The Ten Commandments ( 1956) – part one

The idea of linking the struggles of the Israelites to the Americans was developed further in Cecil B. DeMille’s final film The Ten Commandments (1956). 

Kevin Brianton, Adjunct Senior Research Fellow

La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia.

In personally introducing the film, DeMille left no doubt of its political leanings.  He said the birth of Moses was the ‘birth of freedom’. 

The theme of this picture is whether men are to be ruled by God’s law – or they are to be ruled by the whims of a dictator like Rameses.  Are they free men or are they to be property of the State or free souls under God?  This same battle continues throughout the world today.[1]

He later used his speech as a basis for an address to the university of Southern California on 6 December 1956.  He changed the speech to reinforce his political point and linked the Israelite’ struggles with Hungary’s.

Are men to be free souls under God or are they the property of the state?  Are men to be ruled by law, or by the whims of an individual?  God’s answer to these timely questions were given three thousand years ago on Mount Sinai.  Russia’s answers was given recently in Hungary.  The world must make its choice.[2]

In his introduction to the film, DeMille was linking the Egyptian tyrannies to Russian communism.  DeMille saw religion as a political force which could deliver freedom to people.  In his autobiography, he made it clear that the film was anti-totalitarian.  He wrote:

For more than twenty years and increasingly in the years since World War II, people had been writing to me from all over he world, urging that I make The Ten Commandments again.  The world needs a reminder they said, of the Law of God; and it was evident in at least some of the letters that the world’s awful experience of totalitarianism, both fascist and communist, had made many people realize anew that the Law of God is the essential bedrock of human freedom.[3]

But it was definitely communism, not fascism, which was the target.  Recalling a press conference in Egypt, he denied that the film was anti-moslem.  He said one of the strongest voices urging him to make The Ten Commandments was the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, who saw in the story of Moses, a prophet honored equally by Moslems, Jews and Christians, a means of welding together adherents of the three faiths against atheistic communism.[4]

[1] Ten Commandments (d) Cecil B. DeMille, (w) Aeanas Mackenzie, Jesse L. Lasky Jnr., Jack Garriss, Frederic M. Frank.

[2] Cecil B. DeMille, Moses and Today, Address delivered to the University of Southern California on 6 December 1956.  Box 9, Folder 24, Cecil B. DeMille Archives.

[3] Donald Hayne, (ed.) The Autobiography of Cecil B. DeMille, W.H.Allen, London, 1960, p. 376.

[4] Ibid., p. 385.  The letter was kept by DeMille.  Mohammed Ali Jinnah to Cecil B. DeMille, 20 December 1954, Folder 3, Box 724 Cecil B. DeMille Archives.

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