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Film / The Ten Commandments (1956)

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

"So let it be written. So let it be done."

The last and most famous 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 biblical story of Moses and the Exodus.

Moses (Charlton Heston) and Rameses (Yul Brynner) 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, Pharaoh Sethi (Sir Cedric Hardwicke), father of Rameses and adoptive uncle of Moses; Aaron (John Carradine), Moses' older brother; Baka (Vincent Price), a brutal slave master; Sephora (Yvonne De Carlo), daughter of Jethro and Moses's eventual wife; Joshua (John 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. Rameses says no. "Or else" happens.

The Ten Commandments won one Academy Award for its special effects, and was nominated for six 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.
  • Actor Allusion: Prior to playing the Pharaoh, Yul Brynner was running Siam and wooing the English tutor in both the Broadway musical and later the film. It's good to be the king, indeed. Ironically, in that role, Anna tells the story of Moses, and he responds, "This Moses is a fool." Incidentally, three years later, Brynner would go on to play King Solomon.
  • 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 exposing Moses as a non-Egyptian and the Deliverer to begin with. It's not purely an invention of the film either, as it was inspired by Jewish oral tradition about Dathan dating back hundreds if not thousands of years.
  • 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 Pharaoh'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 throughout history to flesh out this part of the story. Some of the details are in fact based on authentic extra-Biblical Jewish or Christian legends.
    • The fleshed-out relationship, including a Love Triangle, between Moses and the unnamed Pharaoh in the Bible.
    • In the original 1923 film, the story of the Exodus occurs in a fifty-minute prologue that covers Moses' return to Egypt through the Golden Calf incident. The majority of the 1923 version is taken up with a modern-day morality play that seeks to illustrate how the Ten Commandments are still relevant.
  • 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. However, it is likely that Seti took her away from Moses and forced her into marriage with someone else when Moses got exiled.
    • On the historical side of things, Rameses' lion Slayer of His Foes, who fought alongside him at Kadesh, is nowhere to be seen.
    • While the early years of Moses' life are expanded upon, his final years between the shattering of the Commandments and the entry into the Promised Land, which do get mentioned in the Bible, are cut out.
  • Affably Evil: Pharaoh Rameses I, who appears in his brief scene at the beginning to be reasonable a ruler as his son will be, but turns out to be as ruthless as his grandson will be when he feels his legacy and people are threatened.
  • Age Lift: As a horrified Rameses watches his son Prince Amun succumbing to the final plague, he comments that the boy is his only son. Historically, however, Rameses' thirteenth son and successor Merneptah was twenty-nine when death claimed Rameses' first Amun-her-khepeshef, and this boy hardly looked twelve or thirteen.note 
  • Ain't Too Proud to Beg: A young guard (Pentaur's son) pleads with Rameses II to let Moses' people go as he lies dying.
  • All in the Manual: Although he was never was identified in the film, the name of Rameses' firstborn son was Amun-her-khepeshef (Amun is with his strong arm).
  • 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 Hadesnote , but it wouldn't have worked so well.
      Dathan: Where are we going?
      Egyptian Soldier: To Hell, I hope.
    • 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 legend, Paris arrived in Egypt during the reign of Seti II, the grandson of Ramses II, while on his way back from abducting Helen. They chose the wrong pharaoh for a Priam reference.
    • 21st Dynasty mummies have been found with silk ribbons in their hair. This scene is only 200 years off. Could silk have been sent to Egypt in Ramses' (19th Dynasty) time? Not likely, or archaeologists would see more of it from earlier than the 21st.
    • Byssus, the "golden web spun from the beards of shellfish", is an anachronism, though tradition says that Moses covered his first altar with this fabric. The Egyptians did not have clam byssus in this time, but made a cloth with the same name — mentioned on the Rosetta Stone — that was made of linen instead.
    • The Egyptian soldier's sword at the very beginning of the culling of the Hebrew boys looks more like a Roman sword. This weapon, also seen at the end of the "Hounds and Jackals", is the iron Hittite sword from The Egyptian, one of many props that were reused here. It's not very accurate for them, either.
    • 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. It only gets worse because Rameses II was eleven when his grandfather Rameses I became Pharaoh and was twenty-four when he himself ascended the throne.
    • Rameses I is proclaimed "Pharaoh Rameses I." The numbering is a modern invention, not used by Ancient Egyptians.
    • The Battle of Kadesh is referred to as having been fought by Seti. It was actually by Rameses II.
    • A major event of the first act is Seti's jubilee. At the time, jubilees were significant dates in cycles of years observed by the Israelites. In modern times the word is also used to mean a celebration of a certain number of years that a monarch has ruled, but the historical Seti only ruled for eleven years and wouldn't have qualified for any of the types in existence today.
  • Ancient Egypt: That is the setting of most of the film.
  • Arc Words: "So let it be written, so let it be done."
  • Artifact Title: Though the film ends with Moses coming down from Sinai with the Ten Commandments, the focus of the film is the Exodus and the events leading up to it. The 1923 version used the Exodus story only as a short prologue to a morality play set in (then-) modern times about the necessity of keeping the Ten Commandments today, but this was not adapted to the remake.
  • Art Imitates Art:
    • Director Cecil B. DeMille reportedly instructed set designers to study the Egypt-themed paintings of Lawrence Alma-Tadema in order to achieve his artistic vision.
    • The lively acrobatic dance in Sethi's Jubilee scene was real, and very much a "golden oldie" by that time. It is taken from a wall painting in the beautiful tomb of Mehu, a high-ranking Sixth Dynasty official — that's 900 years before Sethi and Ramesses' 19th Dynasty.
  • 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, and to a lesser extent his brother Abiram and Moses' treacherous cousin and Dathan's conspirator Korah.
    • Baka the Master Butcher Builder is based on a nameless mook in the Bible. Here, he's promoted to Vincent Price.
    • Jannes, the High Priest of Egypt and Court Mage, who in the Book of Exodus is an unnamed court magician among others who oppose Moses when he confronts Pharaoh. He is referred to as Jannes in outside sources, including one of the Pauline letters (2nd Timothy, 3:5).
  • 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.
  • The Atoner: Bithia, after she joins her adopted son Moses and his people in the Exodus. We see her offering an ailing Hebrew slave her seat on her litter, then agreeing to take a sapling fig tree from him to plant in the Holy Land as he tells her he knows he's dying and will be unable to travel there, and he can at least be assured he can leave a legacy there. We also see her offering to stop her nephew's charging army (which would have been futile), and guiding Hebrew children through the Red Sea.
  • Authority Sounds Deep:
    • Both Moses and Rameses, and God. Joshua can lower his voice to very heroic levels when necessary.
    • Likewise Vincent Price as Baka.
    • Also Aaron, although it's more of a bass courtesy of John Carradine.
  • Awful Wedded Life: Rameses and Nefretiri. (it was an Arranged Marriage after all) The only thing keeping them going is their son. After their only son is taken by the plague on the firstborn sons, she mocks Rameses and the gods of Egypt, and Rameses threatens to add her blood to that of Moses and the Israelites, only to return in shameful defeat, and reluctantly acknowledge that the god of the Israelites is the true God.
  • Badass Boast:
    • Rameses I's commander at the beginning, when he challenges Jannes' claim of attack:
      "From the frontiers of Sinai and Libya to the cataracts of the Nile, what nation would dare raise a sword against us?"
    • Later by a quietly furious Rameses (later Rameses II):
      "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."
    • By definition, isn't every utterance and/or pronouncement by The Almighty this?
  • 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.
  • Befriending the Enemy: Despite his initial suspicion of her being from the Royal Family that oppressed his people, Moses' Hebrew slave friend Mered quickly becomes a loyal friend to Moses' adopted mother Bithia, to the point that he prevents her from her risking her life by attempting to halt her nephew's charging army. According to Jewish legend, Mered and Bithia actually become a couple, and had kids!
  • Berserk Button:
    • Never interrupt Jannes in the middle of one of his lengthy proclamations, or the pompous Old Windbag will threaten you with a point of a sword snatched from the nearest guard!
    • Also never disobey God or flout His will, as Rameses II and Dathan learn to their cost.
  • Betty and Veronica: Sephora and Nefretiri. Unfortunately, God is the Third-Option Love Interest.
  • Big Bad: Initially Rameses I, then for much of the film the future Rameses II, then ultimately Dragon Ascendant Dathan. Nefretari is almost a Big Bad herself, persuading Rameses to keep the Israelites in Egypt purely to keep Moses close to her.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Moses, naturally. (Charlton Heston tended to play a lot of these during his career)
  • Birth-Death Juxtaposition: An unseen Hebrew woman gives birth as the group leaves Egypt, the morning after massive deaths among Egypt's firstborn (and any Hebrews foolish enough to ignore the warnings). This is also immediately after Mr. Fig Tree entrusts his precious cargo to Bithiah, saying he knows he's about to die.note 
  • Bittersweet Ending: The Hebrews eventually reach Israel... but for his Wrath, Moses cannot enter the Promised Land.
  • "Blind Idiot" Translation:
    • Not quite as harsh, but "Sephora" for Tzipporah and "Yochabel" for Yocheved are very odd translations.
    • Bithiah's real Egyptian name was Renenutet note . Bithiah, "Daughter of God," was her Hebrew name.
  • Blood for Mortar: Discussed and Defied; when Moses' fellow Egyptians ask why he will not let a Hebrew woman die during the construction of a temple, he states that "blood makes poor mortar" and frees her.
  • 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.
  • Book Ends: At the beginning, a group of beautiful women attends the older princess Bithiah, who takes baby Moses from the water. When Moses is thrown out of Egypt, his name has been erased from their history; by Egyptian standards he is dead. When he gets to Midian, a group of beautiful women repeatedly douse him with water — and so he is reborn, and marries the oldest sister.
  • 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.
    • In the Bible, Aaron is a wimp. While in the movie Aaron outright refuses to make an Idol for the people and Dathan manages to convince them himself to do it, without Aaron putting up much of a fight, in the Bible when the people order Aaron to make them a new god, he just grabs the buckets, tells the women to give him their jewelry, and sets to work.
  • Bratty Half-Pint: It is Rameses II's first-born son Prince Amun who clearly is not only rude and spoiled, he has the nerve to kick Moses' staff that he used to demonstrate God's power by turning into a cobra, thereby insulting both Moses and God. This is clearly so we don't mind too much what happens later to the princely brat when the Death Angel comes calling.
  • Break Her Heart to Save Her: Joshua smears the doorposts of Dathan's house with lamb's blood, in the hopes that he can save Lilia from despairing to the point of death and free her from Dathan's clutches.
  • 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!"
  • Catchphrase: "So let it be written. So let it be done." by Rameses (both I and II). It even gets a reprise at the end of the film.
  • Censored Child Death: The actual murders of the Hebrew children aren't shown, but one Egyptian soldier does clean blood from his sword while a mother stands nearby with a Thousand-Yard Stare...
  • 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.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Memnet keeps the Levite cloth from Moses' basket, and uses it to prove to Nefretiri where her lover (and would-be husband) really came from.
  • The Chosen One: Moses, the Deliverer.
  • 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: The movie tells the story of Moses, featuring and focusing on (what Hollywood thinks are) the Ten Commandments of Judaism. It's actually a remake of a 1923 silent film, in which the Moses story was just a prologue to a then-modern story about two brothers, one of whom believes in the Ten Commandments and the other of whom considers them to be outdated.
  • Cool Old Lady: Both Bithia and Yochebel in later life.
  • Court Mage: Jannes, in addition to being High Priest of Egypt and one of the Pharoah's top advisors.
  • 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 and Unusual Death: What Rameses is essentially doling out to Moses by sending him to cross the desert with only one days ration of food and water, meaning he will inevitably succumb to starvation/dehydration/exposure, though he has the audacity to claim "If you die, it will be by His hand, not mine", even though it clearly would be his doing, given that he put him in that situation. Indeed, Moses is on the brink of death before he finally finds sustenance on the other side of the desert.
  • Cruel Mercy: After being allowed by the Pharaoh to decide Moses' fate, 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.
  • Crucified Hero Shot: When Joshua is captured by Dathan and Baka, they stretch up and strap his arms to the pillars and scourge him with a whip.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Pentaur the Commander of the Pharoah's chariot host encounters this after God releases the Red Sea as he and his army pursue the fleeing Hebrew people, drowning them all.
  • 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, while Rameses II did lose his first-born son, Amun-her-khepeshef, Amun passed away at age 26. 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.
    • As of 1994, we know that Ramses was a redhead and that he came from a family of redheads. There is not a single redhead amongst the royal family.
    • The movie ends with the Hebrews reaching Canaan and Moses being unable to set foot in it like in the Book of Exodus. Today we know that Canaan was conquered by Seti I and part of Rameses II's empire during his 66-year-long reign, which would've made the whole Exodus completely moot.
    • Additionally, in 2010, it was discovered that slaves in Egypt did NOT build any pyramids or monuments of Egypt. They were built by paid laborers with their own unions. This means that EVERY scene where slaves are seen in hard labor is dated.
    • Today we know that Queen Nefertari died one year before Rameses' first born, Amun-her-khepeshef, which makes all of her scenes during and after The Plague of the Firstborn impossible at worst and Anachronism Stew at best. And on that topic, now we know that Rameses and Nefertari had at least one daughter before Amun, and no daughter is ever mentioned in the film.
  • Deadpan Snarker:
    • Seti.
      High Priest Jannes: 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!
    • The soldier follows this up with Dathan's later query as to where he's going:
      To Hell, I hope!
    • 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.
    • And earlier, Bithia towards Mamnet, whenever the old nurse is about to say something about Moses.
    • And Rameses, after Nefretiri taunts him into pursuing the Hebrews, handing him his own sword demanding to see Moses' blood on it when he returns. His response?
      Rameses: I will — to mingle with your own!
  • Defeat Means Friendship: After defeating Ethiopia in war, Moses presents the Ethiopian king as a new ally to protect the southern border.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Sort of, with Sephora. While she isn't out and out hostile, she clearly seems uninterested in having Moses as a husband, unlike her younger sisters. Guess who he ends up choosing?
  • Demoted to Extra: Sort of with Miriam and Aaron, though both get their moments, especially Aaron, played by John Carradine. Miriam's moments include assisting newly appointed Lancer Joshua in organizing the Exodus.
  • Demythification: There is a scene where Ramses tries to explain away the Plagues as natural phenomena. To paraphrase, he tells Moses that red mud seeped into the Nile River, causing the frogs to leave and the cattle drinking from it to sicken and die, whose carcasses rotted, attracting rats and bugs that spread disease. Then there's the matter of burning hail from the sky...
  • Denied Food as Punishment: Discussed and defied when Moses' slaves are fed and rested for a day, thus making them much more productive.
  • 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 decides to exile Moses because killing him will turn him into a martyr in Nefretiri'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 and Baka to Rameses, with Baka starting out as the first dragon until he is slain by Moses. This is 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 classic example): his top general, Pentaur, whose firstborn dies. Pentaur himself later dies when he is consumed by the Red Sea with the rest of his Pharaoh's chariot host.
    • Abiram becomes one to Dathan as well when he takes over control of the Hebrews in the wilderness.
  • 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.
  • Easily Swayed Population: The Israelites quickly agree to Dathan's plan of building an Egyptian idol and going back when it looks like Moses has gone missing at Sinai. This is after the plagues, the Pillar of Fire and the parting of the Red Sea.
  • 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...
  • Emissary from the Divine: Moses acts as an emissary from God to free the Israelites from slavery in Egypt.
  • Entitled Bitch: Nefretiri is so insistent that Moses will cease being God's deliverer and come back to her. Along with "I'm a princess, I get what I want" she's also trusting in the power of their decades-long love to draw them back together. She is bitterly disappointed.
  • 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, accompanied by ominously evil villain music.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Dathan does care for his brother Abiram and has him live in the governor's house.
  • Everyone Has Standards: Pentaur the commander of the Egyptian army, as he protests in vain at seeing the former prince Moses he once served under in war and whom he respected being forced to cross the desert with only one day's ration of food and water. As he is made to put on Moses' Levite robe, a parting gift from his dying birth mother, Pentaur says, "I would rather this were your armor." He's also visibly stunned at how callously Rameses informs Moses that his birth mother is dead.
  • Evil Chancellor: Jannes the High Priest can count as such, for while he is loyal to the Pharaohs he serves, he definitely has his own agenda, and his evil advice to Rameses I at the beginning leads to the death of innocent Hebrew children and threatens the newborn Moses.
  • Face Death with Dignity: Nefertiti is completely unfazed when Rameses prepares to kill her, asking only to see Moses' blood on his sword. When he can't do that, she disgustedly notes, "You couldn't even kill him."
  • Fat Bastard: Jannes the High Priest of Egypt in later life. His frustration at Moses taking away the hoarded grain from his temple is what turns him against Moses and makes him side with Rameses.
  • 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.
    • What Rameses believes he's dolling out to Moses by not executing him, knowing that he'll be forever tormented by the knowledge that the woman he loves is married to someone else. For added bonus, he gets to torture Nefertiti in the same manner, taunting her about the possibility of Moses eventually finding love with someone else (which happens).
  • 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 of shirtless male characters.
  • Faux Action Girl: Sephora, when she courageously stands up to the bullying Amalekite shepherds who threaten her and her sisters, but it is Moses who comes to their rescue.
  • 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, Simon:
      Simon: Thank you, my son ... but death is better than bondage, for my days are ended; and my prayer...unanswered.
      Moses: What prayer?
      Simon: That before death closed my eyes, I might behold the deliverer...who will bring all freedom...(dies)
    • As the Israelites are preparing to leave Egypt, a treasure wagon throws valuables to various people, including a blind old man with a pair of young children looking after him. The wagon master throws the boy a golden statue of a golden calf. When the boy describes it, the blind man wants nothing to do with it: "An idol... for idol worshippers!" If you look closely, the statue is indeed a golden calf — exactly the same as the idol Aaron fashions for the Israelites at the foot of Mt. Sinai, just smaller.
  • George Jetson Job Security: After the Israelites secretly smear the doorposts of Dathan's house with lamb's blood, he is stripped of his position and estate, forced to join the other Israelites in leaving Egypt.
  • Get Out!:
    • Sethi does this to Bithia after Rameses brings Moses to his court.
      Bithia: Forgive me, Sethi, it was I who deceived you, not Moses. He was only a child!
      Sethi: Leave me. I shall not see your face again!
    • Ramses essentially also does this to Moses.
      Ramses: 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!
  • 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.
  • God — or His voice, anyway.
  • A God Am I: As Pharaoh of Egypt, Rameses II becomes this, hence his resistance to the True God's demands.
  • Good Counterpart: Moses' son Gershom is clearly this to his bratty cousin Prince Amun.
  • Good Parents: Jethro to his daughters.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Rameses has it something fierce since everyone (including his own father) knows how much more awesome Moses is.
  • Guyliner: Defied. C.B. DeMille strove for authenticity but was advised against historically accurate eye makeup for the guys. For that matter, the gals aren't wearing enough of it either. Egyptians of both sexes wore makeup made from green malachite and black kohl a) to repel flies b) for the sun's glare c) because it looked so snazzy.
  • 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" High Priest Jannes (Douglas Dumbrille).
    • Honorable mention goes to Vincent Price.
  • Happily Married: Moses with Sephora — until he finds his God...
  • 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.
  • Harbinger of Impending Doom: Jannes, when he informs Pharaoh Rameses I of the prophecy of a Hebrew Deliver being born. His Pharaoh's attempt to prevent the prophecy results ironically in the baby Moses being discreetly adopted by Rameses' daughter Bithia and growing up to actually make the prophecy come true.
  • 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.
  • Heartbroken Badass: Rameses is genuinely devastated by the death of his son.
  • The High King:
    • Rameses becomes this as Pharaoh, despite the stacks against him because of his adopted brother Moses' accomplishments.
    • And before him his father Sethi and grandfather Rameses I.
  • High Priest: Several examples in various cultures.
    • Jannes the High Priest of Egypt is an obvious example.
    • Aaron becomes unofficially High Priest in this film to his people (he actually becomes such in the Book of Exodus, Chapter 28).
    • Although we mainly see his younger son Eleazar as a boy, we know from the Book of Numbers (Chapter 20) he will eventually succeed his father as High Priest of the Hebrews.
    • Jethro who is the Sheikh of Midian.
    • Korah is named such by Dathan thus ensuring his co-operation in Dathan's takeover bid.
  • The High Queen: Nefretiri becomes this to Rameses' High King.
  • His Name Is...: Sethi on his deathbed breaks his own decree by saying Moses's name.
  • Hollywood Atheist: Rameses. He knows that the Egyptian gods were created by men to justify the pharaoh’s rule, and as such believes he can do whatever he wants. Presumably he disbelieves in the Hebrews’ God for the same reason. Possibly, Dathan as well, since it’s unlikely that he’d betray Moses if he knew Moses had God on his side.
  • Hollywood Costuming: The women might seem to have obviously 1950s hair and makeup.... but the hairstyles 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.note 
  • Hollywood Old: Lilia in the final scene is obviously just 23-year-old rising-star-beauty-queen Debra Paget wrapped in a blanket.
  • Holy Is Not Safe: A few examples from the source material Book of Exodus. Meeting the burning bush form of God causes Moses to prematurely age. The pillar of fire that carves the stone tablets was not something safe to be around, and the touch of those holy tablets kills many idol worshipers. A holy angel kills the first born of Egypt.
  • Home of the Gods: Zipporah describes Mt. Sinai as home to God, something Moses finds absurd because a "real" god should be omnipresent. Nonetheless, Zipporah assures him that God shows up there from time to time and she is, of course, proven correct.
  • Honor Before Reason: After seeing their path blocked with fire and the Red Sea parting, even 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.") It is mentioned in the Book of Exodus Chapter 15 that she is a prophetess.
  • I Never Said It Was Poison: When Moses confronts Bithiah about the Levite cloth, she reprimands him for believing "a piece of cloth found by Memnet". His response?
    "How did you know it was Memnet?"
  • I Reject Your Reality: Bithia on letting her maternal instincts take over common sense in taking the Hebrew baby Moses despite the obvious dangers her attendant Memnet points out.
  • 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.
  • Inept Mage: Jannes, as he is repeatedly being humiliated in front of Rameses II and the Royal Court by Moses and God, first by Moses' rod-turned-serpent swallowing his and another priest's, then repeatedly discrediting him and the gods he serves through the plagues he is clearly unable to prevent.
  • Informed Attribute:
    • Unless you really believe Charlton Heston is slow of speech and thick of tongue... (He tried but couldn't do a realistic stammer. He settled for speaking very slowly.)
    • 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.
  • Insult Backfire:
    Ramses: You have a rat's ears and a ferret's nose.
    Dathan: To use in your service, son of Pharaoh.
  • Iron Lady: Bithia, particularly with Mamnet whenever the old nurse seems about to spill the beans about Moses.
  • Ironic Echo Cut: "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image". The scene fades to the golden calf.
  • 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.
    • The old slave with Moses who dies regretting that he never saw the Deliverer, not knowing that said Deliverer is cradling his body as he dies.
    • "The slaves do not need a Deliverer now. They have Moses." Of course, Ramses says this without knowing that Moses is the Deliverer.
  • Jerkass:
    • Dathan. Dathan. Dathan. From having Lilia as his Sex Slave to being the one who made the infamous golden calf to many Kick the Dog incidents in between, you'd think he was competing in some contest to crown the biggest cinematic dog-kicker.
    • Rameses certainly qualifies, going from just plain stubbornness to this as the plagues pile up and he doesn't yield on keeping the Hebrews as slaves, as does Nefretiri after she's been married to him long enough.
    • Baka the Master Builder, both for letting Yochebel be nearly crushed to death and trying to make Lilia his Sex Slave.
  • Jerkass Has a Point:
    • Nefreteri correctly points out to Moses after catching him slumming as a slave in the mud pits that if he goes ahead with revealing his secret and renouncing his status, he will break Bithia's and Sethi's hearts and guarantee that his own people will suffer more with Rameses as their next overlord, whom incidentally she will have to marry.
    • 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? Or sending him away?
  • Kick the Dog: So many times, audiences would be forgiven for thinking that dog-kicking was the national sport in ancient Egypt.
  • Killed Offscreen:
    • Implied with Rameses I. We skip ahead some thirtysomething years to find that Sethi his son is now ruler, and any reference to Rameses I is in the past tense. (Historically, he only ruled a couple of years anyway.)
    • Also, when Moses is being dumped by Rameses in the desert, he is given a Levite robe spun by his mother who personally brought with her to prison to deliver to her son, only to die afterwards (presumably from a broken heart, although we can see she's pretty frail and sick in her last scene) which Rameses coldly delivers as a parting Take That! to his rival.
  • King Incognito: After learning that he's actually a Hebrew, Moses goes to work in the mud pits as a common slave, with nobody knowing who he really is (though Lilia finds his voice vaguely familiar).
  • Kneel Before Zod: Defied. Rameses 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 all, God. And Sethi, just for the way he says "stricken" in the above speech. (Well, Sir Cedric Hardwicke.) And Jannes, the Old Windbag...
  • 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 to Memnet, when making her swear to keep quiet about Moses, that "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: A variation. Rameses II's son kicks Moses' rod after he just demonstrates God's power through having the rod miraculously turn into a cobra and back again, but it is still an insulting and defiant gesture to both Moses and God, thereby we still don't feel too bad over what happens to the princely brat.
  • 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 Paramount logo is cued over an image of Mount Sinai, rather than the usual mountain, believed to be modeled after Ben Lomond near Ogden, Utah, the boyhood home of Paramount founder William W. Hodkinson.
  • 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.
  • Mama Bear:
    • Bithiah, although not Moses's birth mother, 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.
    • Nefertiti instantly wraps her arms around her son and declares "Nothing of his will harm you" when Moses' rod turns into a snake, then later begs Moses for his life. His death is what makes her finally give up on her fantasy that Moses still loves her.
  • Marital Rape License: Vaguely implied with Rameses and Nefertiti, when he first declares "You will come to me whenever I call you, whether you like it or not", then later warns her, "No phantom will come between you and me in the night." Later, she tells Moses that she cursed him "each time Rameses took me in his arms", making it clear that even if he didn't outright force himself on her, she hated having sex with him.
  • 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 Rameses with his ministers, concerning the first few plagues.
    Ramses: These things were ordered by themselves, not by any God.
  • A Minor Kidroduction: The opening sequences include the infant Moses being rescued from the water by Bithiah.
  • Mood Whiplash: Near the end, the divine majesty of God giving His law to Moses is contrasted with the debauchery of the Hebrews worshipping their golden idol.
  • Mook Depletion: Rameses sends his army after Moses and the departing Israelites only to witness them all killed when the Red Sea parts, and then un-parts. The final shot of him is on his throne, silently contemplating not only his humbling by God, but probably how he can rule his country with next to no army to back him up. All because the opponent's might (God's) is such that it wipes the whole army out in one swift strike.
  • Morality Pet: Whatever their faults, Rameses II and Nefreteri really loved their son, and are devastated when he is claimed by the Plague of the Death of the Firstborn.
  • Mr. Exposition:
    • Several characters, but a great example is the "Blind One", a blind old man explaining aspects of the Exodus to his two grandchildren as they describe them to him, such as the funeral procession of their ancestor Joseph as it being borne by Jewish elders to be buried in the Holy Land as his deathbed request. Likewise he recognizes the golden image of a calf handed to him by a fellow slave as an object of pagan worship, which he rejects in horror, but it ironically will later inspire Dathan to creat a false god for his people to worship.
    • Gershom, whom we see Moses telling the story of how his maternal ancestor Ishmael survives in the desert due to God's mercy, thus establishing that Moses has learned of his people's and Seporah's collective history during his time spent with her family.
    • Eleazar, Aaron's younger son, when he has the more symbolic aspects of the first Passover meal explained to him by his elders, the bitter herbs (representing his people's bitter slavery) and the unleavened bread (the haste at which their Egyptian overlords will be driving them out).
  • 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. In the "Hounds and Jackals" scene, Baxter is wearing a dress so transparent one can actually see her nipples. Again, by Ancient Egyptian standards, she is way overdressed.
  • My God, What Have I Done?:
    • Or rather what they failed to do. Aaron and Miriam over their shared guilt and remorse at being unable to prevent their people from corrupting themselves in Moses' absence is painfully obvious.
    • Rameses, after he has sent his entire army to their watery doom by defying God.
  • Named by the Adaptation: The movie names the unnamed Pharaoh of the Book of Exodus as Rameses, which many adaptations since have used.
  • 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.
    • Also his grandfather Rameses I, when he stages the death of the Hebrew male babies born at the same time as Moses.
  • Never My Fault:
    • Rameses blames Nefretiri 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.
    • Aaron pathetically also tries to use this line when Moses comes down from Mount Sinai to take in his people defiling themselves ("Dathan and the people made me do it!"), and he is called out for it.
    • In the Bible, Aaron is pretty much a wimp. While in the movie Aaron outright refuses to make an Idol for the people and Dathan manages to convince them himself to do it, without Aaron putting up much of a fight, in the Bible when the people order Aaron to make them a new god, he just grabs the buckets, tells the women to give him their jewelry, and sets to work.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Moses going to rescue Lilia from Baka results in him killing the man and his status as a Hebrew being learned and revealed, resulting in his exile and losing the woman he loves. Not only that, Rameses is put on the throne and thanks to Sethi's warnings, is an even more brutal Pharaoh than he would have already been.
  • 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.
    • Tommy Duran, the child actor playing Moses' son Gershom, clearly had little acting experience or training, as indicating in his failure to hide his natural American accent.
    • Eugene Mazolla, the child actor who played Rameses' son Prince Amun, didn't hide his American accent either.
  • Not So Above It All: After Nefertiri finds Moses as a slave, she suggest he come 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 actually 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.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • Moses' birth mother, when she is about to be crushed by the granite she is greasing.
    • When Nefretiri realizes too late after silencing Mamnet she forgot about the Levite wrapping cloth the old nurse brought with her to prove her claims about Moses, until Moses himself discovers it, and starts asking awkward questions...
    • The look on Baka's face when he sees the slave who is about to strangle him is actually Moses.
    • 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.
    • Dathan and Korah when they realize too late that they have gone over their heads contending with the One True God...
  • Old Maid: Although all of Jethro's daughters are unmarried, one of them very pointedly tells Moses that Sephora's the oldest, with the clear implication that this makes her the least desirable.
  • Old Windbag: Jannes, the High Priest of Egypt. This is exactly what Sethi kept referring to him as, first during one of his lengthy court announcements..."the old windbag", and later at his own death, with Jannes still pontificating there.
    May the Gods bless you... as you go to join them... in the lannnddd of the deaddd...
  • 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.
  • Outliving One's Offspring:
    • Pentaur sees his firstborn son drop dead in front of him.
    • 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.
  • Papa Wolf: Subverted; while it may take some prodding, Rameses vows to avenge his son's death. It doesn't work out for him.
  • Parting the Sea: The movie has the biblical depiction of Moses parting the waters of the Red Sea to led the Israelites out of their bondage in Egypt.
  • 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. Upon hearing Rameses decree that all the firstborn will die, Nefertiti instantly goes to Moses home to warn him and helps his wife and son to flee. Even if her primary goal was to get Moses alone and to herself, it's still clear that she genuinely didn't want to see anything happen to his son.
  • Please, I Will Do Anything!: Lilia does this to save Joshua, the result of which is her becoming Dathan's concubine.
  • 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...
  • Plot-Triggering Death: Memnet is made to swear not to reveal the true identity of Moses. She tells Nefretiri about it 30 years later and is murdered by her. It starts the chain reaction which leads to the Exodus.
  • Post-Rape Taunt: Baka to Joshua regarding Lilia, telling him he "would have only kept her a short while. She would have returned to you. . .shall we say. . .more worthy."
  • 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.
    • While he sees no need to sacrifice a slave nation that has been so useful to him and his people, Rameses I has no qualms about sacrificing their male babies in order to prevent an inconvenient (to him) prophecy from coming to pass.
  • Prematurely Grey-Haired: Moses returns from speaking with the the burning bush form of God with gray and white hair.
  • Property of Love: How Moses and Nefretiri describe themselves to each other, in a Sickeningly Sweethearts kind of way.
  • Psychopomp: In Ancient Egypt, the god Seker, one of the oldest gods, is both this and a creator spirit. In this movie, Rameses is shown praying to Seker (he calls him "Sokar") to resurrect his dead son. DeMille has Shown Their Work; both Rameses II and his father Seti were devoted to Seker and had murals of him in their chambers.
  • 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.
  • Punny Name: A likely unintentional one with Baka, which means "idiot"... in Japanese.
  • Pyrrhic Victory: Rameses ascends the throne after Sethi reluctantly makes him the heir to the throne and marries Nefretiri, who bears him a son. Unfortunately, he resists letting the Hebrews go, eventually doing so after the tenth plague takes his only firstborn son and he afterwards boasts of slaying Moses and the Israelites, taking an army with him to pursue them. His troops and cavalry are drowned in the flood, his only son has died, and he has failed to stop Moses and the Israelites, returning to his snarky wife, bitterly and reluctantly acknowledging that Moses' god is the true God.
  • The Quisling: Dathan, who is of Hebrew descent but gladly works as an overseer.
  • Rage Breaking Point: Her son's death is what makes Nefertiti finally realize that Moses no longer loves her and from then on, she urges Rameses to take revenge, outright telling him "Kill him with your own hands".
  • Reality Is Unrealistic: As of 2016, it has been discovered that Rameses II was indeed fair skinned.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure:
    • Sethi listens to both sides before making a decision. However, his final, most crucial 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.
    • Aaron, to the point that Moses trusts him to look after the Hebrew people as he goes up into Mount Sinai to commune with God and receive His Commandments. Unfortunately Aaron isn't strong enough a leader to prevent Dathan from taking over control under him...
    • In the actual Bible Aaron REALLY isn't strong enough, he's pretty much a wimp. While in the movie Aaron outright refuses to make an idol for the people and Dathan manages to convince them himself to do it, without Aaron putting up much of a fight, in the Bible when the people order Aaron to make them a new god, he just grabs the buckets, tells the women to give him their jewelry, and sets to work.
    • Jethro the sheikh of Midian, who becomes very much like Sethi was to Moses.
  • Refusal of the Call: Moses at first.
    I am not the man!
  • Religion of Evil: Dathan's cult of the Golden Calf, with Korah as its puppet leader.
  • The Remake: This movie is also a remake of the 1923 silent epic of the same name; Cecil B. DeMille directed both.
  • Repeat to Confirm: A non-verbal version — the overseers at the construction site signal each other thusly with colored pennants.
  • Roll-and-Move: Nefretiri and Sethi are playing a game of Hounds and Jackals on something like a cribbage board. Sethi gloats, "My jackals have your hounds at bay." Nefretiri rubs three stiff reeds, then throws them onto the board. "Triples!" she exults, and Sethi can only sigh in defeat.
  • Say My Name: A motif. People say "Moses, Moses" many times in the movie. There's a reason for that.
  • Scales of Justice: When Sethi questions Moses about his stealing temple grain, giving it to the slaves, and giving the slaves a day each week to rest, Ramses begins putting weights on a scale for each thing Moses confesses to. Moses then puts a brick on the opposite dish as he justifies his actions by saying that the well-fed and rested slaves make more bricks.
  • 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. It's Exodus 12:38. The "mixed multitude" also includes a lot of Nubians who must have been guests. There would have been Egyptians like Bithiah, who followed her faith in her son; others just getting away from the devastated land, others ready to believe "his God is God," or possible converts who were aware something about this was real; others could have been enslaved foreigners, etc.
  • Second Love: Sephora is this for Moses.
  • See You in Hell: An Egyptian soldier tells Dathan where he can go after he loses his position as taskmaster:
    Dathan: Where are we going? Do you know where we're going?
    Egyptian soldier: To Hell, I hope!
  • Serpent Staff: The Trope Maker appears in the movie. The Aaron's staff can transform into a snake to demonstrate the power of God. When the Pharaoh's priests perform the same feat, Aaron one-ups them by having his snake eat their snakes.
  • 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 current 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.
    • 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 some evil guy. 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, builders, and agriculture. 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.
  • Silence, You Fool!:
    • Ramses II uses "Silence!" and "Silence yourselves!" quite often to quiet down his "henchmen" servants and priests once he becomes the Pharaoh of Egypt as Pharaoah Ramesses II, especially when they come complaining to him about each of the Ten Plagues.
    • Pharaouh Ceti also uses it in a few scenes in the first part of "The Ten Commandments" when he plays as Pharaoh Seti I, especially in the scene where he, Ramesses II, Princess Bithiah, and Princess Nefertiri are discussing the possibility of Moses being the "Great Deliverer" that they feared would help set the Hebrew slaves of Egypt free.
  • Sins of Our Fathers: Rameses I's cruel decree to prevent the Future Deliverer of the Hebrew slave nation from leading his people to freedom by ordering the deaths of all male Hebrew babies born at the time predicted is visited later on his grandson and namesake Rameses II. Not that Rameses II was unwilling to commit his own sin in outdoing his grandfather...
  • So Beautiful, It's a Curse: Baka the Master Builder lusts after Lilia, 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.
  • Stealth Insult: When Moses returns from Ethiopia, Rameses says there is "no need" to tell Moses how happy he is to see him. Why no need? Because he's not happy to see him. Moses obviously understands the diss, and is not at all bothered by it.
  • Stubborn Mule: One of these appears during the leaving of Egypt. (This can be taken as a symbol of the Hebrew nation's own stubbornness that will cost them 40 years of extra wandering in the desert.)
    Joshua: Four hundred years in bondage and today he won't move!
  • Subterfuge Judo: The slimy-in-personality master builder Baka (played by the classical Vincent Price, no less!) takes Lilia, one of the Hebrew slave servants, from the brick-producing mud pits of the Hebrew slaves, to be his courtesan. She tries to push away his advances, but being of lower class than the Egyptians, she is unable to convince him to let her be, as Baka stealthily counters her every reason why she should not go with him. Joshua, the protagonist master stonecutter, is in love with her too, but Lilia, thankfully, only has the heart for Joshua.
    Baka: You there! Come here!
    Lilia: That is Baka, the master builder.
    Moses: [disguised, in the pits to learn the Hebrews' plight] Does he call me or you?
    Baka: [referring to Lilia] You, water girl! I'm thirsty.
    Lilia: He does not thirst for water.
    Other Slave: Beauty is but a curse to our women.
    [Lilia walks over to Baka, with a cup of water in-hand]
    Lilia: Water, Noble One?
    Baka: [tossing the water out of the cup, flirting] No, wine... the wine of beauty.
    Lilia: [nervous] What beauty can my lord find in these mud pits?
    Baka: A lotus flower blooms in the Nile's gray mud. Dathannote , she will do well as a house slave.
    Lilia: [pleading] Do not take me from my people! There would be danger.
    Baka: Danger from such lovely hands?
    Lilia: [referring to Joshua] There are other hands strong enough to kill!
    Baka: [jokingly] Our mud flower has a thorn.
    Lilia: [pleading] Oh, please, Lord Baka, I beg you!
  • "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. Her voice drips scorn. "Did you think my kiss was a promise of what you will have? No, my pompous one — it was to show you what you will not have... I could never love you."
  • 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.
  • Tempting Fate: Nefretiri tells Moses that she loves him and will marry him, and nothing will stop that. A few seconds before he finds a piece of Hebrew cloth that was wrapped around him as a baby.
  • Theremin: There's has a theremin in the movie's score. It makes sense, since the instrument really was quite widely used in 1950s Hollywood, even beyond SF.
  • 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.
  • Time Skip: Several. After Bithia finds the infant Moses to him as a grown man, after Moses chooses Sephora to be his wife to them as the Happily Married parents of a 5-10 year old son, then after the orgy, to 40 years later with Moses as a very old man.
  • 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 lampshades this: "Would a God who's shown you such wonders let Moses die before his work was done?"note 
  • True Beauty Is on the Inside: During Nefretiri'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:
    • Averted with Sethi, who is a much more reasonable figure than his father Rameses I.
    • 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.
  • Unbalanced By Rival's Kid: Nefertiti has a moment like this upon seeing Moses' son Gershom, clearly wishing he was her son with Moses, rather than Sephora's. "Is this Moses' son?" — "Yes, this is our son." That tells you the whole story right there.
  • Uncertain Doom: While the Hebrew babies are being slaughtered, there's a shot of a woman clinging to a cradle with a vacant stare as an Egyptian soldier withdraws a bloody sword. It's not clear if the woman is having a severe Heroic BSoD after seeing her child die or was killed by the soldier.
  • The Unfavorite: Rameses is clearly this to Moses as Sethi heaps praise after praise after praise upon his adopted nephew 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.
  • Villainous BSoD: 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."
  • Walking Shirtless Scene: Rameses, Moses and Joshua all have extended shirtless scenes.
  • 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?"
  • "What Now?" Ending: Rameses and Nefertiri's story arc ends this way, with the pair alone, defeated, and despondent in the throne room, with no idea what to do next.
  • Whatever Happened to the Mouse?: Applies to what happens to several characters in the film, but most notably Aaron and Miriam, who are never seen again in the film again after the Golden Calf incident, but it's sadly apparent that they didn't survive the forty years of extra wandering as punishment for their people's collective sin. Likewise Bithia, although she never took part in the tragedy, and did come over to Moses' side after his return thus escaping God's wrath.
  • Whip of Dominance: 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.
  • Why Did You Make Me Hit You?: Sethi demands to know why Moses is forcing him to punish him.
  • Winds Are Ghosts: The film depicts the final plague of taking the firstborn sons of the Egyptians as being represented as wind taking the children's souls.
  • 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 is killed, she wants Moses dead.
  • Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: Rameses II towards the Hebrew nation, after the death of his son.
  • 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.
  • Would Hurt a Child:
    • Rameses I, if he feels his legacy is being threatened.
    • Rameses II, whose plot to kill the Hebrew firstborn results in the Plague of the Firstborn that kills his son.
    • God, though He clearly doesn't enjoy it, as delayed Divine Justice on Rameses II for the sin of his grandfather in staging the death of Hebrew male babies. Not that Rameses II was planning to outdo his grandfather.
    • The Death Angel, as it is its mission.
  • You Are Not Alone: God's constant assurance to Moses, whenever he has a setback.
  • 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 does this:
      Memnet: You fools! To talk of empty hearts before the Pharaoh's daughter.
    • Nefretiri later does it in a more teasing way to Moses:
      Nefretiri: ...You stubborn, splendid, adorable fool...

So it was shall it be done.


Raising an Egyptian Obelisk

Typical depiction of Egyptian monuments being built by slaves

How well does it match the trope?

5 (6 votes)

Example of:

Main / AncientEgypt

Media sources: