‘The Ten Commandments’ (1923) – Movie Review

Another installment of a film review while watching every movie featured in Disney’s Great Movie Ride brings us to the absolute dumpster fire that is The Ten Commandments (1923).

Did I go into The Ten Commandments thinking I would get a retelling of the Bible story complete with breathtaking special effects with the parting of the Red Sea and impressive Egyptian sets? Of course, isn’t that what you think this movie is?

Well, I was wrong. Mostly. The film’s PROLOGUE is the retelling of the Bible story I thought I was signing up for by watching this, but the remaining eight hours were literal garbage. (Okay, it was two hours, but it felt like eight.)

The Ten Commandments (1923)
Credit: The Film Foundation

The Ten Commandments is a full-length silent film the internet largely describes as a “religious epic” directed and produced by Cecil B. DeMille (yes, the same Cecil B. DeMille who directed the 1956 version of The Ten Commandments that is also on my watchlist.) Anyway, my point in all this is that before I watched the film, I was expecting just that. An epic, an on-screen retelling of the Bible story, which would have been interesting to see how it was done even though I’m not religious at all. So let’s start there because this did happen, but I’d hardly call a 45-minute prologue an epic.

The prologue does follow the Bible story, and as I hoped to see, the sets and special effects were particularly impressive. The acting was solid for a 1923 silent film, and as far as I can tell, given that the source material has obviously existed for thousands of years, the writing was pretty good, too. The only problem with the prologue? That I was actually really into it, but it was only about 1/4 of what the film actually shows. The special effects during the crossing of the Red Sea scene and even Moses getting the Ten Commandments really held my interest, but just like that, it was done.

The movie then shifts to the present day (1923), where a mother and her two adult sons are reviewing the story of The Ten Commandments in the Bible. What follows brought up 20+ years of Catholic school trauma I thought I could leave behind after graduating from a private college almost a decade ago, but no, I had to sit through this asinine propaganda-fueled nonsense for two hours.

The Ten Commandments
Credit: IMDB

When the story first flash-forwarded to the present (yes, that’s a LOST reference), I thought it was going to be a brief moment of showing the impact of the Bible story before continuing on with the Old Testament plot. For the first minute or two, when I thought this might still happen, I actually applauded this as a new style of storytelling we hadn’t seen before in any of these old silent films. Unfortunately, I was very, very wrong.

The rest of the film shows the two sons navigating their lives while one son (and the mother) obsess over living by the Ten Commandments, while the other makes it all-too-known that he absolutely despises them. I cannot even begin to describe how propaganda-fueled and frankly stupid this is, as there is absolutely no subtlety in what’s happening when characters are essentially saying things like “I hate those Ten Commandments” and “You must listen to the Ten Commandments.” Not even the Bible as a whole, or a general belief in God, or just being a decent human, which would obviously connect to the point of the Commandments given the film’s context without spelling it out as if the audience is a bunch of idiots, no, just a very clear “I HATE THE TEN COMMANDMENTS” / “I LOVE THE TEN COMMANDMENTS” for the next two hours.

The Ten Commandments 1923
Credit: SilentEra.com

As you might expect by this point, the son that does not follow the Ten Commandments goes on to literally break every single one of them in a painfully obvious fashion that is infuriating to watch, and it ultimately destroys the family as a result. I know some of this is coming from my perspective as a recovering Catholic, but honestly, just as much of it is coming from my frustration over the fact that the storytelling here is just plain stupid, and even with my near-Atheism, the prologue was actually really good, and they just deprived us of that and gave us trash to watch for the rest of the movie.

Anyway, I guess this movie is okay overall because the prologue was good for a 1923 silent film, but the majority of The Ten Commandments is so painful to get through that, honestly, I hate it. 2/10 for the prologue being what I wanted to see with impressive sets and effects for 1923, but I would never put myself through this again.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *