Faith Can Move Mountains... But Dynamite Works Better

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Ten Commandments: Thou Shalt Not Cast Child Actors

Now then, in keeping with my earlier series of remarks on classic movies I've disliked, I thought I'd turn to something different. Yes, Cecil B. DeMille's classic epic The Ten Commandments.

Don't worry; I'm not going to be as thoroughly dismissive of it as other previous entries. It's not like I hate the film. I rather like it. Heston and Brynner at their best, an epic tale with a cast in the thousands, Anne Baxter and Yvonne DeCarlo looking like goddesses, and John Derek back before he moved into porn. Oh, and there's the score by Elmer Bernstein, which I love.

Three issues, though, that I have with the film. Or make that one issue, manifesting itself in three different people. The issue is casting. The three people are Edward G. Robinson, Vincent Price (not so much, but still...) and the kid who plays Ramses' son.

First things off, we'll start off with Vincent Price. He got himself typecast during most of his career in b-list horror films. It tends to be a bit hard to ignore when you see him on screen, lounging in a chair while ordering slaves around. You expect him to suddenly pull out a dagger and sacrifice his unwilling wife to the Dark Lord Demon Brael. Or turn into a rabid animal who's out for blood (mmmm, blood. So nice and fresh and warm...) Anyway. It's distracting. But maybe because he bites the dust early on in the film, it's not as distracting as the other one.

And the other one being Edward G. Robinson. A fine actor in and of himself, but he spent most of his acting career playing the heavy. The mobster. The tough guy. I've seen him play that type in a lot of films (thanks, Mom and Saturday Night At The Movies for introducing me to classic movies, by the way). As such, he's miscast as Dathan. The nefarious Hebrew who becomes the overseer under Ramses (way to go, you backstabbing weasel) shows up through the film, almost to the end, constantly maneuvering, scheming, and chewing the scenery. When he's not busy lusting after the future bride of Joshua, he's trying to undermine Moses. Even before Moses becomes a prophet, leader, and walking ad for Really Big Beards of the Old Testament. Anytime I see Eddie on screen, I'm expecting him to slip into his mobster persona.

"Now see here, Moses, you dirty rat!"

Come on. Now that I've said that, you can imagine him as Dathan saying it, can't you? No problem with admitting it. I can't stop thinking of him that way. So it becomes highly distracting.
Which brings us to the last miscast soul of the lot. Ramses' son. I'm not going to look him up on IMDb, so don't ask for a name. Maybe DeMille was too busy at the time trying to figure out the logistics of filming. Maybe he was wondering what the parting of the Red Sea would look like. Maybe he was wondering if he should pull a Hitchcock and appear in the film. Any which way, when the time came around to cast child actors, the casting director misfired with this one. He's the most wooden, awkward, and expressionless actor in the cast. I'm sure he's probably a nice guy, but it's a painful experience whenever he shows up on the screen. Because he's surrounded by good actors. And he's just awful. I know, I know. He was a kid. You can't expect Olivier from a kid, right?

Still, when the kid bites the dust after the Angel of Death has passed by (big kudos to the Angel of Death for that one), I'm happy. No more expression free lines of dialogue out of him.

The rest of the film, however, is fine. DeMille knew what he was doing there, and gave a classic film that (without fail) always shows up on television every Easter and Passover. At least it fits there. Unlike, oh, scheduling It's A Wonderful Life at Thanksgiving. I've already covered that, though.

Now, if you'll excuse me, the Dathan Fan Club wants my head on a pike. 

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