The Ten Commandments is a 1956 American epic film that dramatized the biblical story of the Exodus, in which the Hebrew-born Moses, an adopted Egyptian prince, becomes the deliverer of the Hebrew slaves. The film, released by Paramount Pictures in VistaVision on October 5, 1956, was directed by Cecil B. DeMille and starred Charlton Heston in the lead role, Yul Brynner as his adoptive brother, Pharaoh Rameses II, Anne Baxter as Nefretiri, Edward G. Robinson as Dathan, Yvonne De Carlo as Sephora, Debra Paget as Lilia, and John Derek as Joshua. The supporting cast includes Sir Cedric Hardwicke as Pharaoh Seti I, Nina Foch as Bithiah, Martha Scott as Yoshebel, Judith Anderson as Memnet, Vincent Price as Baka, and John Carradine as Aaron. The Ten Commandments, which DeMille narrated, was the last film that he ever directed. He was set to direct the 1958 remake of his 1938 film The Buccaneer, but his final illness forced him to relinquish the directing chores to his son-in-law, actor Anthony Quinn. DeMille had also planned to film the life of Lord Baden Powell, the founder of the Scout movement, with David Niven; this project was never realized. The Ten Commandments is partially a remake of DeMille's 1923 silent film. Some of the cast and crew of the 1956 version worked on the original. It has since been remade again as a television miniseries broadcast in April 2006. The Ten Commandments is one of the most financially successful films ever made, grossing over $65 million at the US box office. Adjusting for inflation, this makes it the fifth highest-grossing movie domestically, with an adjusted total of $977 million in 2010. In 1999, The Ten Commandments 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, AFI revealed its "Ten Top Ten"â??the best ten films in ten American film genresâ??after polling over 1,500 people from the creative community. The Ten Commandments was listed as the 10th best film in the epic genre. The film received seven Academy Award nominations including Best Picture, and won the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects. Charlton Heston was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture Actor in the drama category. Yul Brynner won the National Board of Review Award for Best Actor for his role as Rameses, along with his other roles in The King and I and Anastasia.
Shortly after Moses' birth, Rameses I had ordered the slaying of all firstborn male Hebrews to prevent the prophecy of the Deliverer from coming true. Moses' mother (called "Yoshebel" in the film) has him set adrift on the Nile. Bithiah discovers the ark and at once accepts the baby. Her servant Memnet recognizes the Levite pattern on the baby's blanket and protests about serving a son of Hebrew slaves, but Bithiah swears her to secrecy. As a young general, Moses is victorious in a war with the Nubian people of ancient Ethiopia, entering Egypt into an alliance with the conquered Ethiopians. Moses then is charged with building a treasure city for Seti's Jubilee, which Rameses had failed to complete. Moses and Nefretiri are deeply in love; she is the "throne princess", who must marry the next Pharaoh. Rameses wants her for himself, not because of any liking for her but for the throne, but Nefretiri hates him. When Moses assumes control of the project, he institutes numerous reforms concerning the treatment of the slave workers. He learns of the Hebrews' God from the stonecutter Joshua, who tells him God's name is unknown. Joshua is engaged to water-carrier Liliah, who is coveted by both the master builder Baka and his Hebrew overseer Dathan. Rameses charges Moses with planning an insurrection by currying the slaves' favor, and points out that the slaves are calling Moses the "Deliverer" of prophecy. However, when Seti confronts Moses, Moses argues he is simply making his workers more productive by making them stronger and happier. He proves his point with impressive progress on the project. Rameses, meanwhile, has been charged by his father with the task of finding out if there really is a Hebrew fitting the description of the Deliverer, and is having no luck. Scene where Memnet reveals to Nefretiri the truth about Moses' real origin, Nefretiri (left) and Memnet (right) As Nefretiri is joyously preparing for marriage, Memnet informs her that Prince Moses is not a prince at all, but the son of Hebrew slaves. Nefretiri is furious at the accusation, whereupon Memnet produces the Levite cloth. Memnet also tells her that a little girl led her to a Hebrew wet nurse, who must be Moses' real mother. Nefretiri kills Memnet and subsequently reveals the whole story to Moses; she doesn't care if he's Hebrew but knows if it's true it must be kept secret. Moses asks Bithiah about Memnet's stories. Bithiah evades his questions. Moses leaves, promising that no matter what he finds, he will always love her. She rushes in a chariot to Yoshebel, asking her to keep the secret, but Moses has followed from a distance. Now he knows the truth. Bithiah reminds him that he will soon be Pharaoh, and will have the legal ability to free his people. But he says he is not ashamed, but curious about his people. Moses spends time working among the slaves to learn of their hardship, only to be rescued from the mudpits by Nefretiri. Baka the master builder steals Liliah. Joshua attempts to rescue Liliah, but after freeing her is captured; Moses appears, strangles Baka and frees Joshua. Dathan, the devious and ambitious Hebrew overseer who has been charged by Rameses to help him find the Deliverer, watches from hiding. Moses confesses to Joshua that he himself is Hebrew; Joshua excitedly proclaims Moses the Deliverer, and although Moses denies it, Dathan has all the proof he needs. Revealing what he knows to Rameses, Dathan bargains for Baka's house, a post as Governor of Goshen and the ownership of Liliah. Moses is arrested and brought in chains before Seti, who begs him to say he is not the Deliverer. Moses does so, but avows that he would free the slaves if he could. Bithiah confesses to her brother Seti that she took Moses from the Nile knowing by the design on his blankets that he was Hebrew. In a short, impassioned speech, Moses says that it is evil to enslave or oppress people, "to be stripped of spirit, and hope and faith, all because they are of another race, another creed. If there is a God, He did not mean this to be so!" Seti is grievously hurt, and orders his name stricken from all records and monuments, to be unspoken in Egypt forever thereafter, effectively depriving him of life in the hereafter. Rameses banishes Moses to the desert, fearing to execute him lest he create a martyr. Meanwhile, Seti proclaims Rameses the next Pharaoh. Nefretiri, as the Throne Princess, is required to marry the arrogant prince. To save Joshua's life, Liliah agrees "of her own free will" to become Dathan's sex slave. Joshua is sent to work in the copper mines. Scene where Moses is taught how to tend sheep in Midian by Sephora, Moses (left) and Sephora (right) Moses makes his way across the desert, nearly dying of hunger and thirst. He comes to a well in the land of Midian. After drinking and eating dates from a nearby palm tree he passes out, to be awakened by the sound of seven sisters watering their flocks. Bullying Amalekites appear, pushing the girls aside, whereupon Moses wakes. Seemingly appearing out of nowhere he thrashes the Amalekites soundly with his staff, forcing them to wait their turn at the well. 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. Jethro explains that they are the descendants of Ishmael, Abraham's first-born. Moses later impresses Jethro and the other sheiks with his wise and just trading, so Jethro offers Moses one of his daughters as a wife. Moses chooses the eldest daughter, called Sephora in the film (the Greek form of her name), the least flamboyant but wisest, who was previously the one who had stood up to the Amalekites. Back in Egypt, Seti dies heartbroken, with Moses' name on his lips. Rameses succeeds him as Pharaoh. Herding sheep in the desert, Moses finds Joshua, who has escaped from the copper mines. Moses sees the Burning Bush on the summit of Mount Sinai; climbing up to investigate, he hears the voice of God (Charlton Heston, who was not credited for this secondary role). Naming Himself "I Am That I Am," God charges Moses to return to Egypt and free His chosen people. At Pharaoh's court, Moses comes before Rameses to win the slaves' freedom, turning his staff into a snake to show Rameses the power of God. Court magicians Jannes and Jambres (2 Timothy 3:8) do the same, but Moses's snake eats the others. 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; but when she attempts to resume their relationship, he spurns her, reminding her that not only is he on a mission, having been touched by God, but that he is also married. As Moses continues to challenge Pharaoh's hold over his people, Egypt is beset by divine plagues. But Rameses hears of a naturalistic explanation of a mountain beyond the Nile cataract spewing red mud, and is startled but unmoved by burning hail falling from a clear sky. Moses warns him that the next plague to fall upon Egypt will be summoned by Pharoah himself. Enraged at the plagues and Moses' continuous demands, and at his generals and advisers telling him to give in. Rameses orders all first-born Hebrews to die, but just as Moses had foretold, this intention backfires. Nefretiri warns Sephora to escape with Gershom on a passing caravan to Midian. 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 cloud, 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 is released to Moses. Broken and despondent, Pharaoh orders Moses to take "your people, your cattle, your God and your pestilence" and go. Dathan is also ordered out when the Egyptian guards sees the sacrifice lamb's blood on the sides of his door frame -- painted there by Joshua to save Liliah. The Exodus of the Hebrews from Egypt begins. Goaded into rage by Nefretiri, Pharaoh arms himself and gathers his armies to chase the former slaves to the shore of the Red Sea. Held back by a pillar of fire, the Egyptian forces watch as Moses parts the waters. As the Hebrews race over the seabed, the pillar of fire dies down and the army rides in hot pursuit. The Hebrews make it to the far shore as the waters close on the Egyptian army, drowning every man and horse. Rameses looks on in despair. All he can do is return to Nefretiri, confessing to her, "His god is God." The former slaves camp at the foot of Sinai and wait as Moses again ascends the mountain. During his absence, the Hebrews lose faith and, urged on by the evil Dathan, build a golden calf as an idol to bear before them back to Egypt, hoping to win Rameses' forgiveness. Aaron is forced to help fashion the gold plating. The people indulge their most wanton desires in an orgy of sinfulness. High atop the mountain, Moses witnesses God's creation of the stone tablets containing the Ten Commandments. When he finally climbs down, Moses beholds his people's iniquity and 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 wandering lost, to kill off the rebellious generation, the Hebrews are about to arrive in the land of Canaan. An elderly Moses then appoints Joshua to succeed him as leader, says a final good bye to Sephora, and goes forth to his destiny.