According to Hollywood lore, while filming the orgy sequence that precedes Moses' descent from Mount Horeb with the two stone tablets on which the Ten Commandments are engraved, Cecil B. DeMille was perched on top of a ladder delivering his customarily long-winded directions through a megaphone to the hundreds of extras involved in the scene. After droning on to the extras for several minutes, DeMille was distracted by one young woman who was talking to another woman standing next to her. DeMille stopped his speech and directed everyone's attention to the young woman. "Here," DeMille said, "we have a young woman whose conversation with her friend is apparently more important than listening to her instructions from her director while we are all engaged in making motion picture history. Perhaps the young woman would care to enlighten us all, and tell us what the devil is so important that it cannot wait until after we make this shot." After an embarrassed pause, the young woman spoke up and boldly confessed, "I was just saying to my friend here, 'I wonder when that bald-headed old fart is gonna call 'Lunch!'" Nonplussed, DeMille stared at the woman for a moment, paused, then lifted his megaphone and shouted, "Lunch!"
Legend has it that Anne Baxter's character's name was changed from Nefertiti to Nefretiri because Cecil B. DeMille was afraid people would make "boob" jokes. In reality, DeMille was sticking to history: Rameses II's queen was actually named Nefretiri. Nefertiti, by contrast, lived about 60 years earlier and was the queen of Amenhotep IV (named Akhenaten later in his reign). Nefretiri means "beautiful companion" in Egyptian.
The illusion of the Red Sea parting was achieved by large "dump tanks" that were flooded, then the film was shown in reverse. The two frothing walls of water were created by water dumped constantly into "catch basin areas," then the foaming, churning water was visually manipulated and used sideways for the walls of water. Gelatin was added to the tanks to give the water a consistency like sea water. The dump tanks have long since been removed, but the catch basin still exists on the Paramount lot, directly in front of the exterior sky backdrop, in the central portion of the studio. It can still be flooded for water scenes. When it's not being used in a production, it is an extension of a parking lot.
When Yul Brynner was told he would be playing Pharaoh Rameses II opposite Charlton Heston's Moses, and that he would be shirtless for a majority of the film, he began a rigorous weightlifting program because he didn't want to be physically overshadowed by Heston. This would explain his buffer-than-normal physique during The King and I (1956), the film he made just after this one. Heston would later submit that Brynner gave the best performance in the film.
Cecil B. DeMille picked Charlton Heston for the role of Moses because he bore a resemblance to Michelangelo's statue of Moses in Rome, Italy. Heston later played Michelangelo in The Agony and the Ecstasy (1965).
When asking the Egyptian authorities for permission to film there, Cecil B. DeMille was pleasantly surprised to find out they were fans of his film The Crusades (1935). "You treated us [Arabs in the film] so well, you may do anything here you want," they told him.
No one received on-screen credit for the voice of God. The voice used was heavily modified and mixed with other sound effects, making identification extremely difficult. Various people have either claimed or been rumored to have supplied the voice, including: Cecil B. DeMille (who also narrated the film), Charlton Heston, and Delos Jewkes. DeMille's publicist and biographer, Donald Hayne, maintains that Heston provided the voice of God at the burning bush, but Hayne provided the voice of God giving the commandments. In his 1995 autobiography and an interview on the 2004 DVD release, Heston said he was the voice of God.
Until The Passion of the Christ (2004), this film was the highest-grossing religious epic in history, earning over $65.5 million, over $587 million in 2016 dollars.
Cecil B. DeMille suffered a heart attack during the production, after climbing 130 feet to check a faulty camera perched on one of the giant gates used during the exodus sequence. He took two of days off, then returned to work, against his doctor's orders, to complete the film.
Nina Foch, who played Bithiah, was actually one year younger than Charlton Heston, her 31-year-old on-screen son, Moses.
Charlton Heston's newborn son Fraser C. Heston played the infant Moses. According to DVD commentary by Katherine Orrison (a protege and biographer of Henry Wilcoxon, who played Pentaur in the movie and served as associate producer), Cecil B. DeMille deliberately timed the filming of his scenes for when Fraser was about three months old, the age of baby Moses when his mother put him in the basket on the Nile, according to the Old Testament.
Cecil B. DeMille's 75th birthday fell during the production, making him the oldest working Hollywood director at the time. He planned to make another film after this one, but he died in 1959 while it was in preproduction and a week after he made an on-camera announcement about his upcoming film. The film would have been about the Boy Scouts and was to have starred David Niven as Scouting founder Lord Baden-Powell.
Although the film crew traveled to Egypt to shoot significant portions of the Sinai, Exodus and Red Sea sequences, most of the film was actually shot at Paramount Pictures' sound stages in Hollywood. Footage from Egypt was also used for backgrounds.
The red smoke on top of Mt. Sinai, which symbolized God's presence on the mountain, was a matted special effect superimposed over a shot of Mt. Sinai filmed on location.
The cloud visual effects used during the parting of the Red Sea scenes would later be used in various movies by director Steven Spielberg.
Martha Scott, who played Charlton Heston's mother in this film and Ben-Hur (1959), was only ten years older than her on-screen son.
This was highest-earning live-action film after Gone with the Wind (1939). The Sound of Music (1965) broke that record.
Because numerous scenes required multiple cameras to run simultaneously, Paramount had the Mitchell Camera Corporation build additional VistaVision cameras for this production. Decades later, the cameras were highly sought after by special effects companies because they could produce large area negatives on standard 35mm film stock.
Originally, when Elmer Bernstein was orchestrating the music to accompany the Great Exodus of the slaves out of Egypt, the music was mournful. Cecil B. DeMille ordered him to replace it, substituting joyful, upbeat music to announce the Hebrew slaves' joy, getting their freedom.
In the narrated desert sequence, to create the effect of the sandstorms as Moses left Egypt and headed to Midian, Cecil B. DeMille used jet engine blast from tied-down Egyptian Air Force planes.
The approaching hailstorm that is seen on the sky was created with travelling mattes, while animation was used for the lightning. The hailstones that fell onto the pavilion of Rameses' palace were actually pieces of popcorn that had been spray-painted white. Popcorn was extremely convenient as it was light, wouldn't hurt Yul Brynner, and could be swept up and used again. The fire that emerges from the hailstones required another special effects process, double exposure. The set was cleared of all hailstones and actors, the camera remained in the same spot (for both angles/shots), and the crew set portions of the set on fire. Footage of the two shots (the hail falling on Rameses and the fire burning on the ground) were then superimposed to achieve the effect of flames emerging from the hail.
In the initial Egyptian sequence, Nefretiri is referred to as "the throne princess" who "must marry the next Pharaoh." According to ancient Egyptian royal custom, this implies that she is Sethi's daughter, who is expected to marry his successor, regardless of her kinship to that man (the real Nefretiri's parentage is unknown). However, if Sethi was explicitly identified as her father, it would be clear that in the end, Rameses married his sister in an incestuous union. This was evidently seen as inappropriate for a 1950s audience that would certainly include children. As a result, Nefretiri was only called "the throne princess," without any explanation.
Several scenes were matted together from scenes shot on location in Egypt and scenes shot at the Paramount Pictures lot in Hollywood. When Moses and Sethi watch the Obelisk being raised, the slaves in the background were shot at the Valley of the Kings in Egypt, the foreground pavilion with Moses and Sethi was shot in Hollywood, and the background pylons were miniatures.
In June 2008 this film was ranked #10 on the American Film Institute's list of the 10 greatest films in the genre "Epic".
Charlton Heston personally requested that Cecil B. DeMille let him be the voice of God, at the scene of the Burning Bush, and DeMille agreed. According to a Jewish legend, God spoke to Moses this first time in the voice of his father, Amram, so as not to frighten Moses more than necessary.
While screening Sombrero (1953), which Cecil B. DeMille was using as a screen test for Nina Foch, he spotted Yvonne De Carlo and reportedly said, "That's the face I've been looking for as Moses' wife."
Cecil B. DeMille's original choice for Moses was William Boyd, best known as "Hopalong Cassidy". Boyd turned down the role, fearing that his identification as "Hoppy" would hurt the film.
There was a long-standing joke on the set of this film, that if it were a hit, it would all be due to Cecil B. DeMille. However, if it was a flop, it would be God's fault.
Originally not filmed with stereophonic sound, making it the only mid-to-late 1950s Biblical epic not made that way. The sound was remixed to stereo for later releases.
When Woody Strode reported to work, he gave Cecil B. DeMille an antique Bible that Strode's wife had found. DeMille was so impressed that he gave Strode two parts in the film and told Strode that if he ever wanted a part in a future DeMille film, all he had to do was ask. Unfortunately, this project was DeMille's final film.
According to the commentary on the 50th Anniversary DVD in 2006, the plague of frogs was filmed, but not used. Frogs left the muddied Nile, came up onto land, and chased Nefretiri and other Egyptians through their chambers of the palace. Cecil B. DeMille felt that the scene was not frightening enough, and might even be considered comical, so he omitted it from the final cut
When adjusted for inflation, this is the top grossing movie in the U.S. that has not benefited from multiple releases. It's generally in the top 3 to top 10 of all-time top grossing films, depending on who made the list and how they accounted for re-releases, adjusted for inflation.
The Hebrews' trumpeting sound as they depart Egypt is also heard in Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi (1983).
On screen, and before the opening credits of the movie, director and producer, Cecil B. DeMille walked out from behind curtains, to a microphone and gave a speech, introducing the film saying: "Ladies and gentlemen, young and old, this may seem an unusual procedure, speaking to you before the film begins, but we have an unusual subject, the story of the birth of freedom, the story of Moses. As many of you know, the Holy Bible omits some 30 years of the life of Moses' life from when he was a three-months old baby, and was found in the bulrushes by, by Bithiah, the daughter of Pharaoh and adopted into the court of Egypt, until he learned that he was Hebrew and killed the Egyptian. To fill in those missing years, we turn to ancient historians, Philo Judaeus and Flavius Josephus. Philo wrote at the time Jesus of Nazareth walked the earth and Josephus wrote some 50 years later and watched the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans. These historians had access to documents long since burnt, destroyed - or perhaps lost, like the Dead Sea Scrolls. The theme of this picture is whether man ought to be ruled by God's law, or whether by the whims of a dictator like Rameses. Are men the property of the state or are they free souls under God? This same battle continues throughout the world today. Our intention was not to create a story, but to be worthy of the divinely inspired story, created 3,000 years ago. The story takes 3 hours and 39 minutes to unfold. There will be an intermission. Thank you for your attention."
During the early part of principal photography, Yul Brynner was still on Broadway starring in "The King and I". All of his Egyptian shots were done in one day, then he had to fly back to New York City.
The Bible never identifies any Pharaoh by name. However, this film, and all versions of the story that have followed it, make Rameses the Pharaoh that Moses has to escape from. The only evidence supporting this is the claim in Exodus that the Hebrews built the city of Rameses, and that it was named for the Pharaoh. It could have easily been named for the Sun-God, Ra. Some experts believe that the Pharaoh of Exodus was Thutmose III (also spelled Thothmes III), about 1 or 2 centuries before Rameses II.
The Paramount mountain at the beginning of the film was a stylized version of the studio's logo. The mountain retained its conical shape but with a red granite tone and a more angular summit under a red clouded sky to suggest the appearance of Mount Sinai for this single motion picture. Its circle of stars faded in with the announcement: "Paramount Presents - A Cecil B. DeMille Production."
Produced at a then-staggering cost $13 million, it became Paramount's highest-grossing movie at that time. For years it ranked second only to Gone with the Wind (1939) as the most successful film in Hollywood history.
This was composer Elmer Bernstein's first major project. Bernstein had just had some success with his jazz score for The Man with the Golden Arm (1955). However, he was not Cecil B. DeMille's first choice to score the film. DeMille had a long relationship with Paramount contract composer Victor Young, who had been working with DeMille since North West Mounted Police (1940). Unfortunately, Young had become very ill and could not accept the assignment.
Edward G. Robinson said Cecil B. DeMille saved his career by hiring him for this movie. Robinson had been almost blacklisted for his left-wing political activism, and offers of work had dried up as a result. DeMille hiring Robinson for this film undermined the Hollywood blacklist.
Audrey Hepburn was originally slated for the role of "Nefretiri". Cecil B. DeMille reluctantly decided to pass on her after she was judged "too slender" (flat-chested). Anne Baxter had originally been a contender for the role of "Sephora."
In the original script, Moses placed his hands on Joshua's head to ordain him as Israel's leader. Several crew members objected because no such action was recorded in Deuteronomy, where Moses hands over leadership to Joshua. Arnold Friberg, an ordained minister, pointed out that the ordinance was recorded in Numbers 27, and the scene was revised back to the original script.
The visual effects work was so extensive that it wasn't complete by the final edit. The released version contains fringing during some blue screen shots, which the crew didn't have time to correct.
Though Moses most likely lived sometime in the early New Kingdom, the Old Kingdom Egyptian facts Charlton Heston used at his audition won him his legendary role.
The orgy sequence was so difficult to film partly because Cecil B. DeMille wanted it to look like an orgy without showing anything onscreen that was inappropriate for children. This led to seemingly contradictory direction for the actors, who were trying to be tame but were then told that they didn't look like they were having an orgy.
Although she felt she was miscast in the role of Nefretiri (because of her Irish features), Anne Baxter enjoyed watching the film on TV every Easter. She loved the film.
Adjusted for inflation, this is the seventh highest grossing film of all time, after Gone with the Wind (1939), Avatar (2009), Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977), Titanic (1997), The Sound of Music (1965) and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982).
Apart from Charlton Heston and John Derek, almost no leading and major supporting parts were actually Paramount contract players. By 1954, when the film began shooting, most of the studios had dropped their contract players due to sweeping changes in the industry and competition with television. The other stars of the film had been (or were) contract players of other studios: 20th Century-Fox (Anne Baxter, Debra Paget, Vincent Price), Warner Bros. (Edward G. Robinson), Universal (Yvonne De Carlo), and Columbia (Nina Foch).
The effect of clouds that appear over the Red Sea was accomplished using a "cloud tank", A glass tank is filled with water and that paint is poured into it. By varying the density of the paint and the salinity of the water, it is possible to get several distinct layers.
One day in Griffith Park in Los Angeles, a casting director for this film approached Jack Peters and his son Jon Peters to ask if Jon wanted to appear in the film, as multitudes of people with dark hair and complexions were needed to cross the Red Sea. Jon was chosen to ride a donkey and lead a goat by rope. He was so excited that he refused to wash off the makeup when he went home that night, so he wouldn't have to put it back on the next day.
There is a longstanding rumor that future Cuban dictator Fidel Castro was an extra in this film, possibly playing an Egyptian soldier. In her book "My Lucky Stars", Shirley MacLaine recalls asking Castro if he indeed was in the film, and she received an ambiguous answer.
As this was his final picture, Cecil B. DeMille has the rare achievement among directors of ending his career with his most expensive production and biggest commercial hit.
Gloria Swanson was originally cast as Memnet, but she left because she was having trouble getting a backer for a musical stage version of Sunset Blvd. (1950). The musical was abandoned in the early 1960s, even after a cast album was recorded during out-of-town tryouts.
The film is usually edited very slightly for television transmission. Because of numerous lengthy commercial breaks, most showings clock in at close to 4:30. The DVD release is 3:39 on 2 DVDs, leading some humorists to comment that it had been "trimmed to seven commandments".
This was Cecil B. DeMille's only movie made in widescreen. In 1952, when The Greatest Show on Earth (1952) was released, all films, except for This Is Cinerama (1952), were made in the old non-widescreen Academy ratio of 1.37:1. Four years later, widescreen films had become standard.
Charlton Heston earned his first Golden Globe Award nomination (in the Best Actor in a Motion Picture Drama category) for his performance as Moses in this film.
Despite being credited as costume designers, John L. Jensen and Arnold Friberg did not work primarily in costume design. Jensen was the lead sketch artist, and sketched out designs for certain costumes. Friberg was primarily hired to design the film's titles, which were hand lettered and photographed over a colored leather background. Friberg also contributed costume sketches. The costume for Moses as a shepherd was patterned after one Friberg had already painted, a portrayal of an ancient prophet for "The Childrens' Friend", a magazine published by the Primary Association, the children's organization of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, of which Friberg is a member.
As a promotion for the film, Paramount's publicity department gave grants to state and local governments to post stone tablets of the Ten Commandments on public land. Decades later, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued to have some of these removed on the grounds that placing the Ten Commandments on public property was "an establishment of religion" that violated the First Amendment to the Constitution.
The scene in which the slaves are working in the brick pits under a sweltering sun was actually filmed on an ice-cold soundstage, so the mud did not dry under the studio lights. The scantily clad actors were actually freezing during filming, and had to be covered with oil to simulate sweat.
Flora Robson was considered for Memnet, and Bette Davis was interviewed. Cecil B. DeMille's casting journal also notes Marjorie Rambeau and Marie Windsor. DeMille chose Judith Anderson after screening Alfred Hitchcock's Rebecca (1940).
Joan Crawford wanted to play a small role in a DeMille film, so DeMille offered her the part of Bithiah, Moses' adoptive mother. Coincidentally, Crawford's longtime rival, Bette Davis, was interviewed by DeMille for the role of Memnet, Bithiah's slave. In the end, neither actress was cast in the film and the roles went to Nina Foch and Judith Anderson, respectively.
According to Simon Louvish's biography "Cecil B. DeMille: A Life in Art", the role of Moses was first offered to William Boyd, who had also played Simon the Cyrene in The King of Kings (1927). Boyd declined the role due to his commitment to his enormously popular television series Hopalong Cassidy (1952). DeMille was persuaded to hire Charlton Heston after the Israeli government gave him a statuette likeness of Moses, and noted Heston's resemblance to the statuette.
In the scene in which God writes the Ten Commandments, the voice says "Lord thy God." The Hebrew written on the stones is actually the Tetragrammaton in ancient Paleo Hebrew letters. According to modern-day archaeologists, the English translation would be "Jehovah."
The only film of 1956 to be Oscar nominated for Best Picture, and not Best Director.
Some scenes were filmed in Egypt in 1955. Relations between the United States and Colonel Gamal Abdel Nasser did not become fraught until the following year, when Egypt formally recognized China's claim to Taiwan and began importing Soviet weapons via Czechoslovakia.
Special Effects Property Master William Sapp created the effects that turned the waters of the Nile red. Red dye was pumped into the water through a hose at the point where Aaron touched the river with his staff. Sapp also created the vessel that Rameses' priest used in an attempt to restore the waters. The vessel had two chambers: one filled with clear water, located near the vessel's opening, and one filled with red-dyed water, located near the bottom. As the vessel was tipped to empty its contents, the clear water poured out first, then the red-dyed water. Six vessels were made for the film, but only two were used during production. The reverse shot showing the red water extending out into the sea was created through animation onto shots of the Red Sea that had been photographed in Egypt.
Cecil B. DeMille was reluctant to cast anyone who had appeared in 20th Century Fox's The Egyptian (1954), a rival production at the time. Several exceptions to this are the casting of John Carradine and Mimi Gibson (in credited supporting roles) and Michael Ansara and Peter Coe (in uncredited minor roles), who appeared in both films.
Anne Baxter and Yvonne De Carlo, the film's two leading ladies, had always wanted to act in a Cecil B. DeMille film. Baxter became a DeMille fan after watching Samson and Delilah (1949), while De Carlo admired DeMille since the time he considered her for a supporting role in The Story of Dr. Wassell (1944). In their autobiographies, both actresses say that they didn't mind the small salary they were paid for their work in the film; all they wanted was the privilege to play a role in a DeMille film.
Cecil B. DeMille originally wanted Grace Kelly to play Sephora, but she was unavailable.
Claudette Colbert, Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, Rosemary DeCamp, Irene Dunne, Merle Oberon, and Alexis Smith were considered for the role of Bithiah. Cecil B. DeMille chose Jayne Meadows, but she declined the role because she wanted to spend more time with her family. DeMille cast Nina Foch, on the suggestion of Henry Wilcoxon, who had worked with her in Scaramouche (1952).
Cecil B. DeMille and Yvonne De Carlo became very good friends; he admired her acting talent and beauty, and she had always wanted to act in one of his films. DeMille cast her as the female lead in his next production, The Buccaneer (1958), but De Carlo declined because she was already pregnant with her second child. He understood and they remained friends.
In an interview, Debra Paget said: "Of course, Cecil B. DeMille was a great director - I worked with him for a whole year on my personal favorite film, The Ten Commandments (1956). That picture took two years to complete. Unfortunately, all my scenes were shot in Hollywood - only Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner had to go to Egypt. But it was an ordeal, just the same. I was wearing the same costume for 3 or 4 months! They wouldn't clean it, because it was supposed to look dirty! I like animals, but goats, camels, cows and dogs in the dust-blah! The goats would be chewing on my costume. DeMille personally chose me for the part. He told me he felt the hand of God was always on my career! I did Omar Khayyam (1957) later - but it was nothing like this."
Vincent Price said, "I felt that if I hadn't worked in a DeMille picture, I really wasn't a movie actor. I know that Judith Anderson and Edward G. Robinson, all really felt the same way I did."
DeMille was disappointed when he found out that neither he nor Elmer Bernstein received Academy Award nominations for Best Director and Best Original Score, respectively. But the film won DeMille many special awards, not only from the film industry but also from Christian and Jewish organizations. Bernstein later said, "I would say that the work on The Ten Commandments was singularly the most exciting project of my entire life."
The Pillar of Fire (in the Red Sea and Ten Commandments sequences) was created with cel animation. DeMille originally planned to use matte effects with real fire, but Paramount's premiere date for the film forced the technicians to use animation. The swirling white sparks that appear before and after the Pillar of Fire were accomplished by burning magnesium and filming it in slow motion.
In 1999, The Ten Commandments (1956) was added to the National Film Registry by the United States Library of Congress.
Cecil B. DeMille's last film. Despite his fame and success for numerous Biblical spectacular films, he won his only competitive Oscar for producing The Greatest Show on Earth (1952). He also won an honorary Oscar for lifetime achievement in 1950.
Special effects man William Sapp was not involved with creating the burning bush, which was handled by John P. Fulton. Sapp was critical of the result, pointing out that it was not a "burning" bush at all, but a glowing one. He claimed that if he'd he crafted the bush, it would've burned on-camera.
Martha Scott played John Carradine's, Olive Deering's and Charlton Heston's mother. She was six years younger than Carradine, six years older than Deering and eleven years older than Heston.
The expression "the son of your body" for a biological offspring is based on inscriptions found in Mehu's tomb.
Shortly after the intermission, Rameses accepts homage from an ambassador of King Priam of Troy, a reference to the doomed ruler of Troy in Homer's Iliad. The destruction of Troy is generally dated to 1190 BC based on both archaeological evidence and the writings of the ancient historian Eratosthenes. Rameses II ruled from 1279-1213 BC, meaning that the city of Troy would've been standing during his reign.
Because the only widescreen process that Paramount used at the time was VistaVision, the screen process used for the original release of this film was not as wide as those used for processes such as CinemaScope and Todd-AO. However, VistaVision had higher resolution and a flat, undistorted image.
Included among the American Film Institute's 1998 list of the 400 movies nominated for the Top 100 Greatest American Movies.
Included in the book "The New York Times Guide to the Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made" (2004).
Included among the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die", edited by Steven Schneider.
In December 1956, The Film Daily announced the results of its national poll of film critics, known as Filmdom's Famous Five. The Ten Commandments placed in three categories: 4th Best Actor (Charlton Heston) 5th Best Screenplay (Æneas MacKenzie, Jack Gariss, Jesse Lasky Jr., and Fredric M. Frank) 5th Best Cinematography (Loyal Griggs)
DeMille's first and favorite choice for the part of Lilia was MGM contract player Pier Angeli, but her studio refused to loan her to Paramount. Wilcoxon suggested Debra Paget, who was under contract to 20th Century Fox. DeMille signed Paget for the role, but Fox demanded that John Derek (another Fox star) be cast as Joshua or else there would be no deal. DeMille had already signed Cornel Wilde for the role of Joshua, and reluctantly had to go back on his word and give the part to Derek.
The film's original 10-minute theatrical trailer includes alternate takes and shots that were cut from the film.
Henry Wilcoxon's wife Joan Woodbury was cast as Korah's wife in the Golden Calf sequence.
The only Best Picture Oscar nominee that year to be also nominated for Best Visual Effects.
Ann Blyth, Vanessa Brown, Joan Evans, Rhonda Fleming, Coleen Gray, Jane Griffiths, Jean Marie, Vivien Leigh, Jane Russell, and Joan Taylor were considered for Nefretiri.
In one scene you can see a weathered, brown, stepped pyramid. This is not an error. There were several pyramids of this style which were from hundreds of years before the time of Moses. The one seen in the film was presumably the largest, which would make it the pyramid of Djoser.
By the time they appeared in the film, four cast members had either won or received Academy Award nominations: Anne Baxter (Best Supporting Actress winner, 1947) Nina Foch (Best Supporting Actress nominee, 1955) Martha Scott (Best Actress nominee, 1941) Judith Anderson (Best Supporting Actress nominee, 1941) After the film's release, three cast members won Academy Awards: Yul Brynner (Best Actor, 1957) Charlton Heston (Best Actor, 1960) Edward G. Robinson (Academy Honorary Award, 1973) Overall, the film stars four Oscar winners (Baxter, Brynner, Heston, and Robinson) and three Oscar nominees (Foch, Scott, and Anderson).
Rachel Ames, Anne Bancroft, Anne Baxter, Shirley Booth, Diane Brewster, Peggie Castle, June Clayworth, Linda Darnell, Laura Elliot, Rhonda Fleming, Rita Gam, Jacqueline Green, Barbara Hale, Allison Hayes, Frances Lansing, Patricia Neal, Marie Palmer, Jean Peters, Ruth Roman, Barbara Rush, and Elizabeth Sellers were considered for Sephora.
Yvonne De Carlo talks about the film in Chapter 28 of her 1987 autobiography, "Yvonne". She went to Egypt in 1954 to visit the set of the film. DeMille told her, "Yvonne, your great-great grandchildren will watch this film one day." She says that the first scene she filmed was the one where Sephora weaves. She worried about wearing brown contact lenses, but DeMille later told her that he believed her eyes were her "main asset" and that he was "not going to change a God-given treasure." She also suggested to DeMille that the Bedouins should clap during the dance of Jethro's daughters; DeMille liked the idea and included it in the film. DeMille always treated her with respect and, on her last day of work, presented her with a leather-bound copy of the film's script in which he wrote: "Yvonne, when you retrod the path of Sephora's life 'He Who Has No Name' surely guided your steps. Thank you for your help. Cecil B. DeMille."
A rare epic of its time in that its interior scenes were all shot in Hollywood sound stages. Rival epics, such Ben-Hur (1959) and Solomon and Sheba (1959), were shot in Italy and Spain.
Henry Corden, the voice of Fred Flintstone in many Hanna-Barbera productions, played a sheikh of Sinai in the film. His character wears a green keffiyeh (Arab headdress) and sits between Moses and Jethro when they sell the shearing, saying, "Never before, my brothers, has our wool brought so rich a payment".
Inspired the Metallica song "Creeping Death," from their 1984 album "Ride the Lightning." They were watching the movie and, in the scene with the 10th Plague, killing of the first born, bassist Cliff Burton said, "Whoa, it's like creeping death!" The song tells the Passover story, and Metallica's music publishing company is called Creeping Death Music.
The film was the inspiration behind the song "Charlton Heston Put His Vest On" by 1980s band Stump.
Lyle Bettger, Noel Cravat, and Edmond O'Brien were considered for the role of Baka, the Pharaoh's master builder. According to his casting journals, DeMille would have signed O'Brien if Vincent Price had not been available.
In 1999, Katherine Orrison published the 256-page book "Written in Stone: Making Cecil B. DeMille's Epic The Ten Commandments," with exclusive Egyptian location photographs by Ken Whitmore. It contains interviews with members of the cast (Yvonne De Carlo, Martha Scott, Woody Strode, Donald Curtis, Joan Woodbury, Eugene Mazzola, Clint Walker, and Vicki Bakken) and crew (Henry Wilcoxon, Elmer Bernstein, Henry Noerdlinger, Jesse Lasky Jr., John Jensen, Arnold Friberg, William Sapp, Michael D. Moore).
DeMille had worked with George Barnes (cinematography), Gordon Jennings (special effects), and Victor Young (music) on his previous films Samson and Delilah (1949) and The Greatest Show on Earth (1952). Jennings and Barnes both passed away in 1953, when The Ten Commandments was in pre-production. Young was very ill by the time The Ten Commandments was in production and felt he wouldn't be able do the score (he passed away a couple of days after the film's New York City premiere). Loyal Griggs replaced Barnes, John P. Fulton replaced Jennings, and Elmer Bernstein replaced Young. All three also worked on The Buccaneer (1958), of which DeMille was supervising executive producer.
In 1960, twelve credited cast members of the film were awarded stars (in the motion pictures category) on the Hollywood Walk of Fame: Charlton Heston, Yul Brynner, Anne Baxter, Edward G. Robinson, Yvonne De Carlo, Cedric Hardwicke, Nina Foch, Vincent Price, John Carradine, Henry Wilcoxon, H.B. Warner, Julia Faye.
Charlton Heston and Anne Baxter were born in 1923, the year in which Cecil B. DeMille filmed and released his original version, The Ten Commandments (1923).
The film features an international cast with foreign-born leading and supporting actors from the following countries: Russia (Yul Brynner), Romania (Edward G. Robinson), Canada (Yvonne De Carlo, Douglass Dumbrille, Henry Corden), England (Cedric Hardwicke, H.B. Warner), Australia (Judith Anderson), Dominica (Henry Wilcoxon), Egypt (Abbas El Boughdadly, Rushdi Abazah), Guyana (Ramsay Hill), and Germany (Henry Brandon).
The first and only film based on a Bible story to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture. Best Picture nominees Quo Vadis (1951), The Robe (1953), and Ben-Hur (1959) were based on novels that were inspired by the Bible.
Yvonne De Carlo passed away in 2007. Charlton Heston and Nina Foch passed away in 2008; Heston in April and Foch in December. All three lived to the age of 84.
At the 15th Foreign Language Press Film Critics Circle Awards in 1957, the film won in two categories: Best Film in Terms of Content Best Director (Cecil B. DeMille)
Raymond Burr, Lee J. Cobb, King Donovan, Leo Genn, James Griffith, Peter Hansen, Victor Jory, Fredric March, Raymond Massey, Stephen McNally, Shepard Menken, Gary Merrill, Arnold Moss, Robert Newton, Hugh O'Brian, Eric Pohlmann, Basil Rathbone, Dale Robertson, Robert Ryan, Jack Palance, George Sanders, Everett Sloane, and Peter Ustinov were considered for the role of Dathan. DeMille was furious when he found out that Palance, his favorite choice for the role, managed to get a copy of the script. (During interviews, DeMille never allowed the actors to read the script; he always read the part to them.) Palance did not want to play a villain, so DeMille settled on Massey. When Massey decided to work on another film, DeMille signed Edward G. Robinson in September 1954, a few days before he left to Egypt.
Cedric Hardwicke was awarded a knighthood in 1934 and subsequently became "Sir" Cedric Hardwicke, as he is credited in the title sequence. He was the only knighted cast member of the film at the time of the filming. Four years later, in 1960, Judith Anderson was awarded a damehood and became "Dame" Judith Anderson.
According to the script, the names of Jethro's seven daughters are Sephora, Saada, Iyda, Nura, Nassura, Dhira, and Lulua. Lulua has a line that was deleted from the film: "They will have crow's-feet by the time it's my turn to marry. I'm the youngest."
Since this film is a nearly identical, extended remake of the biblical prologue of DeMille's The Ten Commandments (1923), the script had Moses' sister Miriam worshiping the golden calf and contracting leprosy as punishment, as she does in the silent film. However, DeMille ultimately discarded the idea and depicted Miriam as one of the faithful followers of Moses who do not partake in the revelry.
Disney animator Joshua Meador was loaned out to Paramount Pictures to animate the Pillar of Fire. In the sequence where God writes the Ten Commandments, the tornado-like Pillar of Fire was animated on top of footage of the Sinai mountain range. The foreground Sinai summit set had a blue screen background with red and orange light reflected on the rock; these shots were composited with the background Pillar of Fire animation. The flames that represent the Finger of God were animated on top of three layers of film (Sinai footage, Pillar of Fire, studio set) to enable the fire to write on the granite.
The script's original prologue was longer and more elaborate than the one that was edited for the film. The original sequence included depictions of stories from the Book of Genesis (The Creation, Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel), and these preceded the shot where the Hebrew slaves pull the large statue of Rameses I. Probably because of the post-production time constraint, these scenes never made it to the final cut, if they were ever filmed at all.
This was one of the few films of Yul Brynner that he loved. According to his son Rock Brynner, Brynner "was proud of his performance, and very proud of being in the film. He regarded it as the biggest film ever made, forever."
Anne Baxter and Yvonne De Carlo were thrilled to be cast against type. Baxter saw the role of Nefretiri as a great chance to display her sex appeal. De Carlo was excited by the fact that her favorite director had chosen her for a serious role.
In her 1976 autobiography "Intermission: A True Story", Anne Baxter wrote that she wore a "skin-dyed bra" and a "skin-dyed G-string" underneath the most revealing of her costumes. She also said that her first scene with Charlton Heston was the one where Nefretiri kneels beside Moses and embraces him. Her enameled Egyptian collars were warmed before they were placed on her so she wouldn't get goosebumps. She brought her five-year-old daughter Katrina Hodiak to see the filming of the scene in which Nefretiri convinces Sephora to leave to Midian. One of the few times she heard DeMille laugh was when a female extra (in the Ethiopian tribute scene) was caught mumbling in the far end of the set and, after DeMille suggested she share her "earth-shaking remarks," the extra explained: "I was saying, I wonder when the old SOB is going to call lunch?"
Yul Brynner and Anne Baxter share their final appearance in the film when their figures fade into Mount Sinai. Both passed away in 1985; Brynner in October and Baxter in December.
Jeff Chandler, Tony Curtis, Vince Edwards, Eric Fleming, Arthur Franz, Rock Hudson, Brian Keith, Cameron Mitchell, George Nader, Jack Palance, Michael Pate, Richard Todd, Clint Walker, and Cornel Wilde were considered for the role of Joshua. Wilde was originally cast in the role, but later turned it down.
According to DeMille's casting agent, Bill Meikeljohn, Dean Jagger was considered for the role of Sethi.
H.B. Warner: Amminadab, an old Israeli man about to die in the desert, during the Exodus sequence. At the time of filming Warner was as frail in real-life as he appears in the film. Cecil B. DeMille wanted Warner to play The Blind One so badly that he arranged for an ambulance to pick Warner up at his nursing home and bring him to the set for his cameo.
Julia Faye: Elisheba, Aaron's wife. She had played Pharaoh's wife 33 years earlier in The Ten Commandments (1923).