The Journal Register (Medina, NY)

April 27, 2011

VALLEY: Thou salt not overact


The Journal-Register

MEDINA —  

Such irony: All of the actors playing Jewish people in the film were hams. I refer to, of course, the epic Cecil B. Demille motion-picture “The Ten Commandments.”

I can’t believe that at one time I considered this to be the greatest movie I’d ever seen. The film’s first release, in 1956, had the hype, the “cast of thousands” and thundering soundtrack that convinced me it was the best there ever was. And the fact that I was only 8 years old probably didn’t hurt, either.

My opinion is meant to neither denigrate the Hebrew people nor their valiant story of the Exodus. But I happened to catch the last half hour of the film on its annual holiday showing the other night, and there stood the blue-bearded Charleton Heston as Moses — he looked every part the way Will Ferrell would on a “Saturday Night Live” skit. Ludicrous can’t scratch the surface in describing how over-the-top, how over-dramatic his portrayal was.

He was outdone only by John Carradine. Carradine, a distinguished character-actor of olden days, brought along his exaggerated theatrics to portray Moses’ brother Aaron. He can be excused for some of his excesses because of the fact that he learned his trade on the stage prior to the days of close-ups and microphones.

You might think, however, that the director would have conveyed to Carradine the need to tone it down just a tad. Like the time he stretched out both arms and boisterously announced how big of a crush he had on his camel. Did you miss that part?

And then, there was Edward G. Robinson. What can I say about the man who played the silver-screen’s classic gangster “Little Caesar?” His role is that of Moses’ antagonist, Dathan. Unfortunately, he plays this character the same way he played the gangster.

No matter what Moses did, it wasn’t right or good enough, according to Dathan. He was never happy with any decisions. He would have made a great Conservative talk show host.

For instance: When Moses and his followers find themselves being chased by the Egyptian army and trapped against the Red Sea, Dathan accuses Moses of being an ineffective leader. It was his fault — poor leadership, he claims.

And when Moses miraculously produces — through divine intervention — a pillar of fire to stop the Pharaoh and his troops, Dathan incredibly questions, “How long do you expect that to last?”

Dude! It was a pillar of flame!

Again, after Moses parts the Red Sea and his followers scoot through to safety, Little Caesar chirps in with, “Sure, but it won’t be long now before they follow us and kill us all. Ya see, ya dirty mug.”

What does it take to make this guy scratch his dusty goatee and concede? A normal person would say, “Ya know, I think this Moses guy, he knows somebody or something. He’s definitely got connections!”

Personally, if I met someone who could pull off those God-in-the-machine tricks like Moses, I’d follow his ass to the ends of the Earth.

But the craziest part was when Moses descended from Mount Sinai and returned to his weak-minded, malleable-brained flock. They are in full-scale debauchery dancing around in a zombie-like stupor with the grace of misplaced ballerinas. The movie abruptly (and strangely) turns into a musical — or a dream sequence with an African rhythm soundtrack to boot.

There is a guy atop a small hill playing a large conga drum. Where did he get that? You’re telling me that when he was running for his life through the desert and the Red Sea, he made a conscious decision to hang onto a musical instrument the size of a mini van? Fine.

Little trivia for you: The guy straddling that hill playing the drum was actually musician Herb Alpert. And as I’ve already mentioned — the guy straddling the camel was John Carradine.

That’s the way it looks from the Valley.