Cecil Blount DeMille was among the pioneers of early Hollywood, working in the silent era, becoming one of the major filmmakers of his time, responsible in many ways for the growth of Paramount Pictures into an industry super power. Demille believed in entertainment, feeling the people who paid to see his films should leaving having seen something they had not seen before, and in a few instances through his long career, he accomplished that. He made his first film in 1912, his last forty-five years later, actually suffering a massive heart attack while shooting on location.
At his best, DeMille made big films, filled the screen with excitement, action, colour and vast sequences often of breathtaking beauty, but let’s be clear, none of his films would be considered great art. In fact it is safe to say he is best remembered for his final film, The Ten Commandments (1956) which itself was a remake of his silent film of the same name. He was less an artist than he was an entertainer, a director of spectacle, making movies often with dreadful screenplays. But through the sheer size of his films, the force of the movement in his films, the strength of the acting and the often moving sequences he had great success.
When the great communist scare of the late forties and fifties came about, DeMille divided the Directors Guild of America, demanding foreign directors who had come to work in Hollywood making America their home, sign a loyalty agreement. Believing his status in the business would bring the loyalty clause to pass, he viciously called out the names of those he questioned, exaggerating the pronunciation of their name, William Wyler became Villiam Vyler. Director John Ford finally stood up and defied Demille, telling him he admired his films but did not like him, nor what he was trying to do to these Americans. Within minutes Ford had called for the removal of Demille as President of the Guild, and an entire new board was elected. Demille, broken and humiliated was never the same bombastic ego driven maniac again.
As a director he was less an artist than a showman, the James Cameron his day, but he could sure fill the screen with majesty and wonder. He would spend four years preparing, researching, making, Editing and touring with The Ten Commandments (1956) his masterpiece.
When he made films drawn from the books of the bible, he demanded the utmost research, but also was aware sex and violence worked wonders to sell his film. It was said he believed what they could not find or prove, his writers had directions to fill in the gaps using sex and conflict. With that said, here’s the list of top movies of Cecil B. DeMille.
The Ten Commandments (1956)
One of my guilty pleasures because it was the first film to show me the astounding power of the cinema and its ability to sweep one away into the world in front of us one that massive silver screen. Yes the dialogue is sometimes mighty creaky, downright silly sometimes, but the actors, especially Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner make it work. After receiving a fan letter asking him to do a remake of his 1923 silent film of the same name, DeMille decided to devote a four-hour plus epic to the story of Moses. From the bull rushes to Sinai, the life of the man who delivered the Hebrews out of bondage is a massive often breathtaking spectacle, with huge sequences, the likes of which are not even attempted anymore, they use computer generated images.