The Ten Commandments (1923)
Description: Cecil B. DeMille's first screen version of The Ten Commandments is only peripherally a Biblical story. The film's first 45 minutes recaps the struggle between Moses (Theodore Roberts) and Rameses (Charles de Roche) over the liberation of the Hebrews. Only after the Lord has imposed a series of plagues upon Egypt does Rameses relent and permit the Exodus to take place--only to go back on his word a few moments later. The scenes of thousands of Hebrews trekking across the desert, the parting of the Red Sea (an effect accomplished in part by splitting a bowl of gelatin down the middle) and the pre-Commandments revelries before the Golden Calf--complete with a fetchingly undressed Estelle Taylor as Miriam--are produced on a spectacular scale...but this is only the beginning. Just as Moses is invoking the Wrath of God upon the ungrateful Hebrews, the film dissolves to the present day (1923, that is). We are introduced to the MacTavish Family: pious, Bible-thumping Martha McTavish (Edythe Chapman) and her sons, straight-arrow John (Richard Dix) and hedonistic Dan (Rod LaRocque). Both sons love Mary Leigh (Leatrice Joy), but the roguish Dan wins out. While John continues honoring the Ten Commandments, Dan breaks as many as he can get his hands on, especially after falling under the spell of Eurasian adventuress Sally Lung (Nita Naldi). Before the uplifting climax, wherein John and Mary finally get together with (it is implied) the blessings of Heaven, we are treated to a series of disastrous plot turns, including the death of mother McTavish in a collapsing church, Sally Lung's revelation that she has leprosy, and a wild speedboat chase. All that's missing is the kitchen sink. Partially filmed in Technicolor at a then-astronomical cost of $1.2 million (a sum that caused a decade-long rift between Cecil B. DeMille and Paramount Pictures), The Ten Commandments grossed several times that amount. DeMille would remake the story in 1956, dispensing with the modern story to concentrate on the life of Moses.~ Hal Erickson, All Movie Guide
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