starring Theodore Roberts, Estelle Taylor, Richard Dix, Rod La Rocque, Leatrice Joy, Nita Naldi
February 1924

By James R. Quirk, editor
I have never approached a review of a picture with such timidity, because I am fearful that I may appear extravagant in prodigality or adjectives on a motion picture subject. I shall endeavor to avoid them. I shall not call it a "super picture," nor "the greatest picture ever screened," nor "the greatest spectacle ever conceived by the mind of man." Unfortunately these adjectives mean nothing in a business where they are as apt to gild a turnip as a lily.

In another department of this issue, I have reviewed this picture. Here I merely wish to advise every one of the several million readers of Photoplay to see it as the first opportunity.

In a previous issue of this publication I said:

"Cecil B. DeMille has carved for himself out of lights and shadows a monument far more enduring than granite or marble. 'The Ten Commandments,' which will be released soon, is appalling in its scope and a tremendous human achievement in its execution. Every theater in which it appears will be a temple and every screen a pulpit, not pouring a message of words into heeedless ears, but burning with white light into the very souls of men and women and children the great lesson of God's infinite love, of the brotherhood of man, of peace on earth among men, and the futility of strife and hate. Wouldn't it be strange if, despised and censored and reviled for years, the motion picture should come to be recognized as the greatest interpreter of the Mosaic Law since the ancient prophet revealed the Tablets of Stone to the children of Israel?"

At the time I was criticized as extravagant in my praise, but I repeat every word of it. If the censors attempt to delete a single foot of the Old Testament part of this picture, God knows what they would do to the original of the greatest document civilization has produced if they got at it with their small minds and big scissors.

Right now in New York, and all over the world in fact, there is raging a great controversy on "fundamentalism," a dispute regarding the Divinity of Christ, the Immaculate Conception, the Resurrection of Christ. On each side is displayed a viciousness that is far removed from the spirit of the brotherhood if man that He taught.

But in the DeMille visualization of the events leading up to the revelation of the commandments and the actual revelation and its consequences, there is not a single thing that any fair-minded theologian can resent. It is the actual visualization of the Old Testament.

I sat spellbound through the Biblical prologue. I was living it. I saw the bondage of the Israelites. I fled with them from Egypt, a follower of Moses, the prophet of the Great Jehovah, and I followed them with the avenging chariots of Pharaoh. The picturization of the opening of the Red Sea at the command of Moses, and the destruction of the Egyptian hordes, because of the immensity of the theme, may never be surpassed. I felt that no modern story could hold my interest after that. But it did, because the same great theme was there. What a sermon! Those who attempt to break the Ten Commandments, it declares, must themselves be broken.

starring Theodore Roberts, Estelle Taylor, Richard Dix, Rod La Rocque, Leatrice Joy, Nita Naldi
January 19, 1924

"The Ten Commandments" is great. De Mille has found the formula. Simply list the rules of human conduct, then go ahead and break 'em and see what happens. It makes a marvelous sin-and-virtue melodrama of the oldest and best school.

The picture is divided, sixty-forty, into a prologue depicting the adventures of the Israelites before, during, and after the notable occasion on which the Tablets of Law arrived from heaven, and a less elaborate, but still more interesting modern story about good people, bad people, and worse people.

The prologue is where the expense was incurred. De Mille has spared nothing, except, possibly, imagination. Everything is so enormous your eyes pop with strain and excitement. One set, the City of Ramases, is unquestionably the most tremendous thing ever created for the cinema. A charge of a brigade of chariots across the desert is just too dangerous for words. And the carousal of the forgetful Israelites about the Calf of Gold is quite the most stupendous petting party ever petted.

But in two trick scenes is the high tide line reached. Moses arrives at the shore of the Red Sea. Close behind him and his following tribe comes the Egyptians. Moses stretches out his arms. With a terrifying bubbling and roaring and a sweep of surf the ocean divides into two tremendous masses of moving water, flanking a dry lane of earth. The Israelites, tiny specks in the immensity, make their way safely across. The Egyptian chariots arrive. Into the passageway they charge and then, like tow vast, amorphous glaciers, the walls of water leap together, and with frightful flying of bodies and foam and chariots the Egyptian are destroyed.

No, we don't know how it's done, but we do know it's marvelous. Neither do we know the inside dope on the equally remarkable stunt of having the Ten Commandments come to Moses on the mount out of fiery whirling balls of smoke and lava bigger than all outdoors. But that too, is good. Darned good.

The modern story concerns two brothers, one awfully good, the other contemptuous of the importance of the commandments. Naughty brother become rich and temoraraily gains the girl. God brother stays poor but honest. After a succession of perfectly lovely tragedies and misfortunes, the wages of sin are paid with interest, and Virtue is left to collect the leavings.

The performances of the players are almost uniformly fine. Theodore Roberts as Moses, however, is a trifle disappointing. From the Grand Old Man of Israel was just a step, but he took it with a slight limp. Rod La Rocque as the youthful villain definitely establishes himself as one of the very greatest players on the screen, and Leatrice Joy adds materially to her laurels.

The customary De Mille absurdities- such as dyeing the spectacular Red Sea and Exodus scenes in pale and wishy-washy colors- are discoverable, but they aren't frequent enough to do serious damage.

Review provided by Eryn Merwart

Starring Theodore Roberts
March 1924

The much-heralded production, "The Ten Commandments" (Paramount), which has been painted in glowing colors by its sponsors as the greatest creation in the history of the silversheet ­ which has been eulogized as Cecil De Mille's crowning achievement, lives up to the majority of its praises. Its pretensions to a place among the rare canvases are earned thru the spectacular sweep and color of its Bibilical prolog. For sheer picturesque appeal, its ancient story dwarfs anything heretofore revealed.

The director conceived the idea of weaving the exodus of the Israelites with a modern tale which was to stamp its theme thru symbolic treatment. Thus we are presented with a combination film spectacle and melodrama. But the departure from the awe-inspiring Biblical chapters to the sensational exposition of a rank modernist breaking the entire Ten Commandments is too abrupt. We, who have become transported thru the brilliancy of these introductory scenes ­ transported in the sense that we feel actual participants of the migratory movement of the Israelites and suffer and sympathize with them ­ are brought up sharp with theatric realities.

De Mille journeys from the sublime to the ridiculous. He deals in magic ­ but regardless of his bold treatment, he enthralls us. And the Biblical prolog is so masterful in its direction ­ conceived, as it is, in gigantic designs which are faithful reproductions of its story and characters ­ that faulty as the modern tale is, we pause to pay him homage.

The first part is exceptionally brilliant in execution. It releases a fine spiritual glow; it suggests sincerity to do a big thing well, it includes reverent acting, gargantuan settings, both exterior and interior, impressive costuming and some remarkable photography and color treatment. Certainly it has been a labor of love and enthusiasm its sponsor ­ who has made careful and authentic research that a moving story may be recorded of the vivid conflict between the Egyptians and the Israelites. Dealing as it does with freedom from bondage of the Hebrews, it leaves the spectator gasping with its whirl of events ­ and the immensity of its design ­ and the truthful representation of its vital figures.

As a spectacle it stands alone, since it employs screen artifice as it has never before been employed. Something new in camera technique is exposed in the pronouncement of the Commandments to Moses from on high ­ the passage of the Red Sea and the subsequent engulfing of the six hundred chariots of Rameses and his cohorts. The color process, as these warriors clad in colorful raiment, their horses being lashed onward ­ head onward into the camera, as they follow up the straggling disciples of Moses, composes a picture of compelling beauty. All the forces of spectacle are marshaled in the prolog. And it is ovewhelmingly inspiring.

Then the Biblical episodes disappear ­ to be replaced by a modern treatment which is expected to drive home the same, irresistible theme ­ that the law must be obeyed ­ since the Commandments are the law. The inevitable penalty that follows a violation of the Commandments is told with symbolic touches. But in comparison with the mighty spectacle which has preceded it, the modern tale is the dross from the gold. We would have enjoyed a much more dignified presentation ­ one similar in theme to "The Passing of the Third Floor Back," or one showing such a tale as a prolog ­ to be followed by the Biblical chapters. Or better still, a really spiritual story dovetailed by scenes of he ancient conflict and glorification of Moses and the Commandments.

Mr. De Mille makes a descension from the heights ­ and walks on common ground with his artless modern film. It presents such sharp contrast to what has preceded it ­ and the spiritual glow which flamed from an undying fire sputters and becomes a fading ember. It is stark melodrama ­ presenting a house divided ­ a mother and her two sons ­ one faithful to the laws of God and man ­ and the other ­ much more interesting and sympathetic because he appears to be tainted ­ a rank violator and trespasser. The story has certain effective situations ­ but its action is so haphazard in reaching its climaxes, tho these are well pointed in advance ­ and it is so crammed with modern magic ­ that its symbols are often lost. The contrasts are too sharp ­ the bad son is an extremist in his defiance.

The mother of this story is a stern Puritan ­ who impresses us as an extremist, too. Some may see comedy in her lugging a huge and unwieldy Bible around. It seems absurd to discover a big framed photograph of her holding the same volume on her lap. Other absurdities creep in ­ especially when the leper from India smuggles herself into the United States in a bag of jute. Several of its scenes are repetitions ­ others are dull. Yet there is one conspicuously effective shot of drama when the big cathedral under construction topples over and buries the young sinner's mother.

Mr. De Mille overlooks the realities of his plot in projecting his symbols. If his aim is to show that the Commandments cannot be broken without tragic consequences, he has succeeded admirably ­ but in driving home his points, he loses contact with life. Yet so masterful is his treatment of the Biblical prolog that its spectacular sweep is powerful enough to carry it by as one of the greatest films ever made. The ancient story is truly majestic and inspiring.

The interpretation is competent ­ and more than competent in Theodore Roberts' portrayal of Moses. In the modern story, Leatrice Joy and Rod La Rocque share honors as contributing the most effective performances. A sinner is always more fascinating than a saint, tho Richard Dix tries his best to act human with a halo.

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