Tag Archives: The Ten Commandments

My Thoughts on: Land of the Pharaohs (1955)

I came across Land of the Pharaohs in a somewhat backwards fashion: I saw the ending first. Somehow, I forget the exact circumstances, I saw a clip of how Land of the Pharaohs ends, and it intrigued me so much that I was determined, someday, to see the movie in full. At last, I tracked down a copy, and I definitely have some thoughts about it. For those who might not have seen or heard of this film, Land of the Pharaohs was directed by Howard Hawks and starred Jack Hawkins, Joan Collins, Dewey Mertain, and Alexis Minotis. It is set in ancient Egypt in the time of Khufu (Hawkins), a pharaoh obsessed with building a robber-proof tomb to protect his treasure for “the second life.” To this end, he enlists the skills of Vashtar (James Robertson Justice), a slave who is also a brilliant architect, to design the tomb in what will become known to history as the Great Pyramid.

First, let’s start with one of the big positives of Land of the Pharaohs and that’s the music. Dimitri Tiomkin created a gorgeous score for this film, and for me is that one detail that makes the bulk of the film watchable. From the strange chants hinting at ancient Egyptian religion, to the joyful singing as work on the pyramid begins, Tiomkin’s score flows through every scene, rich and vibrant with strings, brass, and choral chants. The music helps to move the story along, and serves as a good distraction from the, er, slower moments in the story.

3c578728f35117046b641ea62c740f68

Another positive in this story are the costumes. While not quite as vibrant as those of The Ten Commandments (another story largely set in ancient Egypt), the costume design in Land of the Pharaohs is quite fetching. You can tell there was great attention to detail when putting these designs together, and a decent attempt made at historical accuracy (some of the outfits resemble those seen in Egyptian tombs).

As for the rest….oh boy. I should make it clear that Land of the Pharaohs is a generally enjoyable film, but it does have its fair share of weak points that detract from the experience. One of the big sticking points for me comes with all the time spent watching the pyramid being built. The initial montage starts fine, but then it goes on…and on…and ON. And during this never-ending sequence, all of the major characters disappear, it’s just a scene of nameless extras. I found myself squirming towards the end, more than eager to get back to the story of Khufu, Nellifer, and all that treasure. And speaking of…Nellifer is one of the most frustrating characters I’ve ever seen in an epic film of this kind.

Land-of-the-Pharaohs

I understand what they were going for with Nellifer, the devious princess from Cyprus, but her character has all the subtlety of a rock being thrown through a window. It’s painfully obvious what she’s after (gold and power), so much so that it’s a wonder Khufu and Hamar (his loyal high priest) don’t figure it out sooner. Not only that, but for all her scheming, Nellifer is shown to be rather stupid too. A good example comes towards the end of the film: Nellifer has decided that Khufu must die so she can rule Egypt while nominally serving as regent for his minor son. To do this, she sends her personal slave (one KNOWN to Khufu) to do the deed. Wouldn’t you think the smarter thing would have been to send an unknown slave so that Khufu couldn’t instantly trace the plot back to Nellifer if it went wrong? The one thing they get right about Nellifer is that she’s designed to be very unlikable, so much so that by the end of the film you’re secretly cheering when her comeuppance finally arrives in dramatic fashion.

That comeuppance comes from a plot detail that I find fascinating. From listening to the commentary, I learned that Howard Hawks was fascinated by the ongoing puzzle of how the Great Pyramid was built. A student of engineering himself, the director decided to puzzle out a theoretically feasible means that might explain how the pyramid was built so perfectly. The solution came in the form of a system that used sand to slide the remaining blocks into place (to both seal the tomb and give it a finished look). While there’s no way to know if the ancient Egyptians actually used a system like this, I’d like to think it’s plausible.

maxresdefault-8

One other detailed that bothered me: the wide shots, or should I say the lack thereof. When an epic film is shot in CinemaScope, you expect scenes packed with action and pageantry (a la The Ten Commandments and especially Ben-Hur). However, many of the scenes in Land of the Pharaohs struck me as feeling…cramped. To be sure, there is a grand parade with Khufu at the start of the film, but it doesn’t feel like the space is used properly with the format. Many of the shots feel much too close up, and I feel that CinemaScope wasn’t used to its greatest advantage.

As I said before though, despite these issues, Land of the Pharaohs is pretty enjoyable; the plot is basic, but watchable, and great satisfaction can be derived from watching the fate of Nellifer (that I won’t dare spoil because it’s something you just have to see for yourself).

Let me know what you think about Land of the Pharaohs in the comments below and have a great day!

See also:

Film Reviews

Become a Patron of the blog at patreon.com/musicgamer460

Check out the YouTube channel (and consider hitting the subscribe button)

Don’t forget to like Film Music Central on Facebook

Film 101: False endings

*warning, I’m discussing the endings of multiple films so I suppose I should include a spoiler warning

You’ve seen it before: after a long and arduous battle, the bad guy (or group of bad guys) is defeated/killed and the surviving heroes all breathe a sigh of relief as they prepare to return to their mostly normal lives. But wait…what’s that noise? Oh no one of the bad guys isn’t dead and here he comes again!! That, in a nutshell, is the essence of a false ending in film. For a few minutes it seems like the story is wrapping up but it’s actually the prelude to another fight (or in some cases another full act of the story).

False endings are extremely common in horror films and are usually employed to lure the audience into a false sense of security (believing the danger is passed) before using a final jump scare that often takes the last surviving character. In non-horror examples, false endings are usually employed as an excuse to stretch out the ending of a film, either for dramatic or comedic reasons. There are far too many examples for an exhaustive list, but I will do my best to list some of the most notable examples from film history:

The Ten Commandments (1956): There’s a scene towards the end of the film when Rameses returns after his army is destroyed in the Red Sea. He vowed to kill his wife when he returned but when she points out that he failed to kill Moses, he flings the sword down and slumps onto his throne, his only explanation being “His god…IS God.” The way this scene ends, it could almost be viewed as the end of the film, as Moses and his people have safely crossed the Red Sea and Rameses has been thoroughly chastised for his hubris. But then the scene shifts back to the desert and the final act of the film truly begins.

hqdefault

Alien (1979): This is probably one of the more famous examples. Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) has destroyed the Nostromo, escaping with her cat into a small shuttle. The danger seemingly passed, she prepares to put herself back into stasis to await rescue when OMG the Alien’s hand shoots out from a wall revealing it had stowed away on the escape ship. This leads to a final battle where a terrified Ripley must blow the Alien into space.

Aliens (1986): An equally notable example: the colony on LV-426 was blasted into oblivion with only Bishop, Hicks, Newt and Ripley escaping alive. They make it back to the Sulacco and prepare to get medical help for Hicks before setting a course for home when suddenly…Bishop is impaled from behind, revealing the fearsome Alien Queen stowed away and she’s madder than ever!

Alien2

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003): As anyone who has seen this film knows, the end of this film has multiple false endings, with it seemingly taking forever to reach the true ending of Frodo sailing away into the West while Sam returns home to his family.

The Descent (2005): This is possibly one of the cruelest false endings ever made. Sarah barely manages to escape the cave with her life and speeds away in her car. Suddenly she sees Juno, one of her dead companions sitting in the passenger seat which causes Sarah to snap awake and realize…it was all a dream, she’s still in the cave and the monsters are closing in.

John Wick (2014): A notable recent example comes in the first John Wick film. After fulfilling his mission and killing Iosef in revenge for killing his dog, the weary assassin prepares to return home. He’s even given a new car as ‘compensation’ for everything. All seems to be well…until Viggo learns that Marcus could’ve killed Wick several times before this and chose not too. When he informs Wick that he’s going after Marcus, the film shifts back into action and we get almost a full act of action and violence before finally reaching the true ending (Wick saves a dog from being put down and limps for home).

Atomic Blonde (2017): It could be argued that the ending sequence of this movie contains several false endings. For a few minutes it seems like the film is going to end with the revelation that Lorraine was Satchel all the time only to shift into an attempted assassination by her Russian handlers (which she escapes), leading to the shock revelation that Lorraine is actually American CIA (and there’s no way of knowing if that’s the actual truth but it’s where the film ends).

Other films with notable false endings include: Spectre (2015); A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984); 47 Meters Down (2017) and Final Destination 2 (2003).

What do you think of these false endings? Are there any examples you can think of that I didn’t list? Please let me know your thoughts in the comments below and have a great day!

See also:

Film 101

You can become a patron of the blog at patreon.com/musicgamer460

Check out the YouTube channel (and consider hitting the subscribe button)

Don’t forget to like Film Music Central on Facebook 🙂

TCM Summer Under the Stars 2016: Anne Baxter as Nefretiri in The Ten Commandments (1956)

This post is part of the 2016 TCM Summer Under the Stars Blogathon hosted by Journeys in Classic Film

ANNE BAXTER

Nefretiri when we first meet her

Anne Baxter starred in many films, but the role I will always know her for is her portrayal of Nefretiri in The Ten Commandments (1956). She actually auditioned for the role of Sephora, Moses’ wife, but it was felt she was more suited to the role of the Egyptian throne princess.

Nefretiri is already head over heels in love with Prince Moses when we first meet her. As Moses is returning in triumph from yet another military victory (this time over the Ethiopians), Nefretiri feels that nothing will stop Seti, the Pharoah, from naming Moses his heir (and thus allowing the two to marry, because Nefretiri can only marry a future Pharaoh). She believes this in spite of the fact that Seti HAS a son, Rameses, and he would definitely prefer to be Pharaoh over Moses. But Nefretiri makes it clear from the start that she loves Moses, and could never love Rameses.

ten-commandments-11

Nefretiri is so beautiful and so determined to have what she wants, that she doesn’t really know when to let go. In fact, a large part of her role (especially in part 2 of the film) centers around the fact that she cannot let go of her love for Moses, not when he was outed as being a Hebrew and condemned to exile, not even after he returns to Egypt as a prophet for the Hebrew God of Israel. Even the revelation that Moses is married and a father himself doesn’t stop her. Either Moses comes to her whenever she wants, or she will make sure the Hebrews never leave Egypt.

TenCommand3_003Pyxurz

All those years later, though Moses has changed, Nefretiri has not

Nefretiri’s selfish desires prove to be her undoing, as it is her final plot to harden Rameses’s heart against letting the Hebrews go that leads to the final plague on Egypt: the death of every firstborn. Despite her pleas to Moses to stop it from happening, her son dies in her arms.

 

I loved watching Nefretiri growing up because of the beautiful gowns she wore. As I got older, and learned how to appreciate performances in film, I grew to love Baxter’s portrayal of Nefretiri even more, because she is something of a tragic figure, in a way. All those years living in the palace, Nefretiri is used to getting whatever she wants, whenever she wants. And if someone says no, all she has to do is smile and use her beauty, and all opposition melts away.

ten-stainedwithblood

She can never get over the fact that she had to marry Rameses instead of Moses. She wasn’t content to be Queen of Egypt either. When the opportunity presented itself, she HAD to be Moses’ again, one way or the other, even though this had now become impossible. And because of her narrow minded desire, she lost her son (who she clearly loved), her husband really hates her (he nearly killed her except he had to admit he was unable to kill Moses) and all she has left are bitter memories.

Anne Baxter used all of her skills to bring Nefretiri to life on the silver screen and it is a performance I continue to enjoy to this day. I hope you enjoyed reading about her role in The Ten Commandments. Have a good day!

Become a Patron of the blog at patreon.com/musicgamer460

*all images are the property of Paramount Pictures

Don’t forget to like Film Music Central on Facebook 🙂

A Random Thought on The Ten Commandments (1956)

Yesterday I got the chance to do something I thought I would never get to do: I got to see the 1956 epic The Ten Commandments on the big screen at my local theater (it’s a program that Turner Classic Movies runs every year where each month select classic films are run in theaters for a very limited time). While this movie was made long before my time, I grew up watching classic cinema, and watching The Ten Commandments and Ben-Hur (1959) was an annual tradition at our house.

yul-brynner-rameses-and-anne-baxter-nefretiri

How was it? In a word, INCREDIBLE! I’m not sure what excited me more: seeing the film in a theater or hearing Elmer Bernstein’s standout score in surround sound (probably both). This is the film that made Elmer Bernstein (no relation to Leonard by the way) famous, as it was his first major film score.

2

My favorite moment (and I knew it would be going in) was the incredible “parting of the Red Sea.” They could completely recreate this scene in CGI and the original would STILL look better, simply because it feels REAL, there’s a reality to the special effects in this film that CGI could never touch. When the moment began and the music swelled, I tell you, I was covered in goosebumps from head to toe.

Watching this classic film in the theater brought it home to me that Hollywood does NOT make movies like this anymore. Think about it, of all the movies coming out since the year 2000, how many can you honestly say you would watch 60 years from now?

This was an amazing experience, and I can’t wait for the chance to see another classic film in the theater!

See also:

Film/TV Reviews

Become a Patron of the blog at patreon.com/musicgamer460

Check out the YouTube channel (and consider hitting the subscribe button)

Like Film Music Central on Facebook at www.facebook.com/filmmusiccentral