“So let it be written, so let it be done.”
A seer has prophesized the birth of a slave who will rise up and lead the Hebrew people from bondage against Egypt. To prevent the prophecy from coming true the Pharaoh orders that all newborn Hebrew males be killed. To try to save her son a Hebrew woman named Yochabel (Martha Scott) puts her infant in a basket and sends him down the Nile. Yochabel’s daughter Miriam (Babette Bain) follows the basket down river and sees the Pharaoh’s sister Bithiah (Nina Foch) find the basket and decide to keep the child as her own. Bithiah doesn’t care that the baby is not Egyptian. She names the child Moses. Her servant Memnet (Judith Anderson) is the only other person that knows Moses is Hebrew.
Moses (Charlton Heston) grows up as Bithiah’s son and the adopted son of her brother, Pharaoh Sethi (Sir Cedric Hardwicke), and the brother of Sethi’s actual son Rameses (Yul Brynner). Sethi will have to decide who will be Pharaoh when he dies, Moses his adopted son or Rameses his biological son. Sethi’s daughter Nefretiri (Anne Baxter) is to marry whoever he names as Pharaoh. Nefretiri is in love with Moses and is hoping he will be Pharaoh.
When Moses finds out he is actually the son of Hebrew slaves he confronts Bithiah who denies it but he follows her to the house of Yochabel where he learns the truth. Needing to know who he is Moses begins working among the slaves. When the head builder Baka (Vincent Price) tries to kill a stonemason named Joshua (John Derek) for coming to the aid of Lilia (Debra Paget), the woman he loves, Moses intervenes and kills Baka. Moses is arrested and brought to Sethi and Rameses where he admits his true heritage. Sethi declares Rameses as his heir. Rameses banishes Moses and leaves him in the desert to die.
Moses manages to cross the desert to Midian where he finds a well belonging to a Bedouin sheik named Jethro (Eduard Franz). Jethro takes him in and teaches him how to be a Sheppard. Moses marries Jethro’s eldest daughter Sephora (Yvonne De Carlo). Moses is content watching his sheep and being with Sephora till one day Joshua comes looking for him. Joshua believes Moses is the chosen one but Moses isn’t buying it. Then he sees a bush on Mount Sinai that is burning but not being consumed. He climbs the mountain and hears the voice of God telling him that he is the one who must go to Egypt and free his people. Moses sets off for Egypt with Joshua to confront Rameses who is now Pharaoh. Moses has his work cut out for him and will need all the help he can get from God.
“The Ten Commandments” was released in 1956 and was directed by Cecil B. DeMille. It is a biblical sword and sandal film and an epic religious drama. It depicts the life of Moses and his mission to free the Hebrew slaves of Egypt, deliver them to the promised land and give them the Ten Commandments. It was mostly filmed on location in Egypt, Mount Sinai and the Sinai Peninsula. It is a remake of the 1925 silent film “The Ten Commandments” also by Cecil B. DeMille. The film was nominated for seven Academy Awards. Charlton Heston’s altered voice was used for the voice of God during the scene with the burning bush. DeMille did the voice over for the narrator. It is unclear who did the voice for the finger of God in the creation of the Ten Commandments segment.
The film is not only a visual masterpiece it is a compelling story with impressive sets and special effects that are still talked about well over sixty years later.
The parting of the Red Sea was done by large "dump tanks" that were flooded. Then the film was shown in reverse. The two frothing walls of water were created by water dumped constantly into "catch basin areas". The foaming, churning water was visually manipulated and used sideways for the walls of water. Gelatin was added to the tanks to give the water a consistency like sea water.
The hailstorm was created with travelling mattes, while animation was used for the lightning. The hailstones were pieces of popcorn that had been spray-painted white. The fire that emerges from the hailstones was done using a double exposure process. After filming the action scenes the set was cleared. The crew then set portions of the set on fire. The hail and fire falling on Rameses was then superimposed to achieve the effect of flames emerging from the hail.
The pillar of fire that blocks the Egyptians at the Red Sea and the finger of God that writes the Ten Commandments were animated composites and bluescreen backgrounds created by Disney animator Joshua Meador. The swirling white sparks were burning magnesium filmed in slow motion.
Heston's newborn son Fraser C. Heston played the infant Moses.
John Derek, who plays Joshua, was at one time or another married to Ursula Andress, Linda Evans and Bo Derek.