Wednesday, November 02, 2005

And then Charlton Heston spoke to the Burning Bush...

I'm reading a lot currently about the history of the Jewish people. It's all relatively new to me, although some things sound familiar. I have to admit that most of what I know about Judeo/Christian history came from the movies.

In my household, Cecil B. DeMille was God, at least to my father. The only time Dad would leave home, if it wasn't for work or to obtain tools, would be to go to a Bible epic at the local theatre. Actually, for the big Events, we would drive over to San Diego and go to the Capri Theatre (is it there any more?), and do it right. Long movie, complete with intermission, popcorn, maybe even a program. And Biblical characters yelling at us in Panavision stereo.

I remember The Ten Commandments, directed and produced by DeMille in 1956, which was truly "The Greatest Event in Motion Picture History," and if it didn't live up to the billing, at least it changed the film industry forever. The parting of the Red Sea was an event that seemed to change people's lives when they watched the film. The Ten Commandments starred Charlton Heston as Moses, and Yul Brynner as Rameses, and if it didn't make stars out of them (they were already established by then), it certainly cemented them as huge moneymakers.

But did you know that DeMille directed his first Ten Commandments in 1923? The film starred Theodore Roberts as Moses, Charles de Rochefort as Ramses....I know, I know....who's heard of those guys? I'm sure when DeMille re-did the movie 33 years later, he was pleased that he could show the Red Sea parting.

However, I'm not sure why Cecil got the reputation as producing only Bible epics. Very few of his movies pertained to that genre: The Ten Commandments (twice), Samson and Delilah (1949, another favorite of Dad's), and The King of Kings (1927).

He revolutionized entertainment as we know it, always bringing us the big spectacle, no matter what the subject matter. The Buccaneer (another Yul Brynner vehicle) was an incredible feast of costumes and sea battles. Don't forget that in the latter part of his career he produced sci fi spectacles War of the Worlds (1953, uncredited executive producer) and When Worlds Collide (1951). But my personal favorite is The Greatest Show on Earth (1952), with Betty Hutton, Charlton Heston, and Jimmy Stewart as the clown hiding from the authorities. I understand Betty especially had a tough time with the role, learning the high-wire, and put herself at risk just for this picture. You can just imagine DeMille screaming at her, "Higher, higher!" Ooh, to be an elephant tick on the wall.

Oh, and I also can't forget Cleopatra, which, while not terribly historically accurate, showed us the charm and ability of a young Claudette Colbert. You have to admit, DeMille knew women and how to show them on film. As he once said, he thought Americans were only interested in money and sex. He seemed to capture both in his spectacles.

They sure don't make 'em like that any more. Cecil B. DeMille made over 50 films, directing and producing, and left an indelible mark upon American and European cinema.


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