Moses in the film.
Heston's newborn son, Fraser (born February 12, 1955), was cast by DeMille (on the suggestion of Henry Wilcoxon, who said to him "The timing's just right. If it's a boy, who better to play the Baby Moses?") as soon as Heston announced to DeMille that his wife Lydia was pregnant. Fraser Heston was three months old during filming.
The part of Nefretiri, the Egyptian throne princess, was considered "the most sought after role of the year" in 1954. Ann Blyth, Vanessa Brown, Joan Evans, Rhonda Fleming, Coleen Gray, Jane Griffiths, Audrey Hepburn, Jean Marie, Vivien Leigh, Jane Russell, and Joan Taylor were considered for the part. DeMille liked Audrey Hepburn but dismissed her because of her figure, which was considered too slim for the character's Egyptian gowns. Anne Baxter (who was considered for the part of Moses' wife) was cast in the role.
Judith Ames, Anne Bancroft, Anne Baxter, Shirley Booth, Diane Brewster, Peggie Castle, June Clayworth, Linda Darnell, Laura Elliot, Rhonda Fleming, Rita Gam, Grace Kelly, Jacqueline Green, Barbara Hale, Allison Hayes, Frances Lansing, Patricia Neal, Marie Palmer, Jean Peters, Ruth Roman, Barbara Rush, and Elizabeth Sellers were considered for the part of Sephora. Grace Kelly, DeMille's first choice, was unavailable. DeMille was "very much impressed" with Yvonne De Carlo's performance as a "saintly type of woman" in MGM's Sombrero. He "sensed in her a depth, an emotional power, a womanly strength which the part of Sephora needed and which she gave it." Sephora is the Douay–Rheims version of the name of Zipporah.
Merle Oberon and Claudette Colbert were considered for the role of Bithiah before DeMille chose Jayne Meadows (who declined) and finally cast Nina Foch, on the suggestion of Henry Wilcoxon, who had worked with her in Scaramouche.
For the role of Memnet, Flora Robson was considered and Bette Davis was interviewed (DeMille's casting journal also notes Marjorie Rambeau and Marie Windsor) but DeMille chose Judith Anderson after screening Alfred Hitchcock's Rebecca.
DeMille was reluctant to cast anyone who had appeared in 20th Century Fox's The Egyptian, a rival production at the time. Several exceptions to this are the casting of John Carradine and Mimi Gibson (in credited supporting roles) and Michael Ansara and Peter Coe (in uncredited minor roles), who appeared in both films.
Commentary for the film's DVD edition chronicles the historical research done by DeMille and associates. Katherine Orrison says that many details of Moses' life left out of the Bible are present in the Quran, which was sometimes used as a source. She also presents some coincidences in production. The man who designed Moses' distinctive rust-white-and-black-striped robe used those colors because they looked impressive, and only later discovered that these are the actual colors of the Tribe of Levi. Arnold Friberg would later state that he was the one who designed Moses' costume. As a gift, after the production, DeMille gave Moses' robe to Friberg, who had it in his possession until his death in 2010. Moses' robe as worn by Charlton Heston was hand-woven by Dorothea Hulse, one of the world's finest weavers. She also created costumes for The Robe, as well as textiles and costume fabrics for Samson and Delilah, David and Bathsheba, and others.
Jesse Lasky Jr., a co-writer on The Ten Commandments, described how DeMille would customarily spread out prints of paintings by Lawrence Alma-Tadema to inform his set designers on the look he wanted to achieve. Arnold Friberg, in addition to designing sets and costumes, also contributed the manner in which Moses ordained Joshua to his mission at the end of the film: by the laying on of hands, placing his hands on Joshua's head. Friberg, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, demonstrated the LDS manner of performing such ordinations, and DeMille liked it.
Pharaoh is usually shown wearing the red-and-white crown of Upper and Lower Egypt or the nemes royal headdress. For his pursuit of the Israelites, he wears the blue Khepresh helmet-crown, which the pharaohs wore for battle.
Sets, costumes and props from the film The Egyptian were bought and re-used for The Ten Commandments. As the events in The Egyptian take place 70 years before the reign of Rameses II, an unintentional sense of continuity was created.
An Egyptian wall painting was also the source for the lively dance performed by a circle of young women at Seti's birthday gala. Their movements and costumes are based on art from the Tomb of the Sixth Dynasty Grand Vizier Mehu. Some of the film's cast members, such as Baxter, Paget, Derek, and Foch, wore brown contact lenses, at the behest of DeMille, in order to conceal their light-colored eyes which were considered inadequate for their roles. Paget once said that, "If it hadn't been for the lenses I wouldn't have got the part." However, she also said that the lenses were "awful to work in because the kleig lights heat them up". When DeMille cast Yvonne De Carlo as Sephora, she was worried about having to wear these contact lenses; she also believed that her gray eyes were her best feature. She asked DeMille to make an exception for her. He agreed, expressing the idea that De Carlo's role was special, and that Moses was to fall in love with her.
The special photographic effects in The Ten Commandments were created by John P. Fulton, A.S.C. (who received an Academy Award for his effects in the film), head of the special effects department at Paramount Pictures, assisted by Paul Lerpae, A.S.C. in Optical Photography (blue screen "travelling matte" composites) and Farciot Edouart, A.S.C., in Process Photography (rear projection effects). Fulton’s effects included the building of Sethi’s Jubilee treasure city, the Burning Bush, the fiery hail from a cloudless sky, the Angel of Death, the composites of the Exodus, the Pillar of Fire, the giving of the Ten Commandments, and the tour de force, the parting of the Red Sea. The parting of the Red Sea was considered the most difficult special effect ever performed up to that time. This effect took about six months of VistaVision filming, and combined scenes shot on the shores of the Red Sea in Egypt, with scenes filmed at Paramount Studios in Hollywood of a huge water tank split by a U-shaped trough, into which approximately 360,000 gallons of water were released from the sides, as well as the filming of a giant waterfall also built on the Paramount backlot to create the effect of the walls of the parted sea out of the turbulent backwash. All of the multiple elements of the shot were then combined in Paul Lerpae's optical printer, and matte paintings of rocks by Jan Domela concealed the matte lines between the real elements and the special effects elements. Unlike the technique used by ILM for Raiders of the Lost Ark and Poltergeist of injecting poster paints into a glass tank containing a salt water inversion layer, the cloud effects for the The Ten Commandments were formed with white Britt smoke filmed against a translucent sky backing, and colors were added optically. Striking portraits of Charlton Heston as Moses and three women in front of menacing clouds were photographed by Wallace Kelly, A.S.C. in Farciot Edouart’s process (rear projection) department, in what are still considered unforgettable scenes. DeMille used these scenes to break up the montage, framing his subjects like a Renaissance master. An abundance of blue screen spillage or "bleeding" can be seen, particularly at the top of the superimposed walls of water, but rather than detracting from the shot, this (unintentionally) gives the scene an eerie yet spectacular appearance. The parting of the Red Sea sequence is considered by many to be one of the greatest special effects of all time.
DeMille was reluctant to discuss technical details of how the film was made, especially the optical tricks used in the parting of the Red Sea. It was eventually revealed that footage of the Red Sea was spliced with film footage (run in reverse) of water pouring from large U-shaped trip-tanks set up in the studio backlot.
The Ten Commandments premiered at New York City's Criterion Theatre on November 8, 1956. Among those who attended the premiere were Cecil B. DeMille and his daughter Cecilia DeMille Harper, Charlton Heston and his wife Lydia Clarke, Yul Brynner, Anne Baxter, Edward G. Robinson, Yvonne De Carlo and her husband Bob Morgan, Martha Scott and her husband and son, John Wayne and his wife Pilar Pallete, Tony Curtis, Janet Leigh, and Barney Balaban. It played on a roadshow basis with reserved seating until mid-1958, when it finally entered general release. It was re-released in 1966 and 1972, and one more time in 1989. The 1972 and 1989 re-issues included 70mm and 35mm prints that reframed the picture's aspect ratio to 2.20:1 and 2.35:1, respectively, cropping the top and bottom of the picture's original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The Ten Commandments was released on DVD on March 30, 1999; March 9, 2004, as a Special Collector's Edition; and March 29, 2011, as a Special edition and Standard edition.
The Ten Commandments was the highest-grossing film of 1956 and the second most successful film of the decade. By April 1957, the film had earned an unprecedented $10 million from engagements at just eighty theaters, averaging about $1 million per week, with more than seven million people paying to watch it. During its initial release, it earned theater rentals (the distributor's share of the box office gross) of $31.3 million in North America and $23.9 million from the foreign markets, for a total of $55.2 million (equating to approximately $122.7 million in ticket sales). It was hugely profitable for its era, earning a net profit of $18,500,000, against a production budget of $13.27 million (the most a film had cost up to that point).
By the time of its withdrawal from distribution at the end of 1960, The Ten Commandments had overtaken Gone with the Wind at the box office in the North American territory, and mounted a serious challenge in the global market—the worldwide takings for Gone with the Wind were reported to stand at $59 million at the time. Gone with the Wind would be re-released the following year as part of the American Civil War Centennial, and reasserted its supremacy at the box office by reclaiming the US record. Also at this time, Ben-Hur—another biblical epic starring Charlton Heston released at the end of 1959—would go on to eclipse The Ten Commandments at the box office. A 1966 reissue earned $6,000,000, and further re-releases brought the total American theater rentals to $43 million, equivalent to gross ticket sales of $89 million at the box office. Globally, it ultimately collected $90,066,230 in revenues up to 1979.
It remains one of the most popular films ever made. Adjusted for inflation, it has earned a box office gross equivalent to $2 billion at 2011 prices, according to Guinness World Records; only Gone with the Wind (1939), Avatar (2009), Star Wars (1977), Titanic (1997), The Sound of Music (1965), and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982) have generated higher grosses in constant dollars.
The Ten Commandments received generally positive reviews after its release, although some reviewers noted its divergence from the biblical text. Bosley Crowther for The New York Times was among those who lauded DeMille's work, acknowledging that "in its remarkable settings and décor, including an overwhelming facade of the Egyptian city from which the Exodus begins, and in the glowing Technicolor in which the picture is filmed—Mr. DeMille has worked photographic wonders." Variety described the "scenes of the greatness that was Egypt, and Hebrews by the thousands under the whip of the taskmasters" as "striking," and believed that the film "hits the peak of beauty with a sequence that is unelaborate, this being the Passover supper wherein Moses is shown with his family while the shadow of death falls on Egyptian first-borns."
The film's cast was also complimented. Variety called Charlton Heston an "adaptable performer" who, as Moses, reveals "inner glow as he is called by God to remove the chains of slavery that hold his people." It considered Yul Brynner "expert" as Rameses, too. Anne Baxter's performance as Nefretiri was criticized by Variety as leaning "close to old-school siren histrionics," but Crowther believed that it, along with Brynner's, is "unquestionably apt and complementary to a lusty and melodramatic romance." The performances of Yvonne De Carlo and John Derek were acclaimed by Crowther as "notably good." He also commended the film's "large cast of characters" as "very good, from Sir Cedric Hardwicke as a droll and urbane Pharaoh to Edward G. Robinson as a treacherous overlord."
Leonard Maltin, a contemporary film critic, gave the film four out of four stars and described it as "vivid storytelling at its best... parting of the Red Sea, writing of the holy tablets are unforgettable highlights."
Rotten Tomatoes retrospectively collected 32 reviews and gave the film a rating of 91%, with the site's consensus stating: "Bombastic and occasionally silly but extravagantly entertaining, Cecil B. DeMille's all-star spectacular is a muscular retelling of the great Bible story."
The Ten Commandments won the Academy Award for Best Special Effects (John P. Fulton). It was also nominated for Best Color Art Direction (art directors Hal Pereira, Walter H. Tyler, and Albert Nozaki and set decorators Sam Comer and Ray Moyer), Best Color Cinematography (Loyal Griggs), Best Color Costume Design (Edith Head, Ralph Jester, John Jensen, Dorothy Jeakins, and Arnold Friberg), Best Film Editing (Anne Bauchens), Best Motion Picture (Cecil B. DeMille), and Best Sound Recording (Paramount Studio Sound Department and sound director Loren L. Ryder). Paramount submitted the names of Yvonne De Carlo, John Derek, and Debra Paget for the supporting player categories (even though they received star billing in the film) at the 29th Academy Awards, but the actors did not receive nominations.
Charlton Heston's performance as Moses was ranked as the 4th Best Performance by a Male Star of 1956 by The Film Daily's Filmdom's Famous Five Poll. Heston was also nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture - Drama and later won the Fotograma de Plata Award for Best Foreign Performer in 1959.
Cecil B. DeMille won many special awards for the film. He received, among others, the Los Angeles Examiner Award, the Boxoffice Blue Ribbon Award for the Best Picture of the Month (January 1957), the Photoplay Achievement Award, and The Christian Herald's Reader's Award for the Picture of the Year (1957).
The Maryland State Council of the American Jewish Congress awarded the Stephen S. Wise Medallion to DeMille for "most inspiring film of the year." Charlton Heston, Yul Brynner, Edward G. Robinson, Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Nina Foch, and Martha Scott also received awards for their acting.
The film was also included in several of the annual top ten film lists, such as those featured in The Film Daily and Photoplay.
The American Film Institute included the film as #10 in the epic film category in AFI's 10 Top 10, #79 in AFI's 100 Years...100 Cheers, and named Moses as the #43 hero in AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes and Villains.
Critics have argued that considerable liberties were taken with the biblical story of Exodus, compromising the film's claim to authenticity, but neither this nor its nearly four-hour length has had any effect on its popularity. In fact, many of the supposed inaccuracies were actually adopted by DeMille from extra-biblical ancient sources, such as Josephus, the Sepher ha-Yashar, and the Chronicle of Moses. Moses's career in Ethiopia, for instance, is based on ancient midrashim. For decades, a showing of The Ten Commandments was a popular fundraiser among revivalist Christian Churches, while the film was equally treasured by film buffs for DeMille's "cast of thousands" approach and the heroic but antiquated early-talkie-type acting.
The Ten Commandments has been released on DVD in the United States on four occasions: the first edition (Widescreen Collection) was released on March 30, 1999 as a two-disc set, the second edition (Special Collector's Edition) was released on March 9, 2004, as a two-disc set with commentary by Katherine Orrison, the third edition (50th Anniversary Collection) was released on March 21, 2006 as a three-disc set with the 1923 version and special features, and the fourth edition (55th Anniversary Edition) was released on DVD again in a two-disc set on March 29, 2011, and for the first time on Blu-ray in a two-disc set and a six-disc limited edition gift set with the 1923 version and DVD copies. In 2012, the limited edition gift set won the Home Media Award for Best Packaging (Paramount Pictures and JohnsByrne).
With the exception of 1999, this film has been broadcast annually on the ABC network since 1973, traditionally during the Passover and Easter holidays. For much of that period ABC has aired it on the evening of Easter Sunday.
Unlike many lengthy films of the day, which were usually broken up into separate airings over at least two nights, ABC elected to show the entire film in one night and has done so every year it has carried The Ten Commandments with one exception; in 1997, ABC elected to split the movie in two and aired half of it in its normal Easter Sunday slot, which that year was March 30, with the second half airing as counterprogramming to the other network offerings on April 1, which included CBS' coverage of the NCAA Men's College Basketball National Championship Game.
The length of the film combined with the necessary advertisement breaks has caused its broadcast window to vary over the years, and as of 2016 ABC's total run time for The Ten Commandments stands at four hours and forty-four minutes. This requires the network to overrun into the 11:00 pm timeslot that belongs to the local affiliates, thus delaying their late local news and any other programming the station may air in the overnight hours. When the film has aired on Easter Sunday, the local ABC affiliates are given the ability to tape delay the showing an hour ahead to 8 p.m. ET/PT to keep their schedules in line for early evening (though at the cost of delaying their local newscasts to 1:00 a.m.), while stations in the Central and Mountain zones often air the film live with the Eastern time zone feed to keep their late local news as close to its regular time as possible, since both areas' Big Three affiliates air their late news at 10:00 pm local time.
In more recent years, ABC chose to air other programming on Easter night and instead aired The Ten Commandments the night before as part of its Saturday night lineup, with the broadcast starting at 8:00 pm Eastern. In 2015, for the first time in several years, the network returned to airing the film on Easter Sunday night, which fell on April 5, this was previously held by two Peanuts specials (It's the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown, and Charlie Brown's All-Stars) the previous two years. In 2016 ABC's broadcast returned to Saturday, thus meaning affiliates again had the option of airing the film at 7:00/6:00 CST or 8:00/7:00 CST.
In 2010, the film was broadcast in high definition for the first time, which allowed the television audience to see it in its original VistaVision aspect ratio.
- Ratings by year (between 2007 and 2016)
|2007||April 7, 2007||TBA||7.87||TBA||TBA||TBA||TBA|
|2008||March 22, 2008||4.7||9||2.3/7||7.91||1||1|
|2009||April 11, 2009||4.2||8||1.7/6||6.81||1||1|
|2010||April 3, 2010||TBA||TBA||1.4/5||5.88||2||3|
|2011||April 23, 2011||1.6/5||7.05||1||1|
|2012||April 7, 2012||6.90||TBA||TBA|
|2013||March 30, 2013||1.2/4||5.90||2||2|
|2014||April 19, 2014||1.0/4||5.87||1||1|
|2015||April 5, 2015||1.4/5||6.80||TBA||TBA|
|2016||March 26, 2016||0.8/3||5.42||TBA||TBA|
- List of American films of 1956
- The Ten Commandments (1923 film)
- The Prince of Egypt
- List of films featuring slavery
- Whitewashing in film
- Louvish 2008, p. 481.
- Reported budgets:
- Block & Wilson 2010, p. 327.
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- "Riselle Bain: Called by the spotlight". Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Sarasota, Florida: New Media Investment Group. December 22, 2014. Retrieved December 24, 2014.
When legendary director Cecile B. DeMille was screening schoolchildren for the role of Moses' older sister Miriam, he asked Riselle Bain if she could recite a poem from memory.... Bain completed all four verses of "Daffodils" and that's the short version of how she wound up in the 1956 classic The Ten Commandments.... She would likely have introduced herself as Babette, her second name, which is how she is credited in the DeMille film and her other Hollywood endeavors.(front page newspaper story with video, Sarasota, Florida) Photo as Miriam.
- Orrison 1999, p. 36.
- Eyman 2010, p. 440.
- The Tomb of Mehu at Saqqara in Egypt
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- Orrison 1999, p. 6.
- Party Time in Ancient Egypt
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- Birchard 2004, ch. 70. The Ten Commandments.
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- "Paramount Reduces 'Ten' Billings Of De Carlo, Derek, Paget To Get 'Em In Oscar Race". Variety. January 4, 1957.
- Bahn, Chester B. (December 26, 1956). "Brynner, Magnani Cop Filmland's Poll Stevens' Direction of 'Giant' Votes Year's Best In National Poll Of Critics; Perkins Is '56 Discovery; 3 Honors To Strasberg". The Sandusky Register. Retrieved May 8, 2014.
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- L. Ginzberg, The Legends of the Jews, Philadelphia 1967; A. Shinan, "Moses and the Ethiopian Woman: Sources of a Story in The Chronicle of Moses", Scripta Hierosolymitana 27 (1978).
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- DeMille, Cecil B. (1959). The Autobiography of Cecil B. DeMille. Prentice Hall. ISBN 0824057570.
- Eyman, Scott (2010). Empire of Dreams: The Epic Life of Cecil B. DeMille. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 1439180415.
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- Louvish, Simon (2008). Cecil B. DeMille: A Life in Art. Macmillan. ISBN 0312377339.
- Noerdlinger, Henry (1956). Moses and Egypt. University of Southern California Press. ISBN 1258130270.
- Orrison, Katherine (1999). Written in Stone: Making Cecil B. DeMille's The Ten Commandments. Vestal Press. ISBN 1461734819.
- Wilcoxon, Henry; Orrison, Katherine (1991). Lionheart in Hollywood: the autobiography of Henry Wilcoxon. Metuchen, NJ and London: The Scarecrow Press, Inc. ISBN 0-8108-2476-0.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to The Ten Commandments (1956 film).|
|Wikiquote has quotations related to: The Ten Commandments|
- Official website
- The Ten Commandments at the Internet Movie Database
- The Ten Commandments at the TCM Movie Database
- The Ten Commandments at Box Office Mojo
- The Ten Commandments at Rotten Tomatoes
- Production design drawings for THE TEN COMMANDMENTS, Margaret Herrick Library, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
- Costume design drawings for THE TEN COMMANDMENTS, Margaret Herrick Library, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences