By: Mary Fran Bontempo
Around Easter, I can hear the voices resounding in my head.
“Moses.” “Oh, Moses, Moses.” “Moses! Moses!”
From his former lover, Queen Nefretiri, to his shepherd-girl wife, Sephora, to God Himself, Moses has a lot of people wanting a piece of him. And, as portrayed by Charlton Heston in the Cecil B. DeMille classic, The Ten Commandments, this Moses, by turns bare-chested and studly to gray-haired and stately, is up to the challenge.
Released in 1956, The Ten Commandments, despite wooden acting, hokey special effects (by modern standards), and an eternal running time (over four hours on television), remains must-see viewing for millions during the Easter season.
Featuring matinee idols of the day–Heston and Yul Brynner as King Ramses–the movie has grossed over $65.5 million dollars at the U.S. box office alone. Big bucks for a religious, or any, picture. (Interestingly, Brynner also played the King of Siam, his other monster role, in The King and I, in the movie released the same year.)
ABC has aired The Ten Commandments annually since 1973, lapsing only one year, 1999, when viewers loudly voiced their displeasure. Since then, the movie takes up residence–usually on the Saturday night before Easter Sunday–for the entire evening, quite a feat for a religious film in our secular society.
In 1999, The Ten Commandments was honored by the National Film Preservation Board, which chooses 25 movies each year which are deemed “culturally, historically, or esthetically important,” further confirmation that the movie deserves its place in American film history.
As an annual viewer, I can recite many of the lines by heart. Cinematically, from scenes depicting the building of pyramids in the Egyptian desert, to the flaming hail and frogs of the plagues, to the mist of death visited on the Egyptians–which takes the life of Pharaoh’s son, the movie leaves its mark.
This Easter, before the family lapses into a candy coma, tune into ABC for its presentation of The Ten Commandments. But don’t try and keep track of how many times you hear, “Moses.” You’ll spend the entire movie counting.
Happy Easter and Passover to all!