It was just two years ago that I went to a screening of “The Ten Commandments” at this same theater. That showing was not a Fathom event but rather part of a series AMC Theaters did that year running a whole variety of older movies. It was not particularly well attended in part I’m sure because of a lack of promotion. Today, I returned to the Red Sea with Charlton Heston and because the screening was a Fathom Event in conjunction with TCM, the theater was quite full. It was not a sell out but it was impressive for a Sunday afternoon screening of a sixty year old film.
Once again the film was spectacular, and although the special effects are six decades behind today’s digital technology, it still feels more than impressive. TCM Host Ben Mankiewicz pointed out that much of the exterior work was shot in Egypt and that there were enormous sets to complement the camera trickery that makes the city of Goshen appear so impressive and of course the parting of the Red Sea so notable. The photographic effect of the final plague on Egypt looked like God’s green fingers were coming from the sky and that the fog which clung to the ground was his breath, turning Ramses edict on itself and slaying the first born of Egypt while passing over the Israelites who marked their thresholds with lambs blood.
The style of the dialogue sometimes provoked a bit of laughter from the audience. Let’s face it, half of the time anyone says the name of Moses, they repeat it a second time in the script. The things that are most believable in the filming are the impressive use of the extras, especially in the Exodus scene itself. The geese, and goats and camels and cattle all interact in a very realistic way with the impressive cast of thousands. Still none of it would matter if Mr. Heston and Mr. Bryner were not convincing in their parts. While much more theatrical in nature than most of us are used to in acting today, both the leads are effective with their faces, body movements and voices. Both of them make large public pronouncements that would sound silly coming from today’s leaders but are sincere in the context of this film.
So many character actors are in the film that it is a wonder that they could keep them for as long as it took to shoot the film. I’ve heard it said that Edward G. Robinson was miscast in the movie but his slight NY accent did not seem to be a distraction to me. Vincent Price was suitably slimy and hearing John Carradine’s sonorous voice backing up Heston was a delight. The only performer who seemed slightly awkward at times was Anne Baxter, but her scenes near the end of the movie were far more effective than the love scenes in the first hour.
It’s Easter season so this film is a perennial and it made sense for TCM to schedule it during the Holy Week. If you are looking for some easy way to commemorate the Holiday, the nearly four hour investment in this movie is probably worth your time. It is also playing again this Wednesday, so play hooky and go, you will be glad you did.