[Editor's Note: We want to wish everyone a Happy Easter & Passover. Below is a re-posting of LFM's Blu-ray review of Cecil B. DeMille's The Ten Commandments (1956), from March 27th, 2011. Also: Turner Classic Movies is showing Easter- and Passover-themed films all day today. Check the TCM website for details.]
By Jason Apuzzo. The new Ten Commandments Blu-ray comes out this Tuesday, March 29th (see the trailer for the Blu-ray at the bottom of this post). Paramount will be releasing a 2-disc Blu-ray set of the classic film, and also a Limited Edition 6-disc DVD/Blu-ray Combo set, that features both Cecil B. DeMille’s 1956 and 1923 versions of the film – and a host of goodies, including a handsome archival booklet that may be worth the price of the set on its own.
The Ten Commandments is a special favorite of mine. Not only is the film one of Hollywood’s greatest epics of the 1950s, the film is also a timeless and enduring ode to human freedom – and one which seems to grow only more timely and urgent as the years go by. The Ten Commandments is a film that will always remain powerful and ‘relevant’ so long as there are souls yearning for freedom – even, as we’ve seen recently, in contemporary Egypt and North Africa where so much of The Ten Commandments was filmed.
We had the pleasure of showing what was then the best existing print of The Ten Commandments at our first Liberty Film Festival in 2004, when we invited cast member Lisa Mitchell to talk about her recollections of Mr. DeMille – and how influential he was in her life. Several years later Govindini and I spent time with Cecilia DeMille Presley, granddaughter of Cecil DeMille and a caretaker of his legacy – who shared some wonderful memories of her grandfather with us. Most special, however, was the opportunity Govindini and I had years ago to meet Charlton Heston himself at The Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood, when he introduced a special screening of The Ten Commandments. (We actually sat right behind him during the screening – and watched his reactions to the film, which he still seemed to take great delight in so many years later.) It was an extraordinary thrill to meet him; even late in life, he was still handsome and rugged, with a biting wit – but also a warm and generous spirit. He was the consummate gentleman.
The Ten Commandments is without a doubt one of the best films Hollywood has ever produced, and a carrier of important ideas about freedom, so I thought we’d take a little look back at it today. It also happens to be a magnificent showpiece for the Blu-ray medium – with the film’s rich, saturated colors, beautiful costumes and production design, endless desert vistas, and iconic visual effects sequences. To put it mildly, The Ten Commandments is not only an emotional spectacle of the heart … it’s also an eyeful.
Interestingly,The Ten Commandments happens to be the fifth highest-grossing film of all time, adjusted for inflation. When the film was released in 1956, theater tickets cost about 50 cents – and the film still grossed over $65 million. What this means is that at today’s ticket prices, The Ten Commandments would have grossed over $1 billion at the domestic box office. In the history of American moviemaking, only Gone With the Wind, Star Wars, The Sound of Music and E.T. have fared better at the box office than did DeMille’s extraordinary film.
I don’t mention The Ten Commandments‘ box office success because that denotes anything in particular about the film’s merits – success at the box office can always be misleading – but to suggest the kind of powerful bond this film has with the public. The Ten Commandments is, as it turns out, a beautifully written, directed, acted, photographed and scored film – a majestic and emotional voyage into one of the primary myths of Western religious life. It’s also the crowning achievement of one of America’s greatest moviemakers. At the same time, The Ten Commandments is something else: it’s a part of American popular mythology, as important to America’s filmic conversation about freedom and individual dignity as Casablanca, Gone With the Wind or On the Waterfront.