Cecil B. DeMille’s super-spectacular about the Children of Israel held in brutal bondage until Moses, prodded by the God of Abraham, delivers them from Egyptian tyranny is a statistically intimidating production: the negative cost was $13.5 million and 25,000 extras were employed.
DeMille remains conventional with the motion picture as an art form. The eyes of the onlooker are filled with spectacle. Emotional tug is sometimes lacking.
Commandments is too long. More than two hours pass before the intermission and the break is desperately welcome. Scenes of the greatness that was Egypt, and Hebrews by the thousands under the whip of the taskmasters, are striking. But bigness wearies. There’s simply too much.
Commandments 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.
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The creeping shadow of darkness that destroyed the Egyptian first-borns, the trans-composition of Moses’ staff into a serpent, the changeover of the life-giving water into blood, flames to engulf the land and the parting of the Red Sea – these are shown. The effect of all these special camera devices is varying, however, and does not escape a certain theatricality.
Performances meet requirements all the way but exception must be made of Anne Baxter as the Egyptian princess Nefretiri. Baxter leans close to old-school siren histrionics and this is out of sync with the spiritual nature of Commandments.
Charlton Heston is an adaptable performer as Moses, revealing inner glow as he is called by God to remove the chains of slavery that hold his people. Yvonne De Carlo is Sephora, the warm and understanding wife of Moses. Yul Brynner is expert as Rameses, who inherits the Egyptian throne and seeks to battle Moses and his God until he’s forced to acknowledge that ‘Moses’ God is the real God’.
1956: Best Special Effects.
Nominations: Best Picture, Color Cinematography, Color Costume Design, Color Art Direction, Editing, Sound