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The Ten Commandments (1956).jpg
Directed by: Cecil B. DeMille
Written by: Cecil B. DeMille
Release date: November 8, 1956
Running time: 3 hours, 40 minutes
Rating: G
Available on: VHS
Ultra HD Blu-ray
Apple TV
Amazon Video

The Ten Commandments is a 1956 theatrical film directed, written, and narrated by Cecil B. DeMille based on the biblical story of Moses. Filmed in color and VistaVision, it was a remake of DeMille's 1923 silent film of the same name and featured an all-star cast including Charlton Heston as Moses and Yul Brynner as Rameses. Released by Paramount Pictures on November 8, 1956, the film was a success critically and financially earning $122.7 million on a $13 million budget. The film was nominated for seven Academy Awards and won one for Best Special Effects. Since 1973, it is shown on ABC during Easter/Passover.


After hearing the prophecy of the deliverer, Pharaoh Rameses I of Egypt orders the death of all newborn Hebrew males. Yochabel saves her infant son by setting him adrift in a basket on the Nile. Bithiah, the Pharaoh's recently widowed daughter, finds the basket and decides to adopt the boy even though her servant, Memnet, recognizes the child is Hebrew. Bithiah names the baby Moses.

Prince Moses grows up to become a successful general, winning a war with Ethiopia and establishing an alliance. Moses and princess Nefretiri fall in love, but she must marry the next Pharaoh. While working on the building of a city for Pharaoh Sethi's jubilee, Moses meets the stonecutter Joshua, who tells him of the Hebrew God. Moses saves an elderly woman from being crushed not knowing that she is his biological mother, Yochabel, and he reprimands the taskmaster and overseer Baka.

Moses reforms the treatment of slaves on the project, but Prince Rameses, Moses's adoptive brother, charges him with planning an insurrection. Moses says he is making his workers more productive, making Rameses wonder if Moses is the man the Hebrews are calling the Deliverer.

Nefretiri learns from Memnet that Moses is the son of Hebrew slaves. She kills Memnet but reveals the story to Moses only after he finds the piece of Levite cloth he was wrapped in as a baby, which Memnet had kept. Moses follows Bithiah to Yochabel's house where he meets his biological mother, brother Aaron, and sister Miriam.

Moses learns more about the slaves by working with them. Nefretiri urges him to return to the palace so he may help his people when he becomes pharaoh, to which he agrees after he completes a final task. Moses saves Joshua from death by killing Baka, telling Joshua that he too is Hebrew. The confession is witnessed by the overseer Dathan, who then reports to Rameses. After being arrested, Moses explains that he is not the Deliverer, but would free the slaves if he could. Sethi banishes Moses to the desert leaving Rameses as the sole heir. Yochabel dies sometime later.

Moses makes his way across the desert to a well in Midian. After defending seven sisters from Amalekites, Moses is housed with the girls' father Jethro, a Bedouin sheik, who worships the God of Abraham. Moses marries Jethro's eldest daughter Sephora. Later, he finds Joshua, who has escaped hard labor. While farming, Moses sees the burning bush on the summit of Mount Sinai and hears the voice of God. Moses returns to Egypt to free the Hebrews.

Moses comes before Rameses, now pharaoh, to win the slaves' freedom, turning his staff into a cobra. Jannes performs the same trick with his staves, but Moses's snake swallows his. Rameses prohibits straw from being provided to the Hebrews to make their bricks. Nefretiri rescues Moses from being stoned to death by the Hebrews wherein he reveals that he is married.

Egypt is visited by plagues. Moses turns the river Nile to blood at a festival of Khnum and brings burning hail down upon Pharaoh's palace. Moses warns him the next plague to fall upon Egypt will be summoned by Pharaoh himself. Enraged at the plagues, Rameses orders all first-born Hebrews to die, but a cloud of death instead kills all the firstborn of Egypt, including the child of Rameses and Nefretiri. Angrily, Pharaoh exiles the Hebrews, which begins the Exodus from Egypt.

After being taunted by Nefretiri, Rameses takes his army and pursues the Hebrews to the Red Sea. Moses uses God's help to stop the Egyptians with a pillar of fire and parts the Red Sea. After the Hebrews make it to safety, Moses releases the walls of water, drowning the Egyptian army. A devastated Rameses returns empty-handed to Nefretiri, stating that he now acknowledges Moses's god as God.

Moses again ascends the mountain with Joshua. He sees the Ten Commandments created by God in two stone tablets. Meanwhile, an impatient Dathan urges a reluctant Aaron to construct a golden calf idol. A wild and decadent orgy is held by most of the Hebrews.

After God informs Moses of the orgy, the latter descends from the mountain and reunites with Joshua. Enraged at the sight of decadence, he throws the tablets at the golden calf, which explodes, killing the wicked revelers, and causing the others to wander in the wilderness for 40 years.

Forty years later, an elderly Moses leads the Hebrews towards Canaan. However, he could not enter the Promised land due to a mentioned previous disobedience to the Lord. He instead names Joshua as leader, and bids farewell to the Hebrews at Mount Nebo.


  • In ABC's broadcast of the film, the overture, DeMille's introduction, the intermission, the exit music, and some scenes were removed to make room for commercials.
  • Early home video releases of the film skipped the overture and DeMille's introduction, but have since been restored back after 1986.

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