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Cecil B. DeMille
Charlton Heston, Yul Brynner, Anne Baxter
Writing Credits:
Æneas MacKenzie, Jesse Lasky Jr., Jack Gariss, Fredric M. Frank

Egyptian Prince Moses learns of his true heritage as a Hebrew and his divine mission as the deliverer of his people.

Rated G

Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
English Dolby 2.0
French Dolby Monaural
Spanish Dolby Monaural
Portuguese Dolby 2.0
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 220 min.
Price: $39.99
Release Date: 3/10/2020

• Audio Commentary with Author Katherine Orrison
• “Making Miracles” Documentary
• Newsreel
• Trailers
• Photo Galleries
• 1923 Version
• 1923 Version Audio Commentary with Author Katherine Orrison
• 1923 Hand-Tinted Sequence
• 1923 Two-Color Technicolor Segment
• Booklet


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-Marantz SR7010 9.2 Channel Full 4K Ultra HD AV Surround Receiver;
-Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player
-Chane A2.4 Speakers
-SVS SB12-NSD 12" 400-watt Sealed Box Subwoofer.


The Ten Commandments: Deluxe Edition [Blu-Ray] (1956)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 26, 2020)

One of the biggest hits in movie history, 1956’s The Ten Commandments becomes one of those flicks that you feel like you’ve seen even if you haven’t. Charlton Heston’s performance as Moses long ago became a cultural touchstone, so for the last almost 50-plus years, it’s been nearly impossible to envision the character any way other than via Heston.

Whether or not that is a good thing remains to be seen. Commandments attempts to relate the full story of Moses.

In an unusual move, the film starts with an introduction from director/producer Cecil B. DeMille. He tells us a little of Moses’ literary history and sets us up for what we’ll see. It’s an awkward scene, but I’m sure it made the results seem all the more grand and impressive to Fifties audiences.

After DeMille’s speech, we go back to Moses’ beginnings and see how the son of Jewish slaves became an Egyptian prince. Actually, we only witness his initial adoption by Bithia (Nina Foch), the daughter of the pharaoh, an action accompanied by some menace. Servant Memnet (Judith Anderson) also sees this event, and though she promises never to reveal the baby’s ethnic origins, we can tell that she won’t be true to her word.

Once this happens, we jump ahead a few decades and find Moses as a young man. This portion of the film sets up the main characters, especially as they relate to the competitive and antagonistic relationship between Moses and his brother Rameses (Yul Brynner). Both vie to inherit the pharaoh’s throne from aging ruler Seti (Cedric Hardwicke), and they also both want the love of Nefretiri (Anne Baxter), the woman who will marry the next pharaoh.

Actually, that love triangle seems a little complicated. Rameses really lusts after Nefretiri, but she can’t stand him. Moses appears to like Nefretiri, but she’s the one who really pushes that side of the relationship. Moses simply looks as though he can take her or leave her.

Through much of the film’s first half, we watch these relationships unfold, and Moses clearly takes the upper hand. His kinder, gentler administrative style helps create a new city to honor Seti, whereas Rameses’ abusive methods went nowhere. Seti declares that Moses will be the next pharaoh, but complications ensue and Moses’ true background becomes revealed.

After lots of other issues, Moses eventually is banished and forced to cross a nasty desert. Against huge odds, he succeeds, and he then meets the family of Jethro (Eduard Franz).

This shepherd has a wealth of cute daughters, but inevitably, Moses goes for the only one who doesn’t throw herself at him. That would be Sephora (Yvonne De Carlo), and the two eventually wed and bear children.

Some years pass, and Moses finally confronts his true destiny as the deliverer of his people. He chats with God via a burning bush, and he then badgers Rameses - now the pharaoh - to free his people.

Even though Rameses got the girl and the throne, he remains a stubborn jerk, and he refuses to listen to Moses, even when his former brother demonstrates the power of God. Only when the nastiest of plagues slaughters the first-born sons of Egypt does Rameses ultimately relent.

The Israelites head out of Dodge, but not before they have to evade the vengeful Rameses and his troops. Moses evokes another miracle to allow them to cross the Red Sea, and from there, everything should become copacetic.

Unfortunately, his followers are a capricious band. When he takes leave of them for 40 days to commune with God, they assume he either ditched them or died, and at the urging of pro-Egypt swindler Dathan (Edward G. Robinson), they start to party hearty.

Unfortunately for them, Moses again yaks with God, who gives him the titular tablets. Once Moses returns with these documents, the festivities cease, and he punishes the non-believers severely for their trespasses. Ultimately, he waits until all of the fun-lovers have died until he leads their descendants into the Promised Land.

That’s a lot of story, and The Ten Commandments is a lot of movie. Frankly, it seemed like too much movie, largely because I became familiar with the material via 1998’s animated hit The Prince Of Egypt.

Since that 99-minute flick ran less than half as long as Commandments, one might assume that it must be inferior. Logically, Commandments should be richer and truer to the source, and it should offer the more detailed and satisfying experience.

I don’t think that becomes the case, though to be certain, Commandments includes a fair amount of material that didn’t appear during Prince. In the latter, we see nothing of Dathan or Nefretiri, and the animated piece omits the story of Moses’ follower Joshua (John Derek) and his love for Lilia (Debra Paget). Prince also skims through all of the events that occur after the parting of the Red Sea.

However, Prince emphasizes some aspects of the tale that receive little attention during Commandments. We see much more of the interactions between Rameses and Moses, and they’re cast in a totally different light.

I won’t claim to know which is more accurate, but the intimate relationship that goes bad seen in Prince seems to be more resonant and rich. That version shows the pain and indecision felt by both parties, whereas Commandments is much more “old school”. We feel nothing but good from Moses and nothing but bad from Rameses, who is set up as an arrogant bully from the very start.

Prince also better elaborates on Moses’ miracles and the plagues. Honestly, one of my main problems with Commandments is that it inherently functions as a romance.

An inordinate amount of time follows the love triangle, and we also see a lot of the issues that confront Lilia and Joshua. Some attention to male/female relations isn’t out of place in this sort of film, but those aspects seem to overwhelm the meat of the story.

It simply takes forever for Moses to learn the truth about his past, and even then, the movie doesn’t want to pursue that tale. More than two hours pass prior to the intermission, and these elements occupy the majority of that time.

They appear excessive, and they badly slow the pace of the film. We all know where the story will go, and I became rather impatient to see it get there.

Once Moses embarks on his spiritual journey, things began to move better, but we still find too much emphasis on dopey old Nefretiri. At best, she feels like a peripheral character, and once she eventually marries Rameses, she ceases to need to exist in the story. As proven by Prince, the role really is unnecessary, and the excessive attention to her relationships badly hampers the tale.

Baxter’s weak acting doesn’t help. Many of the performances in Commandments seem hammy by modern standards, but Baxter really goes over the top.

It’s difficult to watch any of her scenes and not laugh. Baxter attacks her pieces with such unwarranted gusto and aggression that she makes silent film actors look subdued.

None of the other performers stand out in such a negative way, but none really distinguish themselves either. As Moses, Heston displays his usual stiff work, but I can’t deny that he looks the part.

Or the part looks him - after all these years, it’s tough to separate the two. Heston fails to deliver any subtlety or nuance in the role, but he gives Moses the appropriate presence, and I suppose that counts for something.

Similar comments apply to Brynner’s wooden turn as Rameses. While I think the character should have shown some positives, I guess DeMille wanted Rameses to be a total villain, and Brynner delivers the goods in that regard.

He makes the pharaoh totally hissable and worthy of one’s hate. Again, I feel the Prince Of Egypt approach is superior, as the conflict between familial affection and duty to God really makes the relationship more complex and involving. Commandments’ Rameses is nothing more than a one-dimensional villain.

At this point, The Ten Commandments seems appealing mainly as an example of theatrical camp. Actually, some of the scenes that show miracles could be fairly effective, though my affection for The Prince of Egypt taints those positives, as anything good in Commandments is better in the animated flick.

The latter is simply a much more taut, rich, subtle and involving piece. Commandments lays on the faux-grandeur and attempts to inspire awe too thickly, and I think it looks fairly silly much of the time.

After I watched The Ten Commandments and wrote these comments, I checked out other opinions of the film. I don’t like to do this before I deliver my opinions, for I don’t want them to be affected by other viewpoints.

Frankly, I felt astonished to see so many positive feelings toward this movie. I thought it was slow-paced, poorly acted and overwrought, but a lot of others clearly feel differently.

To each his own, I suppose, but I did want to remark upon one area in which I simply cannot even moderately fathom the praise given to the film. Many folks thought that the movie offered fantastic production values, the likes of which modern films cannot rival. I hope that’s true, for I’d hate to see a recent flick that looked so bad.

I won’t slam Commandments for its dated special effects, and some of them still work pretty well, though the different elements integrate poorly. Commandments used rear projection up the wazoo, and it always seems evident that two separate visual elements were at work.

Since there was no way to stage the parting of the Red Sea in a practical manner, I can’t carp about the film’s attempts. However, I was startled to see how many “locations” actually featured the actors in the studio as they stood before a rear projection backdrop.

Almost anytime we witness the performers in front of outdoor settings, these techniques appear to have been used. The sets themselves were badly unconvincing at times.

For example, when baby Moses sailed down the river, it was patently clear that all of this took place on a soundstage. Many other instances of similar settings occurred throughout the movie.

On one hand, I give The Ten Commandments credit for its attempts to stretch the effects capabilities of the era. However, it used different visual elements in an odd and unconvincing manner that did little other than take me out of the story. Ultimately, much of The Ten Commandments has not held up well over all these decades.

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture A/ Audio B+/ Bonus A-

The Ten Commandments appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.78:1 on these Blu-ray Discs. Disc One provides the first 2:15:48 of the movie, so Disc Two includes its final 1:35:49. I found exceedingly little about which to complain during this gorgeous presentation.

Sharpness seemed excellent. Some visual effects occasionally affected definition, but those instances weren’t a concern. Instead, the majority of the movie displayed terrific clarity and delineation.

No issues with jagged edges or moiré effects appeared, and edge haloes were usually absent. I noticed some ghosting around the 1:46 mark when Moses wandered the desert, but that was it.

Print flaws weren’t a factor. This was a clean presentation, and one that seemed to lack intrusive digital noise reduction, as the movie retained a good feeling of grain.

Colors were a highlight of Commandments. The Technicolor production featured a broad and lively palette, and the disc rendered these hues with fine accuracy and vibrancy.

Reds seemed to be especially brilliant and rich, and I also found greens to come across as strong. When we saw Jethro’s daughters dance for visitors, their outfits showed off the solid nature of the hues.

Black levels also looked deep and dense, and shadow detail appeared natural. Low-light scenes provided appropriately dark but not excessively thick images. The Blu-ray Commandments dazzled.

I also felt the DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack of The Ten Commandments satisfied. Most films of the era provided monaural sound, and even when they included multichannel mixes, the results usually seemed to be fairly uncompelling. However, I thought the soundtrack for Commandments was surprisingly rich and involving.

The soundfield didn’t give us a great deal of variety, but it supported the movie to a good degree. Music offered the most involving aspect of the mix.

Elmer Bernstein’s score showed solid stereo separation, and the surrounds bolstered the music well. Effects were a more limited partner in the affair, though they added some depth to the proceedings. For most of the film, those elements seemed to be essentially monaural in nature, but large crowd sequences opened them up well.

Basically, the bigger the scene, the stronger the environment, and the track became quite active during the movie’s showier pieces. The hailstorm plague was engrossing and active, and the romp through the Red Sea also demonstrated fine dimensionality and breadth to the track.

The rears really came to life well during those sorts of sequences, and I even detected decent split-surround usage. For example, on occasion wind whipped from speaker to speaker. All told, the soundfield showed good life and activity, and it made much of the film livelier than I expected.

Audio quality was also surprisingly fine. At times some speech demonstrated modest edginess, but I felt that most of the dialogue sounded quite good, as Commandments offered speech that was generally warmer and more natural than I expect from the era.

Music lacked tremendous range, but I thought the score came across as fairly well-defined and rich. At times the high end sounded a bit tinny and thin, but for a film of this era, the music was quite clear and vibrant.

Effects also showed mainly positive attributes. They sounded clean and accurate throughout the film, and although they betrayed their age at times, I still found them to appear acceptably realistic and bold.

Some distortion occasionally accompanied these elements - such as when the slaves raised the obelisk - but these occurrences happened infrequently. In the end, I was very happy with the soundtrack of The Ten Commandments.

How did this 2020 Blu-Ray compare with the original 2011 Blu-ray? Both are literally identical, as the 2020 release simply repackages the 2011 discs.

This two-disc release includes only a smattering of the 2006 DVD’s extras, however. Spreading across Discs One and Two, we find an audio commentary from Katherine Orrison, the author of Written in Stone: Making Cecil B. DeMille’s Epic, The Ten Commandments.

Orrison gives us a running, screen-specific track. She doesn’t start to talk until a few minutes into the disc, as she only begins after the overture and DeMille’s introduction. However, once she launches into her chat, she rarely pauses.

Orrison offers one of the best commentaries of this sort I’ve ever heard, and she delves into virtually every aspect of the production. I couldn’t hope to address all the topics she mentions, but she tells us about elements such as casting – including actors considered for the parts – as well as DeMille’s style with the actors, their costumes, and other changes like the need for tinted contact lenses.

Orrison chats about props, sets, locations, and the script. She gets into biographical notes for DeMille and other participants, and she lets us know many factors related to the story’s historical aspects.

Lots of fun trivia bits – including goofs and continuity issues – appear as well as anecdotes from the set. Orrison demonstrates a consistently high level of energy, and she shows great enthusiasm for the film, which she clearly reveres. Although I don’t feel the same way about Commandments, that didn’t prevent me from enjoying this terrific commentary.

Next we get a newsreel called “The Ten Commandments Premiere in New York”. This two-minute, 24-second clip works like most of its ilk, as we watch notables arrive at the screening. It proves to be mildly interesting.

Lastly, the trailers area presents three pieces, all from different eras. Most interesting was the original 1956 “Making Of” ad. At 10 minutes, one second, this was probably the longest trailer I ever witnessed, and it was one of the oddest as well.

Much of the clip shows DeMille. First he expands upon the introduction that starts Commandments, and he also talks about the flick as we see shots from it.

The other two trailers are more pedestrian. One comes from a 1966 reissue, and at 55 seconds in length, it offers much less information.

Lastly, we get a trailer from the 1989 reissue. This one-minute, 43-second snippet mainly touts the wonders of big-screen viewings, and it also promotes the newly-remastered six-track audio.

As noted, the first two discs of this 2020 Deluxe Edition reproduce the standard Blu-ray release from 2011. That era also produced an expensive Limited Edition package, and many of those components show up on this set’s third platter.

Disc Three starts with Making Miracles, a one-hour, 13-minute, 14-second documentary. It includes notes from Orrison, Charlton Heston’s son Fraser C. Heston, Cecile B. DeMille’s granddaughter Cecilia DeMille Presley, Brigham Young University Arts & Communications Archives curator James D’Arc, costume archivist Randall Thropp, jewelry archivist Jaci Rohr, composer Elmer Bernstein and his son Peter Bernstein, film historian Scott Eyman, Paramount VP Andrea Kalas, Paramount EVP Christopher Carey, set visitor Aron Kincaid, and actors Lisa Mitchell, Charlton Heston, and Eugene Mazzola.

“Miracles” looks at the movie’s path to the screen and pre-production, casting and performances, set and costume design, locations, music and effects. We also get lots of anecdotes from the shoot and info about the movie’s release/legacy and its restoration.

Don’t expect an especially linear, coherent documentary from “Miracles”, as it tends to be loose in structure. That said, it still gives us a good look at the film, so the program merits a look.

We also find a Photo Gallery for the 1956 film. It breaks into nine areas: “Storyboards & Concept Art” (16 stills), “Costumes” (41), “Production” (92), “Moses” (8), “Press Kit” (19), “The Stars” (18), “Set Visitors” (8), “Premiere” (12) and “Around the World” (22).

That’s a lot of stills, and we find a treasure trove of materials. Captions would help at times, but this nonetheless becomes a great collection of images.

Disc Three’s biggest attraction, we find the full 1923 Version of The Ten Commandments. Also directed by Cecil B. DeMille, this silent rendition lasts two hours, 16 minutes, 12 seconds and presents a very different take on the film. This one starts with Egypt in the midst of the plagues and progresses through the exodus and the arrival of the Commandments.

Those elements fill the movie’s first 50 minutes and then it takes a very strange twist, as we come to “modern day” and meet the McTavish family. The mother (Edythe Chapman) is a real Bible-thumper, and her nice son John (Richard Dix) follows her. However, son Dan (Rod La Rocque) doesn’t believe in God.

Into their home comes a homeless girl named Mary (Leatrice Joy). Both brothers fall for her, but she marries the sinful, ambitious Dan. The movie follows their triumphs and travails as we learn that God and the Commandments trump everything else.

The Biblical parts of the movie are interesting to see, but the McTavish sections are a real drag. They make this a tedious piece of moralizing with nothing special to it. Those bits could appear in many other stories, and they dilute the potential impact of the Biblical parts, especially since those offer much greater room for power and drama.

I think it’s cool that the 1923 version appears here, as it obviously boasts historical value. Unfortunately, it’s a bad movie.

At least the Blu-ray presents it fairly well, as the film looks much better than one might expect. The image tends toward softness, but I suspect it represents the source as well as it can, and it comes free from source defects.

The added stereo score sounds quite good too. This is a fine presentation of a nearly 100-year-old film.

If desired, we can watch the 1923 Commandments with another audio commentary from Orrison. She provides a running, screen-specific chat.

Orrison tells us biographical information about the cast and crew as well as production notes, comparisons with the 1956 version, and information about the era in which this one was made. Orrison tries particularly hard to put us in that period’s mindset since she believes you need to view a 1923 movie with 1923 eyes.

Unfortunately, I think Orrison simply tells us what she likes about the flick too much of the time, especially during its third act. For the last portion, she does little more than gush about props and narrate the tale.

Still, much of the time she remains chatty and engaging. This commentary doesn’t compare with the one she recorded for the 1956 version, but it does have many good moments.

Disc Three also includes Hand-Tinted Footage of Exodus and Parting the Red Sea. This 21-minute, five-second piece shows those segments with various forms of coloring. I can’t claim the hues add anything to the presentation, but they offer an alternate way to view parts of the film.

The disc comes with Two-Color Technicolor Segment. It spans eight minutes, 43 seconds and shows primitive Technicolor footage created for the film. The material’s in bad shape but it’s still valuable to see as a historic curiosity.

We finish with a Photo Gallery specific to the 1923 film. This brings 32 frames that offer pictures and historical elements. It’s a brief but intriguing collection.

This digibook package also provides a booklet. It offers photos and some basic text notes. While not a great piece, it adds a little value.

After more than 60 years, The Ten Commandments remains the best-known cinematic representation of the life of Moses, but the film doesn’t held up terribly well over the years. From hammy acting to cheesy sets to silly dialogue, Commandments suffers from the overblown pomposity that commonly affected epics. The Blu-ray boasts excellent visuals, very good audio and useful bonus materials. Though the movie doesn’t work for me, this Blu-ray presents it well.

To rate this film, visit the original review of THE TEN COMMANDMENTS

Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main