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‘The Ten Commandments’: What You Don’t Know

The Ten Commandments

Although its viewership has gone down significantly over the years, ABC has aired the epic film, The Ten Commandments every year since 1965. For some, it is an Easter tradition as the movie is usually shown the Saturday night before Palm Sunday or Easter itself. In 1999, the network decided to forego the annual airing only to be met with irate calls from families who have grown used to the tradition.

Considered by many to be Cecil B. DeMille’s best work, The Ten Commandments gave Charlton Heston his most-remembered role as Moses leading the Jewish people from the land of Egypt to the Promised Land. The film also stars Yul Brynner as Rameses, Anne Baxter as Queen Nefretiri, Edward G. Robinson as Dathan, Yvonne De Carlo as Sephora, Vincent Price as Baka, Debra Paget as Lilia, John Derek as Joshua, Sir Cedric Hardwicke as Sethi, Nina Foch as Bithiah, Martha Scott as Yochabel, and Judith Anderson as Memnet, among others.

Here are some facts about this epic film that you may not know:

  • It Took Time: It took two years to complete the movie.
  • More Than Two Tablets: As a publicity stunt, DeMille worked with a Christian fraternal organization commissioning 150-ish granite tablets featuring the ten commandments and distributing them across the country to be placed in public areas. Many are still standing today. Paramount Pictures’ publicity department also gave grants to state and local governments to post these stone tablets.
Cecille DeMille and the tablets. (Wikimedia)
(Wikimedia)
  • It’s Epic: The film’s actual running time is three hours and 40 minutes. When airing on ABC, it runs four hours and 44 minutes including commercials.
  • It had a view: The movie was filmed in Egypt, Mount Sinai and the Sinai Peninsula and the beautiful soundstages of Paramount Studios.
  • He was Old: DeMille was 75 years old when making the movie and was the oldest working Hollywood director at the time. It was his last film.
  • He was a Fighter: DeMille actually suffered a heart attack during the making of the film, but he returned to the set two days later.
  • It’s a Remake: This was DeMille’s second version of The Ten Commandments. The first was made in 1923.
  • It was Expensive: It was the most expensive film ever made at that time.
  • It Made Money: The movie was not only the most successful film of 1956, but it is the eighth most successful film of all-time when adjusted for inflation.
  • It was Snubbed: Though the movie was nominated for seven Academy Awards, it only won one for Best Visual Effects.
  • It Starred a Munster: Yvonne DeCarlo who plays Sephora, Moses’ wife later starred in the TV sitcom The Munsters playing Lily.
  • It Starred an Egghead: The film also starred Vincent Price as Baka, an Egyptian master builder. In addition to his string of horror movies, Price went on to play Batman villain Egghead.
Yvonne De Carlo
Vincent Price
  • Unique Cameo: The infant Moses was played by Fraser Heston, son of Charlton Heston.
  • He Played God: In addition to playing the role of Moses, Heston was also the voice of God during the burning bush scene. However, the voice of God is later played by Jesse Delos Jewkes when Moses was given the tablets.
  • She Missed Out: Those considered for the role of Rameses II’s wife, Nefretiri included Vivien Leigh, Jane Russell and Audrey Hepburn. In fact, DeMille almost cast Hepburn, but thought that she wasn’t curvaceous enough for the extravagant costumes.
  • He Wasn’t Bad: The evil overseer Dathan was played by Edward G. Robinson who despite his outspoken views against Nazism was blacklisted in Hollywood. DeMille thought that Robinson had an injustice done to him and offered him the part.
  • Lots of Extras: Over 14,000 people served as extras on the film as did 15,000 animals.
  • Quite the Costume: According to a commentary on the film, the man who designed Moses’ robe chose a rust-white-and-black-striped design because he thought it looked impressive. As it turns out, those were the actual colors of the tribe of Levi.
  • No Blue Eyes: A number of actors and actresses had to wear brown contact lenses for their parts but not De Carlo. She told DeMille that she thought her gray eyes were her best feature and he agreed thinking it would help make her special giving Moses another reason for falling in love with her.
  • Beards Aplenty: Heston appeared with nine different beards throughout the film.
  • Lots of Water: Still considered one of the best visual effects on screen before CGI, the parting of the Red Sea was no easy task. The short scene took six months of filming and combining scenes shot in Egypt as well as Paramount Studios. A huge u-shaped tank was built to hold the 360,000 gallons of water which was released to create the effect.
  • No Frogs: The plague of frogs was shot but ultimately not used since DeMille thought that the scenes didn’t look scary enough and almost comical.
  • No Hail: The plague of hail featured popcorn that was spray-painted white.
  • At Last: Despite its title, the tablets of the Ten Commandments are never mentioned or shown until the film’s last 20 minutes.

Jeffrey Totey View All

I write about pop culture, arts and entertainment in the greater Seattle area.

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