Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

The Ten Commandments (1956)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

The Ten Commandments (1956)

In Cecil B. DeMille's most spectacular and unequalled historical epic and last film (his 70th) was this 3 hour, 40 minute Technicolored film (divided into two parts with an intermission). It was the highest-earning live-action film of the decade of the 1950s until Ben-Hur (1959) toppled it. The film was notably remade twice: The Prince of Egypt (1998) (animated) and director Ridley Scott's Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014).

Considered a remake of DeMille's own 1923 silent film of the same name, however, its scope was narrowed to focus on the previous film's prologue to solely concentrate on the character of Moses. Throughout the film, director DeMille also served as the film's voice-over narrator.

The film's title was mostly a misnomer, since the central subject was not The Ten Commandments, which appeared only in the film's concluding 20 minutes. The Ten Commandments was noted for great fire and brimstone scenes (with remarkable special effects) and its huge cast of characters, with a very appropriate tagline: "THE GREATEST EPIC OF ALL!" This commanding film was the epic account of the liberation of the Hebrew people from bondage by Egyptian prince Moses (Charlton Heston):

  • in the opening prologue, producer-director Cecil B. DeMille directly addressed the film audience to explain the sources for the film about "the story of Moses" and the picture's theme of freedom, based upon divine inspiration from 3,000 years earlier
  • the traditional Paramount Pictures' logo (a jagged mountain) was transformed and stylized, to approximate the angular shape of the granite summit of Mount Sinai turned red by the cloudy sky
  • Moses was born a Hebrew slave, and saved from an edict issued by Egypt's Pharaoh Rameses I (Ian Keith) to kill all newborn Hebrew males, by his mother Yochabel (Martha Scott) who set him adrift, with help from Moses' young sister Miriam (Babette Bain as youth); found in the Nile River as an infant in a reed basket, he was saved by the Pharaoh's daughter Bithiah (Nina Foch), a childless widow; her treacherous servant Memnet (Judith Anderson) was sworn to secrecy, but hid the Levite cloth from the basket under her garments

Release of Infant Moses by Yochabel and Young Miriam

Discovery of Moses by Pharaoh's Daughter Bithiah

Bithiah: "This is my son"

Treacherous Servant Memnet (Judith Anderson) With the Levite Blanket
  • Moses ("The Prince of Egypt") was then raised as an adopted foster son by Bithiah's brother, royal Egyptian Pharaoh Sethi I (Sir Cedric Hardwicke), in approximately the 13th Century BC; about 30 years later, he was appointed as an army general (and was victorious against the Ethiopians); for his favored status among the people, Moses was hated by his half-brother - Sethi's natural son, Prince Rameses (Yul Brynner); Sethi's heir apparent to the throne was still to be determined - would it be Moses or Rameses?
  • there was also rivalry for the love of Princess Nefretiri (Anne Baxter), who was destined to marry the future Pharaoh; she obviously loved Moses and despised Rameses
  • after Rameses failure to build a treasure city on time, and blamed the delays on the "stiff-necked" Hebrew slaves for their belief in a Deliverer from bondage, Moses was appointed by Sethi to take over as his chief supervisory architect to manage the complex task of the construction of the giant pyramids ("treasure city") for Sethi's upcoming Jubilee

(l to r): Moses, Rameses, Sethi

Love Between Moses and Nefretiri

Bithiah with Memnet
  • in Goshen, the site of Pharaoh Sethi's proposed treasure city project, new characters were introduced: cruel master builder Baka (Vincent Price) and slave taskmaster and overseer Dathan (Edward G. Robinson), who lusted after pretty Hebrew water-girl slave Lilia (Debra Paget) - she had eyes only for handsome Hebrew stonecutter Joshua (John Derek)

Joshua (John Derek) with Lilia (Debra Paget)

Dathan (Edward G. Robinson)
  • during construction and the movement of enormous granite stone blocks, a grease-woman (actually Yochabel, Moses' biological mother) became caught under the stone by her garment and was about to be crushed; Joshua bravely struck an Egyptian with a whip in an attempt to save her, while Lilia raced to alert Moses on the pavilion; he unexpectedly reprimanded the heartless Baka who would have let her die: "Blood makes poor mortar," and then at the site of the incident, Moses cut Yochabel free, and again scolded the cruel Baka who blithely claimed the old woman's death would be no loss: ("If they are killed, it is no loss") - "Are you a master builder or a master butcher?"; Moses was also impressed by Joshua's bold speaking unlike a typical slave, when he proudly told Moses about his God and his longings for freedom

Grease-Woman Yochabel About to be Crushed by Massive Stone

Lilia's Attempt to Rescue Yochabel from Death - She Alerted Moses

Moses to Baka (Vincent Price): "Blood makes poor mortar"
  • Moses immediately ordered and instituted reforms for the slaves, including a "ration of grain" and a "day of rest"; his controversial reforms stirred up thoughts of conspiracy, rebellion, and jealousy in Rameses, who attempted to convince Sethi of Moses' betrayal and treasonous behavior; the future Pharaoh feared that Moses would usurp his position and also marry and possess Princess Nefretiri; although she kissed Rameses, she also deeply despised him
  • at the construction site, Sethi asked Moses: "Did you do all of this to gain their favor?"; but soon, Rameses' alleged accusations appeared to fall by the wayside, as Moses presented his tremendous and impressive progress to Sethi, who softened and was very pleased with Moses' accomplishments; with the completion of the treasure city imminent, Sethi decided that Moses would receive all the credit, and would be announced as his successor (deposing his natural son Rameses), and he would be marrying the Princess
  • soon after, Nefretiri discovered from Bithiah's despicable servant Memnet that Moses was born an Israelite; she proved her words by presenting Moses' Levite swaddling clothes to betray him; with frustrated anger, Nefretiri pushed Memnet off the balcony to her death (off-screen) to hide the truth; however, she was forced to divulge the truth to Moses when he found the piece of Levite cloth and he demanded to know; after learning he was Hebrew, Moses found himself emotionally torn between his two mothers (Yochabel and Bithiah) and would now be forced to make choices that would affect his future

Moses With Scheming Nefretiri

Moses Told of His Hebrew Birth

Bithiah with Moses' True Mother Jochabel at Goshen
  • it was a major turning point for Moses - his whole identity, heritage, and destiny had been transformed; he vowed to stay with his true family, including his grown-up sister Miriam (Olive Deering) and his brother Aaron (John Carradine), and follow his Hebrew heritage, and learn of their hardships and way of life

Moses in the Mud-Pits

(l to r): Lilia, Baka, Dathan

Slave Dying in Moses' Arms

Nefretiri to Moses: "You stubborn, splendid, adorable fool!"
  • in the mud-pits with the slaves, Moses witnessed water-girl Lilia taken by Baka to his home, and an elderly worker killed for speaking out; the slave died in Moses' arms, ironically declaring that he would die before seeing his Deliverer
  • Nefretiri attempted to dissuade Moses from subjugating himself with the slaves in the mud-pits, and giving up his princely status; she plucked him from the mud-pits, brought him to her palace, and chastised him for being foolish to not love her: "Oh, Moses! Moses! You stubborn, splendid, adorable fool!"; he responded that his mission was to help his people and save them from the stains of stenches of slavery and injustice
  • as evidence of the change in him, Moses rescued Joshua (who had been seized at Baka's house to rescue Lilia) and strangled Baka with his bare hands; saved from a whipping death by Baka, Joshua declared him to be the people's Deliverer, but Moses was uncertain
  • overhearing that Moses was a Hebrew, Dathan immediately went to Rameses with an incriminating report, and was awarded with Baka's house, possession of the water-girl Lilia, and the governorship of Goshen
  • on the day of Sethi's Jubilee, Moses was brought before Sethi in chains to explain himself - he denied being the Hebrews' savior, but stated in a short and passionate speech that he would be compelled to free the oppressed and downtrodden slaves if he had the means; reluctantly, the shaken Sethi declared Prince Rameses to be his successor and sole heir ("Rameses, Egypt shall be yours..."), who would also marry the Princess

Informant Dathan Bargaining with Rameses

Hebrew Moses in Chains Brought Before Sethi

Sethi Compelled to Turn From Moses and Declare Rameses as His Pharaoh Successor

Sethi to Rameses: "Rameses, Egypt shall be yours"

Sethi's Decree to Strike Moses From Egypt's Memory

Moses' Banishment to the Desert, With A Robe and Scepter-Staff
  • the heart-broken Sethi refused to have Moses killed and left Moses' ultimate fate up to his son; Moses was banished by Rameses to the desert wilderness, with only one day's rations, a Levite robe and a wooden scepter or staff; after a difficult sojourn through the desert, he arrived at the encampment of Bedouin Sheik Jethro (Eduard Franz), who had seven marriageable daughters; Jethro offered for marriage one of his daughters, and Moses eventually selected his eldest and most brave daughter Sephora/Zipporah (Yvonne De Carlo), who bore a son for him named Gershom
  • meanwhile, back in Egypt, Sethi passed away, and Rameses was appointed as the new Pharaoh - with Queen Nefretiri as his wife
  • escaped slave Joshua was found in Midian, and implored Moses to become the leader of a major Exodus of the slaves from Egypt
The Burning Bush - and the Transformation of Moses
  • shortly after, Moses learned of his destiny to confront the Pharaoh and lead the Israelites in the spectacular Burning Bush scene atop Mt. Sinai ("the mountain of God"), when God instructed him to return to Egypt; Moses was transformed by the life-changing experience
  • after Moses returned to Egypt to free the slaves, he appeared before his nemesis Pharaoh Rameses II, claiming he represented the "Kingdom of the Most High"; then, Moses challenged the ruler to "Let my people go", and to demonstrate God's power, he ordered Aaron to turn his staff into a serpent, but his miracle backfired when the Hebrews were ordered to gather their own straw to make bricks
  • the Pharaoh's wife Queen Nefretiri still loved him, saved Moses from threats of being stoned, and wondered why he had given up her and all the riches of Egypt: ("Oh, Moses, Moses. Why, of all men, did I fall in love with the prince of fools?"); he refused her romantic ploys to rekindle their relationship
  • Moses demonstrated God's power with many deadly plagues, including only four that were visualized: turning the Nile blood red, fiery hail, three days of darkness, and the death of the firstborn with a greenish smoke. Other plagues were only mentioned in the dialogue were lice, flies, sickness, and boils.
Nile Water and Other Water Sources Turned Blood Red
  • the Pharaoh's threat to bring violence by his own hand backfired, when his threat to kill the first-born of Hebrews targeted the Egyptian first-born instead; to protect their own first-born, the Hebrews were instructed to paint their doorposts and lintel with the blood of lambs, to prevent the spreading greenish and glowing 'cloud of death' that night from killing their first-born; in a very effective sequence, a slowly-creeping terrifying "Angel of Death" approached through the Egyptian streets, and extinguished the lives of all first-born Egyptians, including the Pharaoh's own son and heir

The Defeated and Despairing Pharaoh

Rameses II Praying to His Idol Falcon God Sokar
  • when the despairing and defeated Pharaoh finally relented, Moses viewed the mass of liberated Hebrews waiting to leave Egypt (during a major Exodus) and exclaimed in the enormous and magnificent crowd scene: "There are so many, so many."

Moses: "There are so many, so many"

Moses Leading the People

The Exodus Crowds Leaving
  • as the Hebrews reached the Red Sea, the Pharaoh had been taunted by Nefertiri into having second-thoughts, and decided to pursue them by chariot, to seek revenge for his son's death; before leading an army of chariots, Rameses II exhorted his soldiers to bring death to the slaves
  • as the chariots approached the Hebrews camped by the Red Sea, Moses extended his arms and created a "Pillar of Fire" to stall the army's approach
  • then, in one of the most miraculous visual effects scenes in film history (in the pre-digital and CGI-era), Moses again stretched out his arms and commanded the waters of the Red Sea to part with his staff: ("The Lord of Hosts will do battle for us. Behold his mighty hand"); an old blind man (John Miljan) commented: "God opens the sea with a blast of His nostrils!"
  • the people crossed on the dry sea-bed and escaped harm, but when Moses ordered the Red Sea to be restored, the pursuing Egyptians were drowned as the waves of waters came back together over them
The Spectacular Red Sea Sequence

The Pillar of Fire

The Hebrews Safely Crossing Between the Divided Waves of Water

The Egyptian Chariots Covered Over When the Waters Came Together
  • the Hebrews crossed the wilderness and camped at the base of Mt. Sinai, where the people awaited Moses' return ("for 40 days and 40 nights") after he had ascended to the top of the mountain with Joshua, to receive God's word and laws
  • meanwhile during Moses' absence and awaiting his return, in an orgiastic sequence, the ex-enslaved Hebrews were led by Dathan to create a Golden Calf ("a god of gold, a Golden Calf!"); he proposed that the idol would go before them and lead them back to Egypt, where the Pharaoh would take them back, forgive them, and feed them; the people constructed the calf (from molden gold) and sinfully engaged in idolatry. They also began to behave wantonly and decadently by worshipping the golden calf, and by participating in a perverse orgy of selfishness, drinking, nakedness violence and indulgence
  • atop Mt. Sinai, the fiery "finger of God" created and delivered the Ten Commandments to Moses with engravings upon two rock tablets:
    • Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
    • Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.
    • Thou shall not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.
    • Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
    • Honor thy father and thy mother.
    • Thou shalt not kill.
    • Thou shalt not commit adultery.
    • Thou shalt not steal.
    • Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.
    • Thou shalt not covet anything that is thy neighbor's.
  • at the conclusion of the sequence, Moses took the two tablets from the wall of rock, and was ordered to return to his debauched people and share God's laws with them: "Go! Get thee down, for thy people have corrupted themselves."
Worship of the Golden Calf

Moses Handling the Two Tablets

Moses' Condemnation of the People

Idol Worshippers
Falling Into Pit
  • when Moses returned, he heaved the stone-engraved 10 Commandments tablets at the idol to cause an explosion and kill the idol worshippers ("Those who will not live by the law shall die by the law") when a pit opened up in the ground due to an earthquake
  • after 40 years of wandering in the wilderness - as punishment for their disobedience, the elderly, white-bearded Moses realized that God would not allow him to cross over the River Jordan to enter into the Promised Land, due to his previous disobedience to the Lord God; as his last official act, Moses symbolically passed on the leadership of the people to Joshua; a restored set of Ten Commandments' tablets were within the Ark of the Covenant, next to the Pentateuch (or Torah), to be carried into Israel
  • Moses proclaimed one final message before he made his solo ascent of Mount Nebo, for the people to proclaim liberty everywhere - the words were an exhortation similar to DeMille's opening political statement in the film about the "the birth of freedom," and the support of "free souls" and liberty:"Go. Proclaim liberty throughout all the lands, unto all the inhabitants thereof"

DeMille's Prologue

Opening Stylized Paramount Logo

30 Year-Old Moses - Prince of Egypt (Charlton Heston) - Triumphant Over the Ethiopians

Prince Rameses (Yul Brynner)

Pharaoh Sethi (Sir Cedric Hardwicke)

Princess Nefretiri (Anne Baxter)

The Enslaved Hebrews at Goshen - Building Project

Moses Impressed by Joshua's Bravery

The Princess' Kiss for Rameses - Although She Despised Him

Sethi Visibly Impressed by Moses' Work

Rameses (with Baka) Seething in Anger at the Favored Moses

Memnet Informing Nefretiri of Moses' True Heritage: "He is the son of Hebrew slaves" - Showing Levite Cloth

Moses' Murder of Master-Builder Baka, to Rescue Joshua From a Whipping Death

After His Rescue, Joshua Declared Moses to be the People's Deliverer

In Midian, Shepherdess Sephora/Zipporah (Yvonne de Carlo)

Bedouin Sheik Jethro (Eduard Franz)

Moses with Sephora, Before Backdrop of Mt. Sinai

Moses Married to Sephora - With Young Son Gershom

Sethi's Passing, and Rameses II's Ascendancy as Pharaoh

Escaped Slave Joshua Found by Moses in Midian

Moses' Confrontation with Pharaoh Rameses II

Rameses II with Queen and Son

Moses' Scepter/Staff Turned Into a Serpent

Hot Hail, and Three Days of Darkness

Within Moses' Goshen Home, Protected by Blood on the Door Frame During "Passover"

The Angel of Death as Glowing Green Cloud - To Kill First-born Egyptians

The Assembly of the Hebrews to Finally Leave Egypt

Aerial View of the Exodus

Rameses II Exhorting His Charioteers

Moses with the People Trapped at the Edge of the Red Sea

The Ten Commandments Engraved by the Fiery "Finger of God"

The Elderly, White-Bearded Moses With His Final Proclamation and Farewell


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