Film / The Ten Commandments
"So let it be written. So let it be done."

"Thus sayeth the Lord God of Israel: let my people go!"

The last of the great Cecil B. DeMille epics, and a remake of his own 1923 silent film of the same name, this 1956 film from Paramount tells The Bible story of Moses and the Exodus.

Charlton Heston plays Moses. Yul Brynner plays Rameses. They are in a Love Triangle with Nefretiri (Anne Baxter), whom Moses might have won, had the matter of injustice to Hebrew slaves not come up. Other important characters are, naturally, Moses's brother Aaron (John Carradine); Sephora (Yvonne de Carlo), daughter of Jethro and Moses's eventual wife; Joshua (Jon Derek); and Liliah (Debra Paget), the woman Joshua loves—who happens to be the sex slave of the overseer Dathan (Edward G. Robinson, see?).

You know the basic tale — or if you don't, you need either to see this or read the source material. Moses hears the voice of God while out in the wilderness. It ages him about forty years — hey, the film may be long, but to keep the cast of characters constant, the time in which it takes place is compressed. Moses goes to Rameses to tell him that God wants him to let His people go, or else. "Or else" happens. Nefretiri tries to seduce Moses out of this position; it doesn't work...

The Ten Commandments won one Academy Award for its special effects, and was nominated for seven others, including Best Picture. The majestic score was written by Elmer Bernstein as his first major film project.

The dedicated and curious might want to compare this with The Prince of Egypt and Exodus: Gods and Kings. The source material is the same (though this film might've been distilled through an extra novel), but the directions taken with it are very different.


  • The Ace: Moses is a peerless warrior, a wise diplomat and a brilliant architect. As a shepherd he prospers and becomes known for his honest dealings. Then there's his divine destiny.
  • Adaptational Villainy: Dathan played a more minor role in the Exodus account, leading a revolt against Moses and getting swallowed up by the ground. Here, he becomes The Quisling, is responsible for the Golden Calf incident, and was responsible for driving Moses out of Egypt to begin with.
  • Adaptation Expansion:
    • The first half of the movie. As the director himself states in his introductory remarks at the start of the film, the Bible skips some 30 years of Moses' life. In Exodus the narrative skips from when Pharoah's daughter retrieves Moses from the water to when Moses kills an Egyptian who is beating one of the Hebrew slaves. DeMille says that the screenwriters had to rely on other writings through history to flesh out this part of the story.
    • The fleshed-out relationship, including a Love Triangle, between Moses and the unnamed Pharaoh in the Bible.
    • The 1923 film had the story of the Exodus only being during the first fifty minutes or so with it covering Moses' arrival in Egypt to the point of Golden calf.
  • Adapted Out: The Nubian princess seen early in the film, according to the DVD commentary, is supposed to be Moses' wife, as he apparently married her during his travels, though this is not mentioned on screen. Not only is she never referred to nor seen again, no reference is made when Moses marries again later in the film.
    • More then likely Seti took her away from Moses and forced her into marriage with someone else when Moses got exiled.
  • Adult Fear: The death of one's child. Despite the bastard he's been throughout the film, it's hard not to feel Rameses' fear when he realizes his son might die, nor his and Nefretiri's grief when he does.
  • Anachronism Stew:
    • One deliberate case, which falls under Rule of Funny. In the DVD commentary, they mention that the soldier would have said the Underworld or Hades, but it wouldn't have worked so well.
      Dathan: Where are we going?
      Egyptian Soldier: Hell, I hope.
      • Dathan actually does go to Hell.
    • The representative from Troy being dressed as a Roman centurion is also wildly inaccurate, although it is a Shout-Out to The Aeneid, in which the Trojans founded Rome.
    • Also according to Egyptian legend, on his way back to Troy after abducting Helen Paris arrived in Egypt during the reign of Seti II, the grandson of Ramses II. They had chosen the wrong pharaoh for a Priam reference.
    • Likewise, the Egyptian soldier's sword at the very beginning of the culling of the Hebrew boys looks more like a Roman sword than anything else. The real-life Egyptians favored the khopesh, a sword whose blade looks kind of like a lower-case b, adapted from the Assyrian sapper.
    • That weapon, also seen at the end of the "Hounds and Jackals" scene as an aide comes in and salutes Seti, is the iron Hittite sword from The Egyptian, one of many props from that film that were reused here. It's not very accurate for them, either. Hittite swords looked more like sickles.
    • Moses is stated to be thirty the year of his exile, which also happens to be the year of Seti's death and the Pharaoh of the Oppression is portrayed as Rameses I. Due to Rameses I's reign only being two years long it would have been his predecessor Horemheb as the Pharaoh of the Oppression.
    • The term "Pharaoh" was not used contemporaneously for a ruler until 1200 BC, thirteen years after the death of Ramses II.
  • Ancient Egypt: That is the setting of most of the film.
  • Arc Words: "So let it be written, so let it be done."
  • Ascended Extra:
    • Joshua, who's promoted to Lancer in the film. In the scriptures, while Joshua did eventually Take Up My Sword, he didn't come into focus until they were in the desert, and was implied to be younger than Moses.
    • Dathan, who appears in only one scene in the Bible, becomes a major villainous character in the film.
    • Baka the Master Butcher Builder is based on a nameless mook in the Bible. Here, he's promoted to Vincent Price.
  • Asshole Victim:
    • Baka the Master Butcher Builder is definitely this due to his cruelty to the slaves.
    • Dathan, who like Rameses spends much of the film doubting Moses' faith in God, learns the hard way what happens when you decide to worship a false idol. Same goes for those who went with Dathan's scheme.
  • Awful Wedded Life: Rameses and Nefretiri. (it was an Arranged Marriage after all) The only thing keeping them going is their son.
  • The Atoner
  • Badass Baritone: Both Moses and Rameses, and God. Joshua can lower his voice to very heroic levels when necessary.
  • Badass Boast: By a quietly furious Rameses: "The city he builds will bear my name. The woman he loves will bear my child. So let it be written. So let it be done."
  • Badass Beard: Moses, with the hair to match.
  • Bald of Evil: Rameses. Yul Brynner kept the bald look from The King and I and retained it for the rest of his life. According to the DVD commentary one reason why he was cast was that he looked better bald than some of the other actors considered for the role, including (of all people) William Holden.
  • Bathe Her and Bring Her to Me: Vincent Price as Baka the Master Builder never actually utters the words. What he says (in that inimitable Price baritone) is:
    Tears? When you have been bathed in scented water.... when your limbs have been caressed by sweet oils... and your hair combed with sandalwood... there will be no time for tears.
    • And with a "Bring the girl" to his underlings, he's off.
  • Betty and Veronica: Sephora and Nefretiri. Unfortunately, God is the Third-Option Love Interest.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Moses, naturally. (Charlton Heston tended to play a lot of these during his career)
  • Big "NO!"
  • Bittersweet Ending: The Hebrews eventually reach Israel... but for his Wrath, Moses cannot enter the Promised Land.
  • Bond Villain Stupidity: Rameses sending Moses into the desert to die a long slow agonizing death instead of just killing him quickly and being done with it.
  • Bowdlerise: In the movie, Moses angrily throwing down the tablets results in a chasm that many of the Jews fall into. In the Bible/Tanakh, Moses gets the Levites (priests) to grab some swords and get busy. Killing 3,000 total. To be fair, keeping in the original slaughter makes Moses a Dark Shepherd (no pun intended). And the chasm actually did occur but later, in a different conflict.
  • Bratty Half-Pint: Rameses's son.
  • Break the Haughty:
    • Rameses's smugly stubborn defiance of God brings a variety of misfortunes and tragedies upon him.
    • Nefreteri goes from being smug and a stereotypical rich girl (knowing the two most eligible bachelors in Egypt are vying for her attentions), to being broken after the final plague takes away her son.
  • Broad Strokes: The movie's approach to the source material in some areas, especially what happened to the Hebrews after the flight from Egypt.
  • Canon Foreigner: Lilia. Nearly every character is based on someone from the Bible, extra-biblical ancient sources, or actual historical figures, but Lilia was created for the film as Joshua's love interest.
  • Captain Obvious: The movie is loaded with this; ex: "Moses' serpent swallows up the others!"
  • Catch-Phrase: "So let it be written. So let it be done." by Rameses. It even gets a reprise at the end of the film (as a literal example of Word of God).
  • Changeling Fantasy: Where Moses does not enjoy learning that he is actually a Hebrew, nor does his love interest. This is altered for drama's sake from the original story, which suggests that Moses knew very well while he was growing up that he was Hebrew.
  • The Chosen One
  • Chick Magnet: Moses to a degree—all of Jethro's daughters, with one exception, are trying to catch his eye. (Guess which one he ends up choosing for his wife?) He also attracts Nefertiri, who has his eye for the first part of the film, and the Nubian princess Moses presents to Seti, who seems quite taken by her conqueror.
    • In the Bible, Tharbis was Moses' Nubian bride. note  De Mille wanted to establish this in the film, but realized it was too radical for audiences of his time.
  • The Commandments: Naturally!
  • Crossing the Desert: Moses does this after he's thrown out of Egypt. Ramses only gives him one day's rations, figuring he'll die that way, but he manages to make it to Midian.
  • Cruel Mercy: After becoming Pharaoh, Rameses chooses to banish Moses to the desert rather than have him killed.
    Rameses: I have defeated you in life, Moses. You shall not defeat me with your death. The dead do not scorch in the desert of desire, suffer from the thirst of passion, nor stumble blindly towards some mirage of lost love. But you, Hebrew, will suffer all these things, by living.
  • Dated History:
    • Most modern estimates put the Exodus in the reign of Thutmose III note , not Rameses II. Though to be fair, there isn't clear consensus among scholars and reconciling Old Testament timelines with historical dates is tricky at best. Also, Rameses II did lose his first-born son (the tomb was found). It doesn't help however that historical records show that Rameses II was actually one of the most successful pharaohs of Egyptian history, which he couldn't have been had his workforce left overnight. That would've definitely plunged Egypt into chaos for generations.
    • There are also competing archaeological theories that the Hebrews never left Palestine in the time of Joseph in the first place.
  • Demoted to Extra: Miriam and Aaron
  • Deadpan Snarker:
    • Seti.
      Priest: Because of Moses, there is no wheat in the temple granaries!
      Seti: You don't look any leaner.
    • The soldier who evicts Dathan.
      Dathan: Why do you come here? I put no blood on my door!
      Egyptian Soldier: Then stone bleeds!
    • Nefretiri:
      Sethi: It is pleasing to the gods to see a man honored by his enemies.
      Nefretiri: And such a beautiful enemy.
    • Moses has his moments:
      Moses (to Baka): Are you a master builder or a master butcher?
    • Later, when Moses allows the Hebrews to eat the temple grain:
      Rameses: I don't have to remind you, Moses—the temple grain is for the gods.
      Moses: What the gods can digest will not sour in the belly of a slave.
  • Death Glare: Several, but Nefretiri gives a ferocious one to the Ethiopian princess flirting with Moses.
  • Didn't Think This Through: Memnet does not want Moses to rule Egypt and has proof that he's really a Hebrew. The first person she chooses to tell is the woman who everyone can see is deeply in love with Moses and will do anything to protect him...
  • Don't Create a Martyr: Rameses exiles Moses because killing him will turn him to a martyr in Nefertiri's eyes.
  • Don't Make Me Destroy You: Seti, Moses's adopted uncle, is visibly distraught as Moses keeps digging himself a deeper and deeper hole in regards to his murder of a slave master. Seti must hold his adopted nephew accountable in the law, but does not want to sentence his own nephew to death — he eventually settles on exile and striking Moses's existence from all Egyptian records.
    Seti: Why are you forcing me to destroy you?
  • The Dragon:
    • Dathan to Baka and Rameses, with Baka starting out as the first dragon until he is slain by Moses, followed by Dathan being promoted to Rameses' dragon until his house is marked by lamb's blood and he is forced to join the other Israelites on their journey into the wilderness.
    • Ramses has another dragon (a more classical example), his top general, Pentaur, whose firstborn dies. Pentaur himself later dies when he gets consumed by the Red Sea.
  • Dragon Ascendant: Dathan in the finale sequence.
  • Earthquakes Cause Fissures: When Moses throws the eponymous tablets at the Golden Calf, the Calf explodes and a massive earthquake ensues which opens up massive rifts in the Earth, consuming the mooks and The Starscream of the piece. Justified by the fact it's the work of God.
  • Eldritch Abomination: The Angel of Death. Rather than being a human looking angel (or The Grim Reaper,) it's portrayed as a cloud of bluish fog descending from the sky in the shape of a creepy hand. It makes sense for the Angel to take on this kind of form, given the nature of its job but still, it's incredibly creepy....
  • Entitled Bitch: Nefretiri is so insistent that Moses will cease being God's deliverer and and come back to her.
  • Epic Movie: Thousands of extras, grand set pieces and environments, and a running time of 220 minutes.
  • Establishing Character Moment
    • Joshua ziplining from the top of a quarry shows him as the prototypical swashbuckler action hero of the time. And when we first meet him, he's on an upper level just so he can climb down a rope accompanied by a fanfare and let us know what a stud he is.
    • Everyone walks away when Dathan comes sniffing around.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Dathan does care for his brother Abiram and has him live in the governor's house.
  • Fate Worse Than Death:
    • How Joshua describes working in the copper mines.
    • For Lilia, it is being Dathan's sex toy.
      Joshua: They said you were dead.
      Lilia: To all who I love, Joshua, I am dead.
  • Fanservice: By modern standards, many of the outfits worn by the women in the palace are pretty revealing. In the 1950s, they were pushing the limits of what was allowable on screen. (By ancient Egyptian standards, they are all over-dressed.) There are plenty shirtless male characters.
  • Femme Fatale: Nefretiri.
  • Fog of Doom: The tenth plague that kills all the firstborn in Egypt is depicted as this.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Moses told Nefretiri that God will use her to work his will. Her manipulations would later backfire and lead to the plague on the firstborn and help the Israelites go free.
    • In a moment when Moses is disguised and helps a mortally wounded slave:
      Dying old man: Thank you, my son ... but death is better than bondage, for my days are ended; and my prayer...unanswered.
      Moses: What prayer?
      Dying old man: That before death closed my eyes, I might behold the deliverer...who will bring all freedom...(dies)
  • Get Out: Ramses essentially does this to Moses.
    Ramses: Come to me no more, Moses! For on the day you see my face again, you will surely die!
    • When Rameses brings Moses before Sethi's court:
    Bithiah: My brother, it was I who deceived you, not Moses. He was only a child!
    Sethi: Leave me. I shall not see your face again.
  • God — or His voice, anyway.
  • Gilligan Cut: God declares "Thou shalt not make unto thyself any graven image". . .which fades into the people putting the finishing touches on the golden calf.
  • Ham-to-Ham Combat:
    • It's a toss up among Charlton Heston, Yul Brynner and Anne Baxter. Brynner is arguably the least hammy though; he's actually quite subtle in some scenes.
    • And in universe, the "old windbag" announcer.
    • Honorable mention goes to Vincent Price.
  • Happiness in Slavery: Averted generally, since it is about freeing the Hebrew slaves, but Dathan (who is Hebrew) and Memnet (who is not) play this trope very straight.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: The Israelites were released from their — bondage.
  • Have You Told Anyone Else?: Memnet comes to Nefertiri with the story of how Bithia drew Moses from the Nile. Nefertiri quickly asks, "Were you alone with Bithia?" before she kills Memnet.
  • Happily Adopted: After he finds his birth family, Moses still assures Bithia he's her son and will always love her. Aww.
  • Heart Broken Badass: Rameses is genuinely devastated by the death of his son.
  • His Name Is...: Seti on his deathbed breaks his own decree by saying Moses's name.
  • Hollywood Atheist: Rameses. Possibly, Dathan as well.
  • Hollywood Costuming: The women might seem to have obviously 1950s hair and makeup.... but the hair styles are all taken from period wall paintings, except that in Egypt those would all be wigs (most women as well as men shaved their heads). And Egyptian men and women wore elaborate cosmetics, especially eyeliner and shadow (which kept flies away and looked downright snazzy besides) which they skipped for the film (they managed to work in a reference to it in the well scene with Jethro's daughters). One detail DeMille hoped to get in but couldn't was the fact that palace servants wore lit candles on their heads at night. He actually put one on Bithiah's maid in the scene where Bithiah asks for her chariot so she can ride to Goshen, but he just couldn't get the continuity between takes matched up, and so they abandoned it.
  • Hollywood Old: Lilia in the final scene is obviously just 23-year-old rising-star-beauty-queen Debra Paget wrapped in a blanket.
  • Honor Before Reason: Even after seeing their path blocked with fire and the Red Sea parting, Rameses' general says they should leave. Rameses' response? "Better to die in battle against a god than live in shame."
  • Human Sacrifice: Lilia nearly becomes one of these during the Golden Calf incident.
  • Humiliation Conga: The plagues set upon Egypt because of Rameses' stubbornness could be seen as this.
  • I Am the Noun: Ramses: "I am Egypt."
  • I Am X, Son of Y: "I am Moses, son of Amram and Yochabel."
  • I Did What I Had to Do: Moses's justification for for betraying Sethi. Sethi turns this right back on Moses in ordering his punishment.
  • I Have No Son: Invoked by Sethi when he learns that Moses is the deliverer, and he decrees:
    Sethi: Let the name of Moses be stricken from every book and tablet, stricken from all pylons and obelisks, stricken from every monument of Egypt. Let the name of Moses be unheard and unspoken, erased from the memory of men for all time.

    Subverted when Sethi is on his deathbed:
    Sethi: You are the only thing I regret leaving. You have been my joy.
    Nefretiri: And you my only love.
    Sethi: Aha, now you're cheating. There was another. I know. I loved him, too. With my last breath, I'll break my own law and speak the name of... Moses... [Dramatic Pause] Moses.
    • Invoked and downplayed by Yochabel when she asks the Armor-Piercing Question and Moses embraces his Hebrew heritage afterwards and recognizes Yochabel as his true mother:
    Moses: I love you, my mother, but am I your son... [Moses glances at Bithiah] or yours?
    Yochabel: No, you are not my son. If you believe that men and women are cattle to be driven under the lash, if you can bow before idols of stone and golden images of beasts, you are not my son.
  • I Just Knew: Miriam when she warns the women to stock up on water since there will be none for 7 days. It's implied she uses this gift often ("Miriam is always right.")
  • I Never Said It Was Poison: When Moses confronts Bithiah about the Levite cloth, she reprimands him for believing Memnet's lies. His response?
    "I never said it came from Memnet"
  • Insult Backfire:
    Ramses: You have a rat's ears and a ferret's nose.
    Dathan: To use in your service, son of Pharaoh.
  • Ironic Echo Cut: "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image". The scene fades to the golden calf.
  • I Want Them Alive: When ordering his men to pursue the fleeing Hebrews, Rameses commands his troops to kill everyone else, but bring Moses to him alive.
  • I Warned You: "If there is one more plague on Egypt, it is by your word that God will bring it." Shoulda kept your mouth shut, Rameses.
  • Informed Attribute:
    • Unless you really believe Charlton Heston is slow of speech and thick of tongue...
    • Nefretiri being more attractive than Sephora. Well, Anne Baxter wasn't a bad looking woman by any means, but Yvonne De Carlo as a supposedly "plain" sheep herder is a little hard to swallow.
  • Intermission
  • Irony: The following quote:
    Sethi: Let the name of Moses be stricken from every book and tablet, stricken from all pylons and obelisks, stricken from every monument of Egypt. Let the name of Moses be unheard and unspoken, erased from the memory of men for all time.
    • Somewhere the Egyptologists are crying, not because they got this wrong, but because it is heartbreakingly right. Traitors did have their names removed which removed their souls, giving them no chance at an afterlife. DeMille knew this and inserted all those "Moses, Moses" lines in order to return to the real Moses his soul and light his path to heaven.
  • Jerkass:
    • Dathan. Dathan. Dathan.
    • Rameses certainly qualifies, as does Nefretiri after she's been married to him long enough.
    • Baka the Master Butcher Builder, both for letting Yochebel be nearly crushed to death and trying to make Lilia his Sex Slave.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Dathan correctly points out that the recently freed, malnourished Hebrews have no chance of stopping the Egyptian chariots.
  • Just Eat Gilligan: Why did nobody suggest stoning Dathan?
  • Kick the Dog: So many times, audiences would be forgiven for thinking that dog-kicking was the national sport in ancient Egypt.
  • Kneel Before Zod: Defied. Ramses tells Moses to command the conquered Ethiopians to kneel before Pharaoh, but Moses tells him that he's brought the Ethiopians in friendship and tells Ramses to mind his own business.
    "Command what you have conquered, my brother."
  • Kubrick Stare: Seems to be Rameses' default expression, especially whenever Moses is receiving kudos for being awesome.
  • The Lancer: Joshua
  • Lady Macbeth: Nefretiri to Ramses, once she's decided to become vengeful.
  • Large Ham: Of the World of Ham variety. It has Moses, Rameses, Nefretiri, Baka, The Narrator, and the biggest of them, God. And Sethi, just for the way he says "stricken" in the above speech. (Well, Sir Cedric Hardwicke.)
  • Laser-Guided Karma: The various misfortunes and tragedies that Rameses endures are his own fault due to his defiance of God.
  • The Last Thing You Ever See: Bithiah says it to Memnet, when making her swear to keep quiet about Moses.
    Bithiah: The day you break that oath will be the last your eyes will ever see.
    • And her proclamation comes true. Even though it's Bithiah threatening to kill Memnet should she open her mouth, it's Nefretiri who does so when Memnet spills the beans to her.
  • Leitmotif: Lilia's theme, "Death Cometh To Me".
  • Little Girls Kick Shins: Pharaoh's son kicks Moses in the shins, presumably so we don't feel too bad when the little brat dies.
  • Locked into Strangeness: Moses gets grey streaks in his hair after seeing the burning bush, and goes completely grey upon receiving the commandments.
  • Logo Joke: The logo is cued over an image of Mount Sinai, rather than the usual mountain.
  • Lost in Translation: When Bithia adopts Moses, she says, "Because I drew you from the water, you shall be called 'Moses.'" This makes no sense in English. In Hebrew, she calls him Moshe (the Hebrew equivalent of Moses), because she mishituhu (which translates to, "I drew him out") from the water. (There's some interesting etymology speculations here.
  • Love Triangle
  • Mama Bear: Bithiah, although not Moses's birth mother, certainly is the trope. She cautions Memnet that if she ever speaks of Moses's true heritage, she will die. And Bithiah is more than willing to follow through on this threat, Nefritiri just beats her to the punch.
  • Manipulative Bitch: Nefretiri.
  • Mass "Oh, Crap!": Seen on the side of those who worshipped the golden calf as Moses pass judgement.
    Moses: Those who shall not live by the law, shall die by the law!
    • Although generally only seen from a far distance, it's pretty obvious that Rameses' army does this when the sea un-parts.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Discussed by Ramses, concerning the first few plagues.
  • Mood Whiplash: Near the end, the divine majesty of God giving His law to Moses is contrasted with the debauchery of the Hebrews worshippAng their golden idol.
  • Mook Depletion: Rameses sends his army after Moses and the departing Israelites only to be told that they were all killed when the Red Sea parted, and then un-parted. The final shot of him is on his throne, silently contemplating how he can rule his country with no army to back him up. In this case it happens because the opponent's might (God's) is such that it wipes the whole army out in one swift strike.
  • Moses in the Bulrushes: Duh!
  • Mr. Fanservice: Charlton Heston, Yul Brynner and John Derek all provide plenty of it.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Anne Baxter's virtually see-through outfits are surprisingly risque for 1956.
  • Named by the Adaptation: The movie names the unnamed Pharaoh of the Book of Exodus as Rameses.
  • Narrator: None other than DeMille himself.
  • Nepharious Pharaoh: Like most works based off the Book of Exodus from The Bible, it has the Pharaoh Ramses as the Big Bad.
  • Never My Fault: Rameses blames Nefeteri for the death of their son because her nasty taunts "hardened his heart" to keep the Hebrews slaves just so Moses would stay in Egypt.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Herod!: Rameses I ordering the murder of all Hebrew newborns to thwart the prophecy of the deliverer.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain!: Nefretiri. Moses tells her himself that she'll be part of God's plan to free the slaves.
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Edward G. Robinson was cast as the villain Dathan, whom he played in his usual New York gangster style.
  • Not So Above It All: After Nefertiri finds Moses as a slave, she suggest he comes back to the palace with her and free the Hebrew slaves after he becomes Pharaoh instead of staying with his people. Nefertiri points out that after he becomes so he can do and order whatever he pleases without breaking Bithia's and Sethi's hearts, and stay with her. Moses atually agrees to return, but only after he meets with the Master Builder...
  • Not So Stoic: After his encounter with God, Moses is always either very dignified or very subdued, but when he learns what the Pharaoh has planned for the slaves, and realizes what's going to happen, he is horrified and his bearing slips all the way to pleading with God for mercy.
  • Outliving One's Offspring: Pentaur sees his firstborn son literally dropped dead in front of him.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • The look on Baka's face when he sees that the slave who is about to strangle him is actually Moses.
    • Moses' birth mother, when she is about to be crushed by the granite she is greasing.
    • Moses himself, when Nefeteri tells him that Rameses has ordered the murder of the Hebrew children, meaning that the Egyptian firstborn, not the children of Goshen, will perish.
  • Old Windbag: Sethi's court announcer. This is exactly what everyone kept calling him..."the old windbag".
  • Orphan's Plot Trinket: The blanket that covered baby Moses as he drifted down the river.
  • Our Angels Are Different: The angel of death is depicted as a sinister green mist that descends from the sky and then spreads over Egypt.
  • Papa Wolf: Subverted; while it may take some prodding, Rameses vows to avenge his son's death. It doesn't work out for him.
  • A Party, Also Known as an Orgy: Lampshaded by the narrator when the Israelites are engaging in idolatry:
    Narrator: And the people rose up to play, and did eat and drink. They were as the children of fools and cast off their clothes. The wicked were like a troubled sea, whose waters cast up mire and dirt. They sank from evil to evil and were viler than the earth. And there was rioting and drunkenness, for they had become servants of sin. There was manifest all manner of ungodliness and works of the flesh. Even adultery and lasciviousness, uncleanness, idolatry and rioting, vanity and wrath. And they were filled with iniquity and vile affections, and Aaron knew that he had brought them to shame.
  • Pet the Dog: Rameses has his moments, so much so that it's very hard to dislike him. It's not like it's his fault Moses is more competent and his own father clearly favors Moses over him. He's polite and soft-spoken to other Egyptians, shows genuine sympathy to one of his men when the 10th Plague kills the man's son, is devastated when his own son dies, is ready to kill Dathan for accusing Moses, and deals fairly with Dathan by keeping his word to him instead of just killing him and using his information about Moses anyway. Brynner wanted the character to be complex and multi-faceted, and he succeeded. Take him out of the film and it's a lot less interesting. And it can't be denied that Rameses could have easily had Moses killed instead of exiling him. Sure, he gave an excuse, but you can't watch the scene and the movie without thinking that Moses and Rameses probably grew up together and have a history that's more than being rivals. Like Seti refusing to kill Moses, it's not that much of a stretch to think that Rameses probably just could not bring himself to do it either.
  • Playing Gertrude: Both Martha Scott (eleven years older than Charlton Heston) and Nina Foch (one year younger).
  • Please, I Will Do Anything!: Lilia does this to save Joshua, the result of which is her marrying Dathan.
  • Please Spare Him, My Liege!: Lilia does this twice in order to save Joshua's life. The first time, it was to Prince Moses. The second time, it was to Dathan. But there was a catch in Dathan's case...
  • Pragmatic Villainy: Prince Moses has no problem using the Hebrew slaves to build the treasure city, but he knows that happier and healthier slaves are more productive. So he increases their rations and gives them one day in seven to rest, and construction thus accelerates.
    Moses: A city is made of brick, Pharaoh. The strong make many. The weak make few. The dead make none.
  • Punch-Clock Villain: Pentaur, the Captain of the Pharaoh's Host. He's clearly saddened when Moses is sent into exile, noting that he'd rather be following him into battle, and is heartbroken when his own son dies during the final plague. He also tries to dissuade Rameses from continuing further against the Hebrews.
  • The Quisling: Dathan, who is of Hebrew descent but gladly works as an overseer.
  • Reality Is Unrealistic: As of 2016, it has been discovered that Ramses II was indeed fair skinned.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure:
    • Seti listens to both sides before making a decision. However, that decision isn't necessarily in favor of the protagonists. He also makes sure that his heir will be the one best fit to rule Egypt, not necessarily his son.
    • Moses is one of these, particularly when he is in charge of building the city. He recognizes that slaves who are fed and rested are more productive, allowing him to accelerate construction.
  • Refusal of the Call: Moses at first.
  • The Remake: This movie is also a remake of the 1923 silent epic of the same name; Cecil B. DeMille directed both.
  • Say My Name: A motif. People say "Moses, Moses" many times in the movie.
  • Scarpia Ultimatum: Dathan promises not to have Joshua executed if Lilia agrees to be his sex slave and let everyone believe it's of her own free will. As big a Jerkass as Dathan was, he actually upheld his end of the bargain.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: When the Hebrews leave Egypt after being freed, some Egyptian guards in the background join them.
  • Second Love: Sephora is this for Moses.
  • Servile Snarker: Dathan, to Rameses:
    Dathan: Joshua's strength didn't kill the master builder.
    Rameses: Now speaks the rat that would be my ears.
    Dathan: Too many ears tie a rat's tongue.
  • Setting Update: A minor example. Rabbinical Judaism tells us that Moses lifespan corresponds to 1391-1271 BC, telling us the Exodus happened in 1311 BC and thus that the Pharaoh of the Exodus would have been Horemheb, the predecessor of Ramesses I whom we see early in this film. Jerome, on the other hand, gives Moses' year of birth as 1592 meaning the Exodus would have been in 1512 with Thutmose I as the Pharaoh and Ussher gives Moses' year of birth as 1571 meaning the Exodus would have been in 1491 with the Pharaoh being Thutmose II. Most curent scholars think that if the Exodus did happen, the Pharaoh was Thutmose III, not II.
  • Sex Slave:
    • Liliah is blackmailed into this position via Scarpia Ultimatum by Dathan, who promises not to have Joshua executed if she agrees to it and tells anyone who asks that it's consensual. Despite the type of man Dathan has proven to be thus far, he keeps his end of the bargain.
    • Nefretiri probably saw her marriage to Rameses as this.
  • Shout-Out: Moses's hair and beard are patterned after Michelangelo's sculpture in Rome. (Heston later played Michelangelo in The Agony and the Ecstasy)
  • Shown Their Work:
    • According to Katherine Orrison, De Mille's biographer and protégé of De Mille's friend Henry Wilcoxon, De Mille did a HUGE amount of research, using not only the Bible, but the Qur'an and various Hebrew traditional texts including the Midrash.
    • The red white black pattern of the Tribe of Levi is actually the pattern associated with the Tribe of Levi.
    • Rameses II lays his dead son in the arms of an idol he addresses as "Dread Lord of Darkness". The lighting, background music and Brynner's attitude suggest he's praying to Satan. Actually, this is Sokar, better known as Seker, the guide of the dead, a kindly disposed deity who is also a form of the risen Osiris note  and patron of craftspeople and builders. De Mille did the research on this too. Both Seti I and Rameses II had art depicting Seker in their private chambers. He is one of the oldest Egyptian deities.
  • Smug Snake: Baka and Dathan.
  • So Beautiful, It's a Curse: Baka the Master Builder lusts after Liliah, leading the other Hebrews to comment about how beauty is a curse, with one saying, "Beauty is but a curse to our women."
  • Something Only They Would Say: Baka realizes that the Hebrew slave is actually Moses when he (Moses) refers to him as the "Master Butcher" — which Moses has called him before. A little too late, as he said this while he was strangling Baka to death.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: In the bible and the original film, the Pharaoh/Rameses died when the Red Sea rejoined.
  • Spiking the Camera: Sephorah warns Moses of an intruder nearby; Moses tells Sephorah "Your eyes are sharp as they are beautiful". Yvonne De Carlo responds by staring straight into the camera, away from where she's just said the danger was.
  • Stubborn Mule: One of these appears during the leaving of Egypt.
    Joshua: Four hundred years in bondage and today he won't move!
  • "Take That!" Kiss: Nefretiri to Ramses and vice versa. An unusual example — she did it to show how much she loves Moses and hates Rameses. "Did you think that was a promise of what you will have? No — that was to show you what you will never have..."
  • A Taste of the Lash: The sound version. Baka intends to kill Joshua this way after Joshua attacks him to free Lilia, but Moses intervenes and kills Baka before he can finish.
  • There Are No Coincidences: During production, the man who designed Moses's distinctive rust white and black striped robe used those colors because they looked impressive — he only later discovered that these are the actual colors of the Tribe of Levi.
  • Thirsty Desert: Crossed by Moses after being exiled from Egypt. He's given a little bag of food and a little bag of water. He's half-dead by the time he reaches a well, but fortunately not too far gone to fight off a band of marauders.
  • Threat Backfire:
    Rameses: Come to me no more, Moses! For on the day you see my face again... You will surely die!
    Moses: (deadpan) So let it be written.
  • Too Dumb to Live:
    • The Egyptian army following the fleeing Israelites into the parted sea. Did NOBODY realize that God could (and would) solve that little problem simply by letting things return to normal? (Even if they were all raging atheists, one would not want to tempt fate in jumping into what was clearly a strange phenomena that could have ended at any moment.)
    • After seeing with their own eyes God part the waters of the sea, the Hebrews are quick to question the existence of Him while waiting for Moses to return from Mount Sinai. So they decided to forge a golden idol to worship instead. Bithiah even points this out: "Would a God who's shown you such wonders let Moses die before his work was done?"
  • True Beauty Is on the Inside: During Nefertiti's attempt to win back Moses' love, she argues that Sephora is not as attractive as her, but Moses tells her that she fails to understand that there is a beauty of spirit.
  • Tyrant Takes the Helm:
    • Rameses succeeding the relatively reasonable Sethi.
    • Technically averted when Dathan is promoted to governor upon Baka's death — while he is certainly a Bad Boss, he's nowhere near as tyrannical as Baka.
  • The Unfavorite: Rameses is clearly this to Moses as Sethi heaps praise after praise after praise upon his adopted son while leaving Rameses out in the cold. Granted, he's an evil jerk so he brings it on himself.
  • Unperson: Sethi proclaims that Moses' name be erased from every carving, and never be spoken again, after learning that he is the one destined to free the Israelites. So let it be written, so let it be done! Subverted when Sethi, on his deathbed, breaks his own decree and utters Moses' name just before he dies. In ancient Egypt, this was done to ensure that a person would not only disappear from everyday life, but would have no life after death. De Mille biographer Katherine Orrison says that was the very reason Moses' name was spoken so often in the film. It was De Mille's symbolic attempt to ensure the real Moses could enter heaven.
  • The Vamp: Nefretiri.
  • Villainous B.S.O.D.: Ramses, after watching the Red Sea part for the Israelites' escape and then close up again to drown his army, can only return to his court and utter to Nefretiri in blank defeat, "His god... is God."
  • We Have Reserves: The Egyptians care nothing for the lives of the Hebrew slaves, as there are plenty of others to take their place. When Baka says it's no loss if some old woman gets crushed by the granite blocks, Moses is disgusted and asks "Are you a master builder or a master butcher?"
  • Whip It Good: Baka sadistically tells Joshua (who he's about to torture) that he can "flick a fly from my horse's ear without breaking its stride." Moses then strangles him with it.
  • Why Are You Not My Son?: Sethi clearly considers Moses a more worthy successor than his actual son.
  • Walking Shirtless Scene:
  • Woman Scorned: Nefretiri becomes this toward the end. She was once betrothed to Moses but now married to Rameses. When Moses returns, Nefretiri puts the moves on him, but is "spurned like a harlot in the street." She decides to get back at him by being the one who hardens Pharaoh's heart. When her son was killed, she wants Moses dead.
  • World's Most Beautiful Woman: Nefretiri is considered this when she becomes queen.
  • Worthy Opponent: After Rameses returns from a humiliating defeat, he tells Nefretiri:
    Rameses: His god... is God.
  • You Can't Fight Fate: Lampshaded by Yochabel, who warns Bithia that, no matter what, if God has a purpose, Moses will be unable to resist*.
  • You Fool!:
    Memnet: You fools! Talk of empty hearts before the Pharoah's daughter.
    • Nefretiri later does it in a more teasing way to Moses "...You stubborn, splendid, adorable fool..."