Movie Memory #1 – THE TEN COMMANDMENTS

MosesTrying to remember the first movie you ever saw is like piecing together a jigsaw puzzle but one that is arranged in a chronological timeline. If you’re like me you remember isolated images or scenes from your earliest awareness of movies. I can recall a woman rolling down a huge flight of stairs (GONE WITH THE WIND), a roller coaster ride from the viewpoint of the person in the front seat (THIS IS CINERAMA), a plane crash survivor surrounded by the burning wreckage (THE HIGH AND THE MIGHTY), an evil queen standing before her magic mirror (SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS), the ghost of Elvis Presley singing over the final credits to LOVE ME TENDER…But the first movie that I actually recall in more than bits and pieces is THE TEN COMMANDMENTS.

I saw it with my parents and older brother at the Orpheum Theatre (http://www.orpheum-memphis.com/index.cfm?page=inside&sub=1) in downtown Memphis, Tennessee when I was barely five years old. The Technicolor epic was an overpowering experience – the colors, the exotic sets and unusual locations, weird costumes, the teeming masses on display, the heart-pounding music score by Elmer Bernstein and scenes of great dramatic intensity. On an emotional level, it was a lot to take in and seeing it on the huge Orpheum screen convinced me that everything I was seeing was real. So real, in fact, that I accepted the numerous special effects without question, as if these things could happen in the real world. When the Red Sea parted for Moses and his people – a scene I replayed in my mind countless times as a child – I
felt I was witnessing a miracle. red seaOf course Cecil B. DeMille would have loved every moviegoer to be as naive and impressionable as a five-year-old but it was here that the magic of the movies cast its spell on me. Television never affected me like this. It was the big screen movie experience that fired my imagination…and also disturbed me.

During the sequence when the deadly creeping fog descended to take the lives of the first born in the land, I needed assurance from my parents that this couldn’t happen in 1956. It didn’t matter than I wasn’t a first born. The fact that an insidious stream of green vapor could snuff out the lives of babies was more than a little upsetting because you couldn’t hide from it. The rivers turning to blood was another nightmarish image. But even if the larger than life images had me in turmoil, I was riveted to the screen and disappointed when the curtains came down and the lights went up for the intermission. Watching THE TEN COMMANDMENTS was a major event for me in more ways than one. Not only was I able to stay up past my normal bedtime to experience the 220 minute (plus intermission) feature but we were out at night in downtown Memphis which was quite a different atmosphere from our middle class suburb. And I was seeing the film in a lavish movie palace with a packed audience that would often respond with excited murmuring during the more over-the-top scenes such as the Golden Calf orgy. (Here’s a link to the auction for the actual Golden Calf prop from the movie -
http://images.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://bp1.blogger.com/_jFuT3RuarXI/RXVpYsxAhyI/AAAAAAAAAA4/dBAhzAb-FRM/s200/calf.bmp&imgrefurl=http://movieauctions.blogspot.com/search%3Fupdated-min%3D2006-01-01T00%253A00%253A00-06%253A00%26updated-max%3D2007-01-01T00%253A00%253A00-06%253A00%26max-results%3D50&h=199&w=187&sz=9&hl=en&start=85&um=1&tbnid=kYYFiNh1sHr_AM:&tbnh=104&tbnw=98&prev=/images%3Fq%3Dthe%2Bten%2Bcommandments%2B1956%26start%3D80%26ndsp%3D20%26svnum%3D10%26um%3D1%26hl%3Den%26sa%3DN)

I’ve never been tempted to see THE TEN COMMANDMENTS again because I don’t want to lose the childhood impressions I have of it. Having seen DeMille’s SAMSON AND DELILAH and THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH within the past ten years, I know the DeMille style all too well now. It’s bombastic and tacky at the same time..and I hate to say it but it’s more than a little tedious at times. This is old school storytelling and most of us have lost the patience for his deliberate and overemphatic pacing. If DeMille’s sound era films manage to sustain interest at all, it’s more for their camp value or the pleasure of spoting favorite actors in period roles – look there’s Edward G. Robinson in Egyptian garb, there’s the luscious Debra Paget as Lilia, the slave girl, there’s Vincent Price whipping John Derek, there’s a young Woody Strode in two different roles!

But no, I don’t want to see THE TEN COMMANDMENTS again. Sometimes you can’t go home again or even want to.

4 Responses Movie Memory #1 – THE TEN COMMANDMENTS
Posted By Martin S. : April 14, 2007 4:11 pm

The Ten Commandments is beyond camp. The first half of the movie is like some homoerotic in-joke. You can almost see David Alan Grier and Damon Wayans (in their gay movie critics parody) on the old "In Living Color" series going ga-ga over all the "sweaty mens" in the film..there is such an emphasis on Charlton Heston's and John Derek's biceps and then there are all those half naked male slaves who seem to be a turn on for their Egyptian tormentors. And Yvonne De Carlo is like some strange cyborg who moves and reacts with the same mannequin-like awkwardness of Tippi Hedren in "The Birds." If only all Bibical films were this much fun!

Posted By Martin S. : April 14, 2007 4:11 pm

The Ten Commandments is beyond camp. The first half of the movie is like some homoerotic in-joke. You can almost see David Alan Grier and Damon Wayans (in their gay movie critics parody) on the old "In Living Color" series going ga-ga over all the "sweaty mens" in the film..there is such an emphasis on Charlton Heston's and John Derek's biceps and then there are all those half naked male slaves who seem to be a turn on for their Egyptian tormentors. And Yvonne De Carlo is like some strange cyborg who moves and reacts with the same mannequin-like awkwardness of Tippi Hedren in "The Birds." If only all Bibical films were this much fun!

Posted By cage free brown : April 17, 2007 1:09 pm

my dad was a projectionist.  the first movie i remember is Jerry Lewis in "Who's Minding the Store". my dad kept trying to put me to work dusting things but i kept sneaking over to the porthole to watch it.my dad hated jerry lewis but i couldn't resist the cool air through the porthole and monsieur jerry's inability to do anything without causing a ruckus.

Posted By cage free brown : April 17, 2007 1:09 pm

my dad was a projectionist.  the first movie i remember is Jerry Lewis in "Who's Minding the Store". my dad kept trying to put me to work dusting things but i kept sneaking over to the porthole to watch it.my dad hated jerry lewis but i couldn't resist the cool air through the porthole and monsieur jerry's inability to do anything without causing a ruckus.

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