Watching The Ten Commandments for Easter -- the 1923 version

I’m a big fan of silent films. While I like the 1956 version of Cecil B. deMille’s The Ten Commandments (which I first saw on the Big Screen, because they hadn’t started the yearly tradition of running it every Easter yet), I wanted to see something different. Although I had a poor recording of the 1923 version I’d recorded off the television, I have recently found a DVD copy of it with commentary (and the color section), so I watched that. For the first time, I watched it with the commentary, which was interesting. I learned;

1.) Julia Faye, who played Pharaoh’s Wife, also appeared as Elisheba in the 1956 version (she’s the one who asks Moses “Are we safe?” during the Angel of Death sequence). I believe she’s the only actor to appear in both versions. She was in most of de Mille’s later Big movies.

2.) Pat Moore, who had played Pharaoh’s son, didn’t appear in the 1956 version, but was the Sound Editor for that version. He’s also the last cast member from the 1923 version to die, in 2004. He met (possibly re-met) with Eugene Mazzola, who played the Pharaoh’s son in 1956, shortly before he died.

3.) Several of de Mille’s crew worked on both versions. de Mille, of course, directed both.

4.) Herb Alpert (of Tijuana Brass fame) appeared in the film, uncredited. The commentary claimed he was one of the boys trying to get the donkey moving at the start of the Exodus, but that seemed pretty unlikely – he would’ve been 20 at the time. The iMDB lists him instead as a trumpeter at Mt. Sinai, which is more reasonable.

5.) Although the disc claims that the color sequences were “hand tinted” (and I had also believed this to be the case for many years, until this Board set me straight), the color scenes were actually done in early Technicolor, as has been amply documented. The first color version I saw encouraged my belief that it was hand-tinted, because the coloring looked sloppy and seemed to go “outside the lines”, but the version I watched last night was much cleaner (if still very washed-out).

6.) The actual “Moses-out-of-Egypt” part of the silent version is in the lengthy “Prologue”. The rest of the film is set in the then-modern day of 1923. I’ve sat through this before, but didn’t feel compelled y watch it last night. Instead, I zipped through the special effects highlights of the 1956 version.

Other interesting versions are out there, including Spielberg’s animated Prince of Egypt (with a stunning CGI parting-of-the-Red-Sea section), the recent Exodus: Gods and Kings, and the hard-to-find made-for-TV Burt Lancaster Moses.

This sounds interesting! So much of the 1956 version looks like a silent movie…like DeMille didn’t change his directorial style a bit. Were there any shots from 1956 that were identical to 1923?

I’ve seen this so often I have the dialog memorized.

I know I’ve told this story before, but I’ll tell it again: it look me an embarassingly long time to figure out why ABC showed Ten Commandments every year as a “holiday tradition”, when the story has nothing to do with Easter. :smack:

This year, Passover isn’t for another month – ABC had to choose.

The Technicolor sequence in The Ten Commandments, like all Technicolor between 1922 and 1926-27, was printed on two thin strips of film that were cemented together. See details at

Unfortunately, these prints are more prone to fading than the later dye-transfer prints. One of the dyes (I think the green one) is less stable than the other.

I saw the Burt Lancaster version, and rather liked it. The young adult Moses was played by Burt’s son, kind of like Frasier Heston, son of Charlton, played the infant Moses.

I too saw 1956 The Ten Commandments for the first time on the big screen.

I was impressed by The Prince of Egypt.. I hadn’t expected to be. Sure, a couple of things were changed from the source material but they weren’t major enough to cause issues. For example, Pharoah’s wife found the baby, not his sister. But you could say, given how the Egyptian royalty often married their siblings, she could have been both his sister and his wife. I found the Angel of Death scene to be somewhat scary, even for an adult, and I noticed they didn’t soften it up.

Yes – deMille deliberately duplicated many of his shots, especially in the “setting out from Egypt” sequence. The Charioteer Gates with the colossal mstatues of Rameses and the Avenue of Sphinxes is absolutely identical in both films


In addition, a lot of bits-of-business among the departing Hebrews are repeated – The boys trying to get the donkey moving, the banners of the Twelve Tribes, the lost little girl with her doll (although in the 1956 version she’s rescued by a Big Guy). These all look very much the same.

The armor that Pharaoh dresses in to chase the Hebrews is very nearly the same in both cases.
A lot of other effects appear in both fiolms, but look radically different – the Pillar of Fire, the Parting of the Red Sea*, the Finger of God and the Commandments. The Golden Calf looks radically different in the two versions.

*All the references claim that they achieved the parting of the Red Sea by constructing the two halves of the “Sea” out of gelatin, then putting it on a hot plate and letting them melt. Having watched this many times, I have to say that this is unequivocally wrong. They did make the sides of the “sea” out of gelatin – you can see it quivering – but it’s not melting. They obviously filled the space behind the gelatin “dam” with water, or possibly water thickened with gelatin, and let it lap over the top of the Red Sea Jello Mold so that it continually ran down the exposed sides. No melting needed. It would have undermined the Jello “dam”, anyway.

Regarding the imagery of the deMille movies, by the way, I’ve long been fascinated by the 1823 painting The Seventh Plague of Egypt by John Martin, now the the Boston Museum of Fine Arts:
It’s a monumental painting , about five feet high by seven long, so it even looks like you’re looking at a big screen TV. It’s incredibly cinematic, and with that dark sky and lightning bolts it looks like de Mille’s vision of the story of Moses. I wonder if he was directly influenced by it? It’s got Moses in a red robe with his staff, attended by a kneeling Aaron, like in the 1956 movie.
One artist whose stuff DID influence the 1956 movie was Arnold Friberg, who did conceptual art (The opening credits list him under “costumes”, but he did art on more than that, as the souvenir booklet from the opening makes clear). I got a shock when I went out to Utah – Friberg did Book of Mormon illustrations for the LDS church. They used to be reproduced in the copies of the Book of Mormon they gave out, and also the paintings hang in the two LDS visitors centers in Temple Square. The characters in them all look as if they stepped out of The Ten Commandments. (Or a Conan the Barbarian illustration – with those loincloths, leather wrist straps, and impressive muscles, they look pretty buff)

Friberg 10 commandments paintings:;_ylt=AwrTHR14kvpWuH8AxMVXNyoA;_ylu=X3oDMTEycWF2amIyBGNvbG8DZ3ExBHBvcwMxBHZ0aWQDQjE3NTdfMQRzZWMDc2M-?p=Arnold+Friberg+Paintings#id=73&;_ylt=AwrTHR14kvpWuH8AxMVXNyoA;_ylu=X3oDMTEycWF2amIyBGNvbG8DZ3ExBHBvcwMxBHZ0aWQDQjE3NTdfMQRzZWMDc2M-?p=Arnold+Friberg+Paintings#id=144&;_ylt=AwrTHR14kvpWuH8AxMVXNyoA;_ylu=X3oDMTEycWF2amIyBGNvbG8DZ3ExBHBvcwMxBHZ0aWQDQjE3NTdfMQRzZWMDc2M-?p=Arnold+Friberg+Paintings#id=202&

Friberg Book of Mormon art:;_ylt=AwrTHR14kvpWuH8AxMVXNyoA;_ylu=X3oDMTEycWF2amIyBGNvbG8DZ3ExBHBvcwMxBHZ0aWQDQjE3NTdfMQRzZWMDc2M-?p=Arnold+Friberg+Paintings#id=30&;_ylt=A0SO8zICk_pWWpQAxrtXNyoA;_ylu=X3oDMTEycWF2amIyBGNvbG8DZ3ExBHBvcwMxBHZ0aWQDQjE3NTdfMQRzZWMDc2M-?p=Arnold+Friberg+Mormon+Paintings#id=12&;_ylt=A0SO8zICk_pWWpQAxrtXNyoA;_ylu=X3oDMTEycWF2amIyBGNvbG8DZ3ExBHBvcwMxBHZ0aWQDQjE3NTdfMQRzZWMDc2M-?p=Arnold+Friberg+Mormon+Paintings#id=20&

I think I saw the 1956 version long after at a cinema when I was maybe 8; I remember because I gave up religion soon after.

Anyway, for another English artist of around that time, Heeere’s 'Phillip Richard Morris RA : ‘The Shadow of the Cross’ which I then labelled:
The Depressingest Picture Ever Shown


Never saw that one before.
Gotta wonder if the designers of the poster for The Phantom Menace ever saw it;_ylt=A0SO8z950_pWclgAX4NXNyoA;_ylu=X3oDMTEycWF2amIyBGNvbG8DZ3ExBHBvcwMxBHZ0aWQDQjE3NTdfMQRzZWMDc2M-?p=Star+Wars+Phantom+Menace+Mad+Cover#id=3&

I found the recent “Gods and Kings” to be absolutely awful, the CGI overwhelmed the characters. I think a good contrast is to the 1956 DeMille – the Exodus, the crossing of the Sea, DeMille focuses on individuals and their reactions (as well as showing the cast of thousands.) “Gods and Kings” can only show the animated ants, there’s no connection with them as people. I found it boring beyond belief.

My understanding is that the Burt Lancaster was originally a mini-series (8 or 10 episodes), but now you can only find the two-hour theatrical version. If you can find that.

There’s also a 1995 made-for-TV with Ben Kingsley as Moses and Christopher Lee (!!!) as Ramses, but I’ve not seen it.