Tuesday, June 21, 2011
Sh!#ting on the Classics: The Ten Commandments
The Ten Commandments (1956)
Now I realize that this is the basis for some people's religions, so I will try not to be blasphemous. The high esteem in which this film is held has always puzzled me. Every year on Easter weekend, ABC television trots out this colorful tchotchke; presumably, it still gets solid ratings. Could this be The Wizard of Oz for Jews, Catholics, and Evangelicals?
I always thought it was pretty bad and pretty goofy. I remember Easter weekend one year, sitting down with my girlfriend, taking out pen and paper, and actually writing down all the goofy lines as the film went along. There are a few I still remember as examples of the screenwriters' tin ears for dialogue. I remember, "A chariot? Here in Goshen?" which I say daily; "Beauty is but a curse to our women," which is the credo by which my wife lives her life, and this great piece of heavenly advice to building contractors everywhere, "Blood makes poor mortar." The king of kings of these lines, though, has to be "Moses, you stubborn, splendid, adorable fool." (Check the Google if you doubt me on this.) Sheesh. No character speaks dialogue in this film, everyone merely spouts aphorisms.
Every actor seems to be in a different movie, which happens in a lot of movies. Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner acquit themselves the best; their hammy and self-satisfied style of overacting seem to fit the spirit of the thing, but Ann Sheridan seems adrift. She appears to be playing some sort of vaguely horny adulterer in a Douglas Sirk film. Many older character actors show up with whom you are familiar. Vincent Price is introduced, and it seems as if the Egghead from Batman decided to pay at visit to Bibleland. Yvonne De Carlo plays Moses' wife, Sephora, and one cannot help thinking as the movie chugs along that she is just a short eight years away from playing Herman's wife, Lily, in The Munsters. Edward G. Robinson shows up as the Cowardly Lion. For the longest time people thought that he actually said "Where's your messiah now?" Turns out that was only part of a Billy Crystal stand-up comedy routine. I wish he had said it. It would have rivaled John Wayne's ham-fisted delivery of "Truly, this man was the Son of God" in The Greatest Story Ever Told.
This movie is nine minutes shy of four hours. Good Lord.
Scouring the internet (which, as I understand it, is a series of tubes) I find that many tragic hipsters watch this every year for a cheap laugh. In this we see a metaphorical snapshot of our country, circa 2011. Half of the population believe in something fervently (dare I say religiously?) and the other half devote themselves to mocking it. Sigh.
Sorry if this is your religion, but one must both wonder why and marvel that this has become such a beloved classic. This is either crazy sap...or intended for crazy saps. You cannot even enjoy making fun of it because there is always in the back of your mind the lingering fear of going to hell. If this is your religion, you need to find a new religion.