The Ten Commandments: 50th Anniversary Edition Cecil B. DeMille

The kitschiest Biblical epic ever filmed turns out to be one of the classiest DVD reissues in recent memory. DeMille’s swansong chronicling the life of Moses (Charlton Heston) is lovingly restored in this generous three-disc set. Everyone remembers watching the Commandments as a kid and being struck with the fear of God. However, adult eyes now view the film as corny, laden with heavy-handed moralising and over-the-top performances. The special effects, which were revolutionary for its time, now look wooden. Despite its flaws, the Ten Commandments remains a powerful film, one where the passion of the director electrifies every frame. The script gracefully carries the viewer through all phases of Moses’s life, from orphan to prince to exile to prophet. DeMille’s sets are gloriously detailed and his Egyptian locales are spectacular. Heston carries this three-and-a-half-hour epic with his best performance ever. Brynner steals his scenes playing the evil Ramses. The casting is perfect. Meanwhile, Anne Baxter is captivating as Moses’s heartbroken stepmother. True, these performances are not subtle, but they are iconic. DeMille’s passion for The Ten Commandments was lifelong, as seen in the 1923 silent version beautifully presented here. Even then, DeMille could fill the screen with thousands of people spanning vast landscapes. Unfortunately, he saddles the biblical story with a twentieth century parable that is preachy and obvious. The jewel in this three-disc set is Katherine Orrisson’s commentaries, drawn from her own book about the making of both films. Orrisson’s observations are rich, enlightening and well researched, but they are also conversational and never too reverential. That can’t be said of the retrospective documentary that includes lively reminiscing by Heston and other surviving cast and crewmembers but praises C.B. a little too much. Plus: newsreel of NYC premiere, trailers, more. (Paramount)