Director: Cecil B. DeMille
Stars: Charlton Heston, Yul Brynner, Anne Baxter
Plot: Biblical story of the life of Moses, an adopted Egyptian prince who becomes the deliverer of his real brethren, the enslaved Hebrews, and therefore leads the Exodus to Mount Sinai, where he receives, from God, the Ten Commandments.
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!"
At least 14,000 extras and 15,000 animals were used in the film.
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 did not want to be physically overshadowed by Heston.
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.
Cecil B. DeMille's final film.
As a publicity stunt, Cecil B. DeMille had public displays and monuments of the Ten Commandments erected around the country. Known as "decalogues," most of them were placed in, on, or near government buildings.
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, as it was occurring. He took two of days off and then, against his doctor's orders, returned to work to complete the film.
The illusion of the Red Sea parting was achieved by large "dump tanks" that were flooded, then the film was shown in reverse
The orgy sequence took three weeks to film. One of the reasons why the orgy sequence was so difficult to film was that 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 informed by DeMille that they didn't look like they were having an orgy.
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.
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.
Charlton Heston also voiced God in the film.
Produced at a then-staggering cost of thirteen million dollars, the film went on to become Paramount's biggest-grossing movie to that time. For years it ranked second only to Gone with the Wind (1939) as the most successful film in Hollywood history.
When Rameses places the dead body of his son (Eugene Mazzola) onto the arms of the statue of Sokar, the body changes from Eugene Mazzola's actual body to a wax dummy. The statue was unable to support Mazzola's body weight, and it was also difficult for Mazzola to remain motionless, as if he were dead, after he was placed on the statue.
Associate Producer Henry Wilcoxon would later bemoan that the ending of the picture was marred by the unconvincing old-age makeup on Charlton Heston and that he did not know why it had been approved.
According to Charlton Heston's autobiography, the filming of the orgy scenes was so grueling that it prompted one female extra to exclaim, "Who do I have to f*** to get OUT of this movie?"