Director-showman Cecil B. DeMille made the Charlton Heston-as-Moses version of The Ten Commandments in the early fifties. Heston was only thirty when he started work on the film, and the makeup people did a good job turning him from a strapping young prince into an old, bearded prophet. I’ll bet when a lot of people for whom The Ten Commandments is an annual must-see television event think of Moses and the story of Passover and the Exodus, they picture Heston. The word “iconic” is seriously overused, but here seems fitting.
An early publicity photo of Heston in makeup.
I call The Ten Commandments a silent movie with sound. DeMille directed the actors to emote to the back rows, just as silent movie actors would have done. But in this case he had the luxury of sound (not to mention widescreen and Technicolor®). In their cases, Yul Brynner as Rameses II and Heston seem hammy, but in their other movie roles they were often portrayed as larger-than-life. For the era I can’t think of two other actors who could have played the parts.
Publicity photo of Brynner and Anne Baxter.
The movie enjoyed a publicity heyday in its time. It was considered a major event. Life had an article in its November 12, 1956 issue.
Copyright © 1956, 2013 Time-Life
Dad took the whole family to see The Ten Commandments in 1956. He got us tickets to an event before the movie featuring artist Arnold Friberg, who did the magnificent paintings that DeMille commissioned to accompany the film. I shook hands with Friberg in a reception where the original paintings were on display, and I remember my nine-year-old eyes as big as pie plates when I gawped at the absolute splendor of Friberg’s art.
Friberg (1913-2010), a Mormon convert, was into that sort of Biblical art. Like DeMille, who used film as his art form, Friberg used heroic characters, painted in heroic proportions, to give his artwork life.
These paintings are from the program book which Dad bought right from Friberg for a dollar. I remember him as being star struck by Friberg, and as goggle-eyed as me at the paintings. The art is slightly too big for my scanner so the illustrations are trimmed about ½” on each side, but the important stuff is shown.
The History Channel has been running a series called The Bible, which has been a huge ratings hit. It’s so successful that I heard more Bible movies are being planned. To me, if people who really get into these movies are like my father, they are using them as a way of substituting for church. Hollywood is the preacher telling them what to think when they think of Noah, or Jesus, or Moses. Dad never went to church a Sunday in his life, but we never missed a big blockbuster movie based on a Bible story.