Friday, October 5, 2012

Dozes: "Moses" (1975)

Despite a great performance by Burt Lancaster, this umpteenth telling of Moses' story suffers from a lack of direction on the film makers' part.

In case you have not seen the superior "The Ten Commandments" or "The Prince of Egypt," here goes (in a nutshell): The Egyptian pharaoh decides to quash the Israelites by killing all of the male children. Baby Moses is put in a basket in the Nile by his sister, and he floats down to the pharaoh's palace, and is raised by the royal family. He leaves after seeing the injustices the Egyptians have put on the Israelites, and becomes a shepherd. He is picked by God to lead the Israelites out of Egypt to the Promised Land, and brings God's word and wrath to the people of Egypt and his former "cousin," now the new pharaoh.

After many plagues and curses, all done in a mediocre way by special effects guy Mario Bava, Moses leads his people into the desert, where they promptly start complaining more than a line of disgruntled consumers at the Wal-Mart return desk the morning after Christmas. Moses' faith is never shaken, despite the actions of his people, and God shows Moses the Promised Land, and deals with the complainers. In the end, Moses dies, after giving us the Ten Commandments and an overlong film.

If you want the real story of Moses, read a book called The Holy Bible, it explains things much better than I can. But about the film: Burt Lancaster plays the younger brother of Anthony Quayle (Aaron). The problem is Lancaster is younger than Quayle by only one month. Lancaster is just way too old to be in this part. He looks sixty when he is supposed to be in his thirties, and he looks sixty when he is supposed to be above one hundred. Lancaster is good in the role, however, delivering his lines with passion and never coming across as some good actor doing his duty in appearing in a Biblical epic. Anthony Quayle, and his British accent, is also good as Aaron. Irene Papas, as Moses' wife, has maybe two lines, despite being third billed. The rest of the cast is made up of mostly Italians, as this was filmed in Rome and Israel.

The film suffers from trying not to be compared to better Hollywood films on the subject, but it is hard not to do. There are scenes here that run twice as long as they should. The film is an amazing 144 minutes long, and in desperate need of editing. Scenes are cut short, in characters' mid-sentence, or overlong. The film is also very cheap, substituting stock footage for locust swarms and sand storms. Mario Bava did the special effects? I fell out of my chair at that end credit.

There are some very effective scenes, mostly dealing with the pharaoh's wrath, but there is not enough emotion here to make this compelling viewing. Despite the (PG) rating on the video copy I rented, this is not meant for young children, either, especially the scenes of Israelite boys being tossed into the Nile.

Despite a game cast and some dramatic scenes, "Moses" does not deliver on its promise. I cannot recommend it. (* *) out of five stars.