Director: Cecil B. DeMille
Writer: Aeneas MacKenzie, Jesse L. Lasky Jr., Jack Gariss, and Fredric M. Frank
Cinematographer: Loyal Griggs
by Jon Cvack
Continued from Part 1...
Between the great epic sequences is a very strong story about deceit, trust, and loyalty. If you look at it as part Shakespearean and part Greek Tragedy, this film is one of the greatest I’ve ever come across. I won’t rehash the plot as most of you either know it or would be better off reading about it, so skipping ahead to the moment when Moses discovers that he is a son of a slave, and that those individuals are still slaves, and that he’s working for a Master that has complete indifference about their safety, unable to care less if they die, even if it’s an old woman whose scarf gets stuck in a house-sized boulder that’s being pushed by hundreds of slaves, about to crush her to death.
Demille does an amazing job of demonstrating what slave society was like - in which there’s fierce competition for sinecures, as it’s probably easier to cut straw than to carry rocks up and down a ramp all day long. But the sheer mundanity - to be constructing a city for a government that should protect them is such a tragic thought. There is nothing to do. Your life is so worthless that even expressing mild frustration could result in death. You eat and work and sleep and repeat, with no time for any of the things that make for an enjoyable life, all to build something extraordinary for the rich few, demonstrating how old such struggles are, and how much things have improved for many and how far others have to go. At least we can say that these extraordinary cities, serving the purposes of a few men, will probably never rise again in a similar way. Their beauty could only be produced by the free labor of slaves.
Moses combats with his step brother, Rameses II (Yul Brynner), who’s anxious to rule with a strong hand, feuding with Moses over a series of liberal slave reforms, accusing Moses of inspiring an insurrection. Rameses II’s eager to take over the thrown from his father Rameses I (Ian Keith), who like his son, is a cold man, obsessed with money and power, with no amount of either ever being enough. Soon Moses learns of his Hebrew heritage and opts to work amongst the slaves in order to understand them, looking to free them all upon becoming Pharaoh, which in the classic struggle between the powerful and weak, just can’t happen. Having heard it all, Chief Slave Overseer Dathan (Edward G. Robinson; in the film’s best role), learns of Moses’ heritage and reveals the information to Ramesis II in exchange for a lavish retirement, and it’s here we discover the evil of extraordinary power and wealth, as even Ramesis II’s sister Bathiah who begs for forgiveness can’t get Moses’ pardon. Still, knowing of Ramesis II’s high regard for Moses, Ramesis II banishes him to the desert, assuming he’ll die, or at least never reappear.
This scene’s complexity is incredible - as we witness Ramesis II salivating over finally achieving the throne, as Bathiah cries upon the cold hard tile while Ramesis I is unable to move beyond his hate and pride, even at the expense of a son he loved all the way until this point. When he finally dies it’s one of the true tragedies, as you can’t help imagining that he knows the mistake he made.
It's only two hours into the film that the supernatural elements come into play. Moses eventually finds refuge, somehow lasting through the treacherous heat and complete lack of food or water, finally coming across a Sheik and his family who take him in and nurse him back to health. Located at the base of Mount Sinai, Moses sees the famous burning bush and hears the voice of God, directing him to free the slaves and thus begins Moses as The-Badass-Motherfucker coming out of the rural countryside to do what is right. Turning the Nile to blood, and in one of the most exciting scenes, bringing a plague that arrives in the form of a shallow green fog creeping into the land, claiming the first born, except for those with the mark of blood above their door. In the film’s best scene, we watch as Moses and his family and their friends listen as death strikes throughout the city, as mothers and fathers cry in anguish as their children pass away. Ramesis II finally gives in, allowing the slaves to go free, and as mentioned, Demille shows what has to be thousands of extras from all walks of life as they take the mass exodus, soon pursued when Ramesis II changes his mind, making his way through the Red Sea, which parts, and later swallows the majority of Ramesis II’s army.
The caravan heads to Mt. Sinai where Moses waits on orders. With no government in place, the people enter into a massive Hedonistic festival - full of orgies, drinking, and assaults. They create a Golden Calf as their new idol to worship, and just as things look hopeless, God burns the ten commandments into stone and Moses bring them down. The caravan will spend another forty years wandering the desert as punishment before God finally provides them with roots.
Stay tuned for Part 3...
BELOW: Moses don't want no one having orgies under his watch
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