At the 60th anniversary of its release, Cecil B. DeMille’s epic film may still be the best known Hollywood adaptation of a biblical story. Alex Joffe reflects on how The Ten Commandments has withstood the test of time, and compares it with more recent cinematic retellings of the same story (free registration required):
The real star of The Ten Commandments is God, who speaks directly to Moses and works miracles that ultimately convince Rameses to let the Israelites go. Divine intervention and national liberation is the essence of the biblical account. What a contrast with Ridley Scott’s 2014 retelling in Exodus: Gods and Kings, where Moses is a freedom fighter and God a vision brought on by a childhood blow to the head, or with the 1998 animated Prince of Egypt, where Moses cries because of the plagues and the musical numbers sound like rejects from Frozen.
DeMille . . . through clever dialogue and narration [also] Americanizes the Exodus. . . . Moses’ last words in the film, “Go—proclaim liberty throughout all the lands, unto all the inhabitants thereof” (Leviticus 25:10), also inscribed on the Liberty Bell, make the connection between ancient Israel and America clear. . . .
There are no “timeless” films, but DeMille’s The Ten Commandments comes closer than many, because of its subject matter, epic scale, and outsized social impact. Whether its messages of human liberty and the enduring relationship between God and the Israelites still resonate, in America or elsewhere, is another question.