With his 1956 film The Ten Commandments, Cecil B. DeMille set out to create an epic of truly Biblical proportions; he’d modestly promote the movie as “The Greatest Event in Motion Picture History.” With a cast of thousands, a running time of nearly four hours, and over-the-top performances by Charlton Heston as Moses and Yul Brynner as Pharoah, The Ten Commandments became an instant classic. And so although its grandeur and soap opera extravagance can set off giggle fits, we tune in year after year to watch Charlton Heston on the Mount. Some behind-the scenes tidbits:

    • Charlton Heston wasn’t DeMille’s first choice to play Moses. (He preferred “Hopalong Cassidy” William Boyd.) In DeMille’s diary of screen tests, he wrote of Heston, “He has a sinister quality. You believe him. But he’s not attractive.” But not only did Heston snag the part, his 3-month old son was cast as Baby Moses, and Heston was given the additional, ultimate role as the Voice of God.
    • Yul Brynner, informed he’d be playing a bare-chested Ramses opposite the strapping Heston, immediately began a rigorous weight-lifting routine, for fear of looking puny onscreen.
    • With a then-staggering price tag of $13 million, The Ten Commandments was, at the time, the most expensive film ever produced. It featured 70 speaking parts, 14,000 extras, 15,000 animals, and a portion of the movie was shot on location in Egypt, which proved a logistical nightmare — including that Brynner was starring in “The King and I” on Broadway, and had to be flown to Egypt to film all his on-location parts in a single day. From the strain DeMille, then 75, suffered a heart attack on set, returning against doctor’s orders two days later. This would be his last film.
    • Though the movie won an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects, some of its effects were rather low-tech. The plague of blood was red dye pumped out of a garden hose. Mothballs were determined too fragile for the plague of hail, so popcorn rained down on Ramses’ palace instead. Sandstorms were created with the engine blasts of Egyptian air force planes. The parting of the Red Sea was considered the most difficult special effect performed up to that time: DeMille spliced footage of the Red Sea with film footage, run in reverse, of water pouring from huge tanks in the Paramount studio backlot.
    • As a publicity stunt, DeMille had Paramount install huge granite statues of the Ten Commandments nationwide — in public squares and government buildings. One such statue, in Austin, Texas, became the basis for a landmark 2005 Supreme Court decision on the separation between church and state, which allowed the Ten Commandments to be displayed on public property if it had secular purpose.
    • Some critics mocked the film — one called it “Sexodus” — but audiences loved it. The Ten Commandments earned $34 million in its first year. Adjusted for inflation, it ranks among the highest-grossing films of all time. Pass the popcorn! (If you eat kitniyot. If not: Have a Tam-Tam!)