FREDERICK’S ON THE NILE
Watching Yul Brynner, Anne Baxter, Cedric Hardwicke, Vincent Price, Edward G. Robinson and Charlton Heston strut through DeMille’s The Ten Commandments in one Frederick’s on the Nile costume after another is indisputable high camp entertainment. (In Blu-ray, the drag and accompanying bling and the gaudy children’s Bible-study sets really pop, as do Baxter’s nipples in a couple of scenes, and Debra Paget provides a peek too.) You don’t believe a minute of what you’re seeing and you know the actors—except His Holiness the Heston, of course—don’t believe a minute of it; the largest amount of fun is the actors relishing their preposterous lines and setups. Filmed during the era of Eisenhower, a mixture of conformity, repression and mythological extolling that Ike wasn’t the causation for, the epic was marketed as “history,” with the parting of the Red Sea the major sales pitch, which even by today’s CGI standards remains impressive. (So is the building of the jubilee city for Pharaoh Sethi and the slithering ground fog that consumes the first born males to Egypt.) However, theatre managers in major cities reported that evening audiences, conditioned by DeMille’s ever-lasting penchant for comic book religiosity, including his narration, responded with gaiety, their laughter contagiously erupting at Price whipping John Derek, Robinson ogling Paget, Baxter pouring perfume on mud-caked Heston, at the Golden Calf orgy, etcetera. In liberal and agnostic conclaves, and with atheists pointing out that there’s about as much hardcore fact on Moses as there is on Jesus, the movie was roasted as The Ten Offendments. Paramount and venue owners seized on the festiveness to push theatre parties on adult Jews, Catholics and, with less merriment, the growing Billy Graham herds, and promoted weekend or holiday morning viewings for school children. (Parochially educated kids selling ten or more boxes of religious holiday cards got to see the movie “free.”) Far too long—needing not one cocktail break but several—the costumer continues to be an annual boob tube bash. When released in 1956, it was the most expensive American movie ever made—costing $13,500,000, with bronzer a significant factor. With Martha Scott, Yvonne De Carlo, Nina Foch and Judith Anderson. Reserved Seaters swept the Oscar best picture nominations: The Ten Commandments, Around the World in 80 Days, Giant and The King and I. In VistaVision, with a Super VistaVision 70mm print used for a 1972 and 1989 re-release. (Opening 11/20/1956 at the McVickers, running 48 weeks.)
Oscar win for best special effects. Nominations for best picture, color cinematography, costume design, art direction/set decoration, sound and film editing.
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Text COPYRIGHT © 2001 RALPH BENNER All Rights Reserved.