A look at Shavuos -- via Hollywood, circa 1956
My daughter was impressed with all those bare-chested "hunks," running around. And this movie garnered a "G" rating when it was reissued! Hmph! All the ladies are pretty well covered, considering the Egyptian climate, though I will admit the dresses were tight enough. The hypocrisy of of ratings board is evident. Show a bare female chest, and you get an "adult" rating, show a bare male chest in a Bible epic, and, no problem. This discriminates against heterosexual males, and I protest!
Also the teen-aged verdict is that the 1956 Charlton Heston was much "hotter" in his Egyptian costume, without a beard, though we both agree that we don't want to encounter God or a burning bush, because it seems that afterward, you have to get fitted with a very cheesy wig. Let's just hope the producers didn't use Indian hair.
Speaking of cheesy special effects.....Well, perhaps we should judge the producers to their merit, as everything was hand-drawn animation, that fitted pretty well into the live-action shots. Actually, I'm pretty impressed how well they did without cgi animation, though the production values veered between cartoon and real-life (nice location shots) a bit too abruptly at times.
The Hollywood "alterations" to the story" are less of a problem with tradition than many realize: There's something called Midrash. Even the scene in the movie where Moses gets the job done by giving the slaves a Sabbath to rest them is right out of the Talmud or something. (I read it in Yalkut Me'am Loez; who'd have thunk that 1950's Hollywood screenwriters would have been reading a Ladino treatise from the 1700's? And they say those Hollywood Jews are a bunch of secular ingnomauses!) As for storyline about Joshua's girlfriend, well, why not? At least, unlike most of Hollywood's output, the male Jewish main characters all end up marrying nice Jewish girls.
Anyone who reads the credits will do a double-take when they learn that the chariot work was done using the "Cavalry Corps of the Egyptian Army." Hello? The Cavalry Corps? This was 1956! Mounted troops againsts tanks and airplanes! Makes sense. If you're the ones with the tanks and airplanes, that is. No wonder the Israelis took the Sinai so easily that year.
Though the movie is called "the Ten Commandments," that event actually makes up a small fraction of the total running time. It would be better to have called it Prince of Egypt, or the Passover Story, or something. When filming the Shavuos scene, DeMille seemed more interested shifting ahead to 17 Tammuz and filming the Golden Calf scene. Unfortunately the film prduction standards of the era (equivalent to today's G rating) didn't allow him to give justice to his vision of what allegedly happened. Personally, I would have like to have seen God holding the mountain over everyone's head and threatening to kill them all if they didn't accept the Torah . But I guess that wouldn't have played too well in 1956, even if the story comes straight out of the Talmud (BT Shabbat 88a).