The Ten Commandments

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
Ten Commandments poster.jpg
Thus sayeth the Lord God of Israel: let my people go!

The Ten Commandments is the last of the great Cecil B. DeMille epics.

This 1956 film from Paramount tells The Bible story of Moses and the Exodus. Charlton Heston plays Moses. Yul Brynner plays Rameses. They are in a Love Triangle with Nefretiri (Anne Baxter), whom Moses might have won, had the matter of injustice to Hebrew slaves not come up. Other important characters are, naturally, Moses's brother Aaron (John Carradine); Sephora (Yvonne de Carlo), daughter of Jethro and Moses's eventual wife; Joshua (Jon Derek); and Liliah (Debra Paget), the woman Joshua loves -- who happens to be the sex slave of the overseer Dathan (Edward G. Robinson), see?

You know the basic tale -- or if you don't, you need either to see this or read the source material. Moses hears the voice of God while out in the wilderness. It ages him about forty years -- hey, the film may be long, but to keep the cast of characters constant, the time in which it takes place is compressed. Moses goes to Rameses to tell him that God wants him to let His people go, or else. "Or else" happens. Nefretiri tries to seduce Moses out of this position; it doesn't work...

The film won one Academy Award for its special effects, and was nominated for seven others, including best picture. The majestic score was written by Elmer Bernstein as his first major film project.

The dedicated and curious might want to compare this with The Prince of Egypt. The source material is the same (though this film might've been distilled through an extra novel), but the directions taken with it are very different.

There was also a Ten Commandments mini-series starring Dougray Scott which rips apart the Moses story.

Tropes used in The Ten Commandments include:
  • Ancient Egypt
  • Arc Words: "So let it be written, so let it be done."
  • Ascended Extra: Joshua, who's promoted to Lancer in the film. In the scriptures, while Joshua did eventually Take Up My Sword, he didn't come into focus until they were in the desert, and was implied to be much younger than Moses.
  • The Atoner
  • Badass Boast: By a quietly furious Rameses: "The city he builds will bear my name. The woman he loves will bear my child. So let it be written. So let it be done."
  • Bald of Evil: Rameses.
    • Dyeing for Your Art: Yul Brynner shaved his head for the part, and liked it so much that it became his signature "look" for the rest of his career.
    • Actually, he shaved it while performing as the King of Siam during the Broadway run of The King and I before doing The Ten Commandments. He did bulk up for the role of Rameses so that he did not look skinny in contrast to the imposing Charlton Heston.
  • Bathe Her and Bring Her to Me: The Trope Namer.
  • Betty and Veronica: Sephora and Nefretiri. Unfortunately, God is the Third Option Love Interest.
  • Big No
  • Bittersweet Ending: The Hebrews eventually reach Israel... but for his Wrath, Moses cannot enter the Promised Land.
  • Bowdlerise: In the movie, Moses angrily throwing down the tablets results in a chasm that many of the Jews fall into. In the Bible/Tanakh, Moses gets the Levites (priests) to grab some swords and get busy. Killing 3,000 total.
    • To be fair, keeping in the original slaughter makes Moses a hell of a Dark Shepherd.
  • Bratty Half-Pint: Rameses' son.
  • Broad Strokes: The movie's approach to the source material in some areas, especially what happened to the Hebrews after the flight from Egypt.
  • Captain Obvious: "Moses' serpent swallows up the others!"
  • Changeling Fantasy: Where Moses does not enjoy learning that he is actually a Hebrew, nor does his love interest. This is altered for drama's sake from the original story, which suggests that Moses knew very well while he was growing up that he was Hebrew.
  • Chick Magnet: Moses to a degree--all of Jethro's daughters, with one exception, are trying to catch his eye.
  • The Chosen One
  • The Commandments: Naturally!
  • Deadpan Snarker: Seti.

Priest: "Because of Moses, there is no wheat in the temple granaries!"
Seti: "You don't look any leaner."

    • In addition, the soldier who evicts Dathan.

Dathan: "Why do you come here? I put no blood on my door!"
Egyptian Soldier: "Then stone bleeds!"

    • Nefretiri:

Sethi: "It is pleasing to the gods to see a man honored by his enemies."
Nefretiri: "And such a beautiful enemy."

  • Death Glare: Several, but Nefretiri gives a ferocious one to the Ethiopian princess flirting with Moses.
  • Demoted to Extra: Miriam and Aaron.
  • Did Not Do the Research: We are pretty sure that Egypt did not have straight, double-edged swords. They instead used khopeshes, a weapon best described as a scimitar that got a straight section between the hilt and arc, without the arc changing angle with respect to the hilt; this gave the sword a look not unlike a lower-case "b". The Prince of Egypt, by the way, did portray Egyptians as using khopeshes.
    • The inclusion of the straight, bronze sword was a Shout-Out to The Egyptian, and knowingly done.
    • Numerous sets and costumes from The Egyptian had been bought from 20th Century Fox by Paramount and were used by De Mille along with a handful of actors, creating unintentional as well as intentional continuity. This is especially noticeable in the throne room scenes.
    • Averted slightly in that many of the odd "speeches", where Cecil B. De Mille is heard narrating with emphatic strings, are from Jewish midrash or legends about Moses -- just as the episodes where he saves the "grease woman", meets his family for the first time, or as an Egyptian gives the Hebrews one out of seven day of rest.
    • Women probably didn't have '50s make-up and hairdos back then either. And they wore a lot less clothing back in Ancient Egypt as well.
  • Doing In the Wizard: After nine plagues, Rameses informs Moses that he'd learned of a volcano erupting that would explain all nine of those plagues.
    • Interestingly, it is a serious theory that the plagues and the parting of the sea, not to mention the pillar of smoke and flame, and for an encore a scene in Jason and the Argonauts where they get pelted with rocks, are all explicable somewhat by a truly MASSIVE eruption in the Aegean Sea - Antikythera or Santorini. Pretty good reference...
    • The current most probable theory is that a climatic variation caused extremely heavy rainfall in the Ethiopian highlands, resulting in the Nile being choked with red, acidic mud. The river became as blood, fish died, frogs left the river, and so on. The same variation resulted in unusually dry weather in the locusts' spawning grounds, hence the plague of locusts, and the enormous sandstorm that hid the sun. The deaths of the firstborn of Egypt? All those dead fish sank, then the water became supersaturated with toxic gasses, and when they came out of solution, the firstborn sons, who alone among the inhabitants of Egypt slept inside, at ground level, smothered. Everyone else was fine because the custom was to sleep outside, on the roof. Imagine this on a nation-wide scale. They say God works in mysterious ways...
    • Although, in The Movie, since Rameses actually sees Moses turn the water into blood, without a volcano being involved, this comes across more as a What an Idiot! moment.
    • Why the heck does the volcano erupt at precisely that momment. Does it perhaps care whether Pharoah Let's His People Go?
  • The Dragon: Dathan to both Baka and Rameses.
  • Eldritch Abomination: The Angel of Death. Rather than being a human looking angel (or The Grim Reaper,) it's portrayed as a cloud of bluish fog descending from the sky in the shape of a creepy hand. It makes sense for the Angel to take on this kind of form, given the nature of its job but still, it's incredibly creepy....
    • Even better: the Metallica song "Creeping Death" is about the Exodus (and specifically to this film), and the title refers to the appearance of the Tenth Plague.
  • Epic Movie: And how!
  • Fan Service: By modern standards, many of the outfits worn by the women in the palace are pretty revealing. In the 1950s, they were pushing the limits of what was allowable on screen.
  • Fate Worse Than Death: How Joshua describes working in the copper mines.
  • Femme Fatale: Nefretiri.
  • Foreshadowing: Moses told Nefretiri that God will use her to work his will. Her manipulations would later backfire and lead to the plague on the firstborn and help the Israelites go free.
  • God: Or His voice, anyway.
  • Happily Adopted: After he finds his birth family, Moses still assures Bithia he's her son and will always love her. Awww.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: The Israelites were released from their bondage.
  • His Name Is--: Seti on his deathbed breaks his own decree by saying Moses' name.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: Dathan played a much more minor role in the Exodus account, leading a revolt against Moses and getting swallowed up by the ground. Here, he becomes The Quisling, is responsible for the Golden Calf incident, and was responsible for driving Moses out of Egypt to begin with.
  • History Marches On: Most modern estimates put the Exodus in the reign of Thutmose III, not Rameses II. Though to be fair, there isn't clear consensus among scholars and reconciling Old Testament timelines with historical dates is tricky at best.
  • Hollywood Atheist: Rameses. Possibly, Dathan as well.
  • Human Sacrifice: Lilia nearly becomes one of these during the Golden Calf incident.
  • I Did What I Had to Do: Moses' justification for for betraying Sethi. Sethi turns this right back on Moses in ordering his punishment.
  • I Just Knew: Miriam when she warns the women to stock up on water since there will be none for 7 days. It's implied she uses this gift often ("Miriam is always right.").
  • Informed Attribute: Unless you really believe Charlton Heston is slow of speech and thick of tongue...
  • Insult Backfire:

Ramses: "You have a rat's ears and a ferret's nose."
Dathan: "To use in your service, son of Pharaoh."


Sethi: "Let the name of Moses be stricken from every book and tablet, stricken from all pylons and obelisks, stricken from every monument of Egypt. Let the name of Moses be unheard and unspoken, erased from the memory of men for all time."

  • I Want Them Alive: When ordering his men to pursue the fleeing Hebrews, Rameses commands his troops to kill everyone else, but bring Moses to him alive.
  • Jerkass: Dathan. Dathan. Dathan.
    • Rameses certainly qualifies, as does Nefretiri after she's been married to him long enough.
  • Just Eat Gilligan: So Moses, why don't you wait for Seti to die, be crowned ruler of Egypt, and set the slaves free yourself? Lampshaded by Nefretiri "Will Ramses hear [the slaves'] cries when he is Pharoah?"
    • Except, in Real Life, Ancient Egypt was extremely stiff. The one time a pharoah, Ikhnaten, tried to make significant changes, it didn't end well.
    • Also, in the film, it is implied that Moses plans to do this, but he is stopped when he gets caught having killed Baka to save Joshua and Lilia.
    • In addition, You Can't Fight Fate.
  • Lady Macbeth: Nefretiri to Ramses, once she's decided to become vengeful.
  • The Lancer: Joshua.
  • Large Ham: It's a toss up among Charlton Heston, Yul Brynner and Anne Baxter.
    • And in universe, the "old windbag" announcer.
  • Leitmotif: Lilia's theme, "Death Cometh To Me".
  • Love Triangle
  • Manipulative Bitch: Nefretiri.
  • Mass "Oh Crap": Seen on the side of those who worshiped the golden calf as Moses pass judgement.

Moses: Those who shall not live by the law, shall die by the law!

  • Moses in the Bulrushes: Of course!
  • Oh Crap: The look on Baka's face when he sees that the slave who is about to strangle him is actually Moses.
  • Old Windbag: Sethi's court announcer is kind of the Trope Namer.
  • Pet the Dog / Pragmatic Villainy: Prince Moses has no problem using the Hebrew slaves to build the treasure city, but he knows that happier and healthier slaves are more productive. So he increases their rations and gives them one day in seven to rest, and construction thus accelerates.

Moses: "A city is made of brick, Pharaoh. The strong make many. The weak make few. The dead make none."

  • The Quisling: Dathan, who is of Hebrew descent but gladly works as an overseer.
  • Race Lift: Arguably the Ancient Egyptians.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Seti listens to both sides before making a decision. However, that decision isn't necessarily in favor of the protagonists.
    • Moses is one of these, particularly when he is in charge of building the city.
  • Refusal of the Call: Moses at first.
  • Say My Name: A motif. People say "Moses, Moses" many times in the movie.
  • Scarpia Ultimatum: Dathan gives this to Liliah.
  • Sex Slave: Liliah.
  • Shown Their Work: According to Katherine Orrison, De Mille's biographer and protoge of De Mille's friend Henry Wilcoxon, De Mille did a HUEG amount of research, using not only the Bible but the Qur'an and various Hebrew traditional texts including the Midrash.
    • Plus, the red-white-black pattern of the Tribe of Levi is actually the pattern associated with the Tribe of Levi.
  • Smug Snake: Baka, Dathan.
  • So Beautiful It's a Curse: "Beauty is but a curse to our women." Poor Liliah.
  • Something Only They Would Say: Baka realizes that the Hebrew slave is actually Moses when he (Moses) refers to him as the "Master Butcher" -- which Moses has called him before. A little too late, as he said this while he was strangling Baka to death.
  • "Take That!" Kiss: Nefretiri to Ramses and vice versa.
  • There Are No Coincidences: During production, he man who designed Moses' distinctive rust-white-and-black-striped robe used those colors because they looked impressive--he only later discovered that these are the actual colors of the Tribe of Levi.
  • Too Dumb to Live: The Egyptian army following the fleeing Israelites into the parted sea. Did NOBODY realize that God could (and would) solve that little problem simply by letting things return to normal?
  • Tyrant Takes the Helm: Played straight with Rameses succeeding the relatively reasonable Seti. Technically averted when Dathan is promoted to governor upon Baka's death -- while he is certainly a Bad Boss, he's nowhere near as tyrannical as Baka.
  • Unperson: Sethi proclaims that Moses' name be erased from every carving, and never be spoken again, after learning that he is the one destined to free the Israelites. So let it be written, so let it be done! Obviously, that didn't take.
    • In ancient Egypt, this was done to ensure that a person would not only disappear from everyday life, but would have no life after death. De Mille biographer Katherine Orrison says that was the very reason Moses' name was spoken so often in the film. It was De Mille's symbolic attempt to ensure the real Moses could enter heaven.
  • Walking Shirtless Scene: Rameses.
    • Moses and Joshua.
  • Whip It Good: Baka.
  • Woman Scorned: Nefretiri becomes this toward the end.
  • World of Ham
  • You Can't Fight Fate: Lampshaded by Yochabel, who warns Bythia that, no matter what, if God has a purpose, Moses will be unable to resist.