2) The Moses Fan Club Shall Be In Full Effect.
Bring me my Hype men
Nefretiri has scooted downstairs for Moses’ reception and he gets the most impressive of entrances. For anyone keeping count that’s 6 trumpters, 4 drummers, a bunch of extras and 2 huge ass pompoms behind him, and a priest guy doing the ‘We’re not worthy’ hands down front.
The guy in yellow at the back starts the hype train with a load of Moses’ titles as he walks through the massive double doors onto the front step. Then Priest guy takes up the Hype man duty, listing Moses’ most recent achievements while nubile petal throwers prance before him and the trumpet players keep finding another flourish to play.
And when he gets to Seti’s throne there is this incredible greeting.
Like did you know there would be snakes there, because if not, why did you randomly kidnap river birds and carefully keep them alive for a long damn army trek? If you did know then was the city of Sabba known for saying ‘Let loose the motherfuckin snakes on the motherfuckin plain’ when besieged? How did they deploy them? Holes in the walls and shove ’em at you or what?
And there are more questions because that story of the bird/snake battle royale (taken from Josephus) is insane.
Nefretiri is not playing hard to get. She calls Moses a ‘Fair Young God’ while vamping it the hell up, managing to stop short of a ‘Basic Instinct’ hello. Rameses is trying to convey something completely different.
The Egyptians have been thoroughly and comprehensively whitewashed to the point where a majority of them are clearly Anglo Saxon, so everyone on the winning side is super Caucasian. At least the most bigoted guy is the bad guy, the least bigoted is the good guy and one black person got a speaking part. It’s bad, but for 1950s American cinema it could have been worse.
The Actual African Ethiopians are at least shown as a culturally distinct nation from the Egyptians, and that nation seems to be pretty wealthy, even if their military just got their ass kicked by Moses. When the Ethiopian King and his sister are brought forward Rameses says they must kneel before Pharaoh. Moses says “Command what you have conquered my brother. I bring the Ethiopian King and his sister in friendship, as an ally to guard our southern gates.”
Seti approves of less assholish imperialism, and greets the Ethiopian King graciously. The King’s sister is hot for Moses. The one favour she asks is to give a really valuable stone to Moses…
Nefretiri comes close to ‘diplomatic incident’ territory when she sees the Ethiopian Princess moving in on her man, but the King and his sister get ushered off to an entertainment couch while Moses presents their countries’ tribute to Seti.
It is great loot, and as Moses says there are 20 more barges of such tribute which should go nicely in Seti’s new treasure city. But as established last time Rameses has failed to build Seti’s treasure city. Rameses teeth stop grinding long enough for him to start bitching.
“The Hebrew slaves don’t work hard enough, all because they’re waiting for this deliverer…” Seti is having none of this but Rameses suggests getting Moses to build the city instead. Seti goes for a swap de do. Moses is to build the city, giving Rameses his first smile all morning, but Rameses is also to go to Goshen – to find this deliverer.
Seti then exits the room doing an Elizabeth II.
Meet me by the back stairs
Nefretiri cannot resist a private meeting with Moses.
They’re overheard by his mother and Memnet, who get their old lady make up on and a bit of foreshadowing in.
Mother Bithiah is jokingly disapproving, actually quietly stoked by the Nefretiri/Moses romance and the edge it is giving Moses in the race to be Pharaoh. It’s a nice domestic homecoming scene establishing the relationships Moses has with his girlfriend and his mother, until Nefretiri casually mentions the Goshen mission on her way out the door. The mention of Moses secret actual birthplace gives Bithiah the eternal gift of Motherhood- low grade, permanent worry.
Go to Goshen
The Ten Commandments won an Oscar for special effects and this would be one of the reasons why.
There will be some blue-bleed issues in later effects but this remains an outrageously solid 60 year old shot. The film lingers on it for a good few seconds and it’s worth every moment.
Meet me by the wall
We move into all that bustle to see the lives of the people in there, and get a serious case of dramatic whiplash. First, with the terrible toil. A water girl called Lilia (Debra Paget)is giving water to an elderly male slave that has just fallen over. An Egyptian guard comes over, smacks the old man and orders Lilia on – saying there are ‘other swine to water’.
That Stone Cutter Lilia’s been eyeing wants a drink too, and the action and the score suddenly switch from “Oh, the toil” to “Heroic entrance” as he makes a pun on her name and Errol Flynns his ass down a rope. The Stone Cutter is Joshua (John Derek) , and he and Lilia are in a clandestine relationship that makes you want to slap both of them.
The score rounds its fourth bend this scene (Monumental view, Oh the toil, swash buckle and now romancey strings) while they almost canoodle and discuss Dathan, who is apparently sexually harassing Lilia and is some kind of Jewish overseer. Joshua is established as a bit of a hot head and rebel, making threats against Dathan should he touch Lilia.
The score makes it’s fifth turn as the strings pick up an echo of “Grand Holiness” while Lilia talks about faith in the oncoming deliverer, and a sixth turn into “Menace”as Joshua goes back up the rope and Dathan (Edward G Robinson) – Actual Jewish cast member and secondary antagonist pops by for a light bit of ominous staring.
Presumably the score then collapses against a wall, holding its neck gingerly and hopes a water girl will pass by soon.
Meet me by my Chariot
Rameses recruits Dathan as his spy for his ‘Find the Deliverer’ mission. We also find out that Rameses is tight with Baka, the master builder, who recommended Dathan for the job. Rameses is insulting, and has the confidence that comes from being a prince dealing with a slave, getting right into insulting animal comparisons and literally dangling money in front of Dathan. Brynner and Robinson give good performances, but I’d feel a whole lot better if the animal based insults, snivelingly devious character and open greed weren’t all being given to the only actual confirmed Jewish guy seen in the cast so far.
“I am worryingly whitewashed” “Hold My Beer.”
Let’s get ready to RUUUUMMMBLE
It’s a stone moving day in Goshen, which means brick carrying is the cushy job today.
Yochabel, (Martha Scott – just 10 years older than Heston who is playing her son, great makeup – clearly endless toil is hell on the skin) Moses’ bio-mom is working as a stone greaser in her outfit with the ropiest, dangliest belt she has.
Her friend tries to get them to stop the stone, and gets smacked by a guard. Lilia tries to get them to stop and gets a sentence of explanation “We don’t stop stones for old women” and then gets pushed aside. The guards’ solution is, as ever, to apply more whips to the problem and, I don’t know, kill the old girl quicker? At no point does anyone just try to get a knife or untie the knot.
Lilia decides to go in there, smack the stone and scream at them to stop. From his high vantage point Joshua sees her in danger and Errol Flynns it again. His solution: ‘Smack an Egyptian’ does at least get the stone to stop.
The guards tell Joshua he will die in a lime pit and the old woman will stay where she is. As Lilia screams ‘Joshua!’ (and you think, surely, Lilia, there must be another gear in your head that you can use.) Yochabel gets the young idiot’s attention and tells her to beg for mercy from the prince. “Mercy from Rameses?” growls Lilia, grasping firmly to the wrong end of the stick. “No, No” says Yochabel “Prince Moses” and points out where he is, because I’m starting to believe that Lilia does need explicit instructions for the simplest of tasks. Girl can run, though.
She gets to Prince Moses, who is stood with Baka (Vincent Price) Master Builder. The guard that followed her up goes to grab her but Moses waves him off. When Lilia explains the situation (surprisingly succinctly), Moses denies the general insistence that Joshua must die with “Blood makes poor mortar” and goes down to the site of the disturbance to see for himself.
When he gets down there Joshua is surprisingly alive and hasn’t even been beaten yet. Moses goes in between the rocks to free old Yochabel.
It’s surprisingly touching, with Moses’ kind practicality, telling her that her God would have done better to remove her burdens, and Yochabel’s secret joy and renewed faith at seeing her son again. Baka explains that they use the older slaves to grease the stones because if they are killed it is no loss. Moses is quite offended.
Joshua is just unreasonably bolshy for a man raised in slavery, and who is currently under a ‘Go Hard’ death sentence. Chest puffed out, dragging his guards along, he says that they work slowly because they are underfed. Moses stops him from getting a whipping, and asks him about, you know, life as a slave. Joshua goes straight onto talking about God and their deliverer.
But Moses gives the order to set Joshua free (not free free, but, you know, not about to be killed anymore), as Rameses comes haring round the corner, practically full speed drifting in his new chariot. He’s basically just shown up to give Moses some shit, asking with relish if Moses is having problems with the slaves. Moses suggests giving them a day to rest in and some more food. Trouble is the only extra grain in Goshen is in the temple granaries.
And as fun as Moses and Rameses’ interactions are right now, I think Vincent Price’s Baka is my favorite in this moment. He’s owlishly watchful in the background and staying well out of the mix until he figures out who the winner is going to be.
We get a joyous mini montage where Moses helps the slaves break into the temple granaries.
Pharaoh Is Not Your Bitch
Back in the capital, Pharaoh Seti is trying to enjoy playing a table top game with Nefretiri but keeps getting nagged by his chief priest. Nefretiri is a continuous advocate for Moses, and chief priest is an endless voice against. Nefretiri is easier to forgive because she is in the defensive position, the priest will not stop bringing up Moses and his shortcomings and how Rameses should totally be Seti’s successor, no matter how often the subject gets changed on him.
Seti’s relationship with Nefretiri is indulgent and paternal, but with the hint of a mentor in the way they discuss politics. He is surprising her with a visit from Moses and Rameses scheduled for today. Then he tries to change the subject to his jubilee plans.
The playing piece’s head skitters across the floor into the path of Rameses, walking through the doorway. Seti asks Rameses if he has found this deliverer. Prince “I do not make excuses.” Rameses says the slaves do not need a deliverer, they have Moses. He’s given them temple grain, he’s given them a day to rest. Rameses is implying a possible rebellion against Seti by Moses and ties it into Moses’ earlier victory.
All the same I don’t think Seti would give it any credence if Moses had not also refused his summons. Moses has sent word that he is pressed by other matters and cannot attend. Hardwicke is great as Seti here, conveying the confused hurt of a father, before summoning his apperently Hyborian guard to take him to Goshen to get to the bottom of this.
Chief Priest is stoked, and gives Rameses a little smile as he walks out. Rameses and Nefretiri are left alone. She accuses him of turning Seti against Moses, he points out she’s trying to turn Seti against him. Rameses is from the land a thousand miles past sexism, and Nefretiri is from the land where the answer to every question is some kind of seduction.
Just what the hell is she up to? Oh, some bullshit.
Oh Nefretiri, you wanted a taste of the Ram for free and you went and you got it (I mean Rameses is also Brynner in his goddamn prime). Rameses is not razor sharp but I bet even he sees through the “I totally just semi seduced you to let you know what you’ll be missing when I stop doing it in the future” excuse. And there is no beating Rameses’ closing line. Nefretiri’s iron-clad belief in her power to inspire total devotion just ran straight into Rameses “Yeah, well, I’m really just here for the sex.” and got massacred.
And yet…somehow Nefretiri and Rameses work as a couple in a way Nefretiri and Moses don’t. There’s a similar outlook on the world, the same kind of political instincts, an intellectual and sexual tension between them that is just entirely absent between her and Moses.
As he leaves I’m sure Rameses thinks that Nefretiri is hating the fact that she kind of enjoyed that moment they just had.
The Appearance of a Massive Erection
We find out the pressing matters that kept Moses from obeying the summons from Seti- Moses is busy trying to get the city finished. In particular he’s trying to get Seti’s obelisk erected. He and Baka have a decent relationship when politics isn’t in the way, and the scene opens with them talking as engineers, arguing out a problem. Baka thinks they need more sand at the base of the obelisk, Moses thinks the risk is worth it.
They use a series of pennants to signal and give instructions to the site.
Moses as Director is steady and directs with confidence, while Baka keeps his mouth shut but his body language yells that he can hardly bear the tension. The score agrees with him and as it rises and we get to the red pennant, Seti arrives. He marches up to Moses, who can barely spare him any attention.
And it’s fitting that Moses’ moment as Director is a heroic one for him, being a quiet centre of calm in the face of nerves and distraction all around him.
Rameses is almost boy like, looking at the plans, playing with the models, fascinated by something he does not fully understand. You can feel Seti getting won over but there are accusations against Moses. That he took the temple grain, gave it to the slaves, gave them one day in seven to rest. As each accusation is spoken, Rameses drops a weight in the scales at the back of the room with an arch eyebrow.
Moses is keen to show off the results of his organisational skills and giving the slaves their Wheaties, and whips back the curtain.
Moses is a justly proud tour guide, telling Seti that the pylons (fat oblong columns at the top there) commemorate Seti’s victory at Kadesh over the Ammorites. Seti wants to know if there are any higher in Egypt and Moses proudly states there are none higher in the world. I mean, he’s right. No-one has explored much further than Africa yet, Egypt is the worlds premier civilisation and I’m not sure any other nation is, you know, into building pylons. But he is right.
You can see Seti getting more proud and pleased with Moses, but he still wants to know if Moses is buying the slaves’ loyalty. Moses answer, that the slaves’ only true loyalty is to their god, is perceptive and reassuring. Finally Moses reveals is piece de resistance, and if you’re going for a big reveal, a 50 foot, monumental and beautifully carved statue of Pharaoh when he was young and hot is going to wow the crowd.
Rameses’ stock plummets with Seti (and I love the phrasing of ‘in my judgement book’) and it is clear that Seti is leaning, and leaning heavily toward Moses as his heir. Moses, a political idiot, argues against this by pointing out that Ramses is Seti’s son (and by implication this is all a little much to be giving to Moses). Somehow not noticing that Rameses just tried to have him condemned for treason. Moses is like, suicidally noble. Rameses is probably already gauging whether he could get away with Moses having an ‘accident’, and if he inherits will just send 50 guys to take Moses’ head off by 10am on accession day.
Seti invites Moses to show him around. And as they leave we see that Baka has made his choice and he sidles up to Rameses as Seti and Moses walk away. “Will you lose the throne because he builds a city?” He asks Rameses.
Rameses declares the city Moses has built will bear his name, the woman Moses loves will bear his child, and gets in his first “So It Shall Be Written, So It Shall Be Done.”
And he’s going to be 2 for 2 for that prophecy by the end of the movie, but it’s an ironic prophecy motif, because at that point it’s just not going to matter to him.