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The Ten Commandments (1923).

June 10, 2008

The Scoop:
Cecil B. DeMille’s first version of his classic film “The Ten Commandments” contains many similarities to the later, more popular movie, while also containing many of the conventions of the silent era. The story is told in two parts — an extended prologue telling the Biblical story of Moses, and a morality tale set in modern times.

The prologue, which was the only part remade by DeMille, is the best, containing many classic moments. It’s these parts that work best for modern viewers, since they are also the parts DeMille later reused in the remake with little alteration. At its heart is the thrilling chase scene between the Israelis led by Moses (Theodore Roberts) and the army commanded by Pharoah Ramses (Charles de Rochefort) that culminates in the parting of the Red Sea.

After setting the mood with the history of how the Ten Commandments came to be, DeMille jumps us ahead to early 20th century America to see the power of the commandments in action. This modern story — concerning a long suffering mother (Edythe Chapman), her good son (Richard Dix), sinful son (Rod La Roque) and the woman the two men love (Leatrice Joy) — has not aged well. There’s very little drama here, just heavy-handed examples of sin and redemption. Completely preachy and overwrought. Unless you’ve got a strong curiosity about that sort of thing, just stick with the first half.

Best Bit:
The death of Pharoah’s son.

Side Note:
The screenwriter Jeanie Macpherson started out as an actress and went on to become one of the pioneering female writers and directors in silent films, as well as one of the 36 founding members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Companion Viewing:
“The Ten Commandments” (1956) and “Intolerance” (1916).

Links:
IMDb.

Take a Look:
Moses uses the power of early visual effects to part the Red Sea:

The full movie, in installments:

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