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1932's "Forgotten Commandments" is a 65 minute Paramount production utilizing 21 minutes of footage from Cecil B. DeMille's 1923 silent version of "The Ten Commandments," complete with subtitles, although the two thirds of new footage is done like a regular sound film. Set in modern Russia, which emphasizes the state over family (many portraits of Stalin are clearly seen on the walls), and starring Gene Raymond as happily married Paul Ossipoff, who is gradually lured away from his loving wife Marya (Marguerite Churchill) by seductive temptress Anya Sorina (top billed Sari Maritza). Paul is the new assistant for Prof. Marinoff (Irving Pichel), a firm believer in the state over the individual, who nonetheless becomes typically jealous once he learns that his beautiful Anya refuses to be faithful to him. The silent footage of Moses leading his people from Egyptian bondage is used in the sequence of an elderly priest (Harry Beresford) relating the story to a group of children unfamiliar with the Bible. It was a good idea for DeMille to do the 1956 remake, as none of the actors in the silent version can hold a candle to Charlton Heston or Yul Brynner, but the parting of the Red Sea is impressive for 1923. Early roles for many familiar faces, such as Kent Taylor, in one late scene as another assistant of Marinoff's, Edward Van Sloan as a doctor, Joe Sawyer as a new recruit, and a teenage Sidney Miller as one of the students listening to the tale of Moses. Van Sloan, Marguerite Churchill, and Irving Pichel would all work together again in 1936's "Dracula's Daughter" at Universal. In only his fourth feature film is 26 year old John Carradine, unbilled as he usually was at the time, in the kind of Orator part that first brought him to the attention of Cecil B. DeMille, throwing back his long hair as he speaks passionately about the workers and the state, right in the very first scene. Decades later, Carradine, Gene Raymond, and Kent Taylor would all be reduced to working for schlock huckster Al Adamson, while a second billed Carradine would be joined by a much older Sidney Miller in Woody Allen's episodic "Every Thing You Always Wanted to Know About Sex but Were Afraid to Ask" (1972). In another curious irony of casting, Carradine would be a part of DeMille's 1956 remake of "The Ten Commandments," playing Aaron, brother of Moses, here played by James Neill, who had already died in 1931, one year before this feature saw release (Theodore Roberts, who played Moses, passed on in 1928).
With Cecil B. DeMille busy filming SIGN OF THE CROSS, Paramount got the
next best thing and used clips from his 1923 silent THE TEN
COMMANDMENTS to illustrate what happens when the Creator's forsaken.
The story takes place in Russia (the opening title card tells us God's
been abolished by state edict) with peasants Paul & Marya Ossipoff
(Gene Raymond & Marguerite Chapman) coming to the big city to enroll in
state university where they fall under the spell of Professor Marinoff
(villainous Irving Pichel), a brilliant scientist who's certain Russia
can eventually conquer the world. He brainwashes Ossipoff into
believing his life belongs only to the communist state while his sexy
assistant, atheist Anya Sorina (Sari Maritza), vamps Paul away from his
wife and when a banished priest gets caught reading a bible story to
children (this is where the DeMille flashbacks come in), he's taken
away to be executed - but not before his dire warnings come to pass for
Marinoff, Anya, and the Ossipoffs...
Mother Russia's depicted as a cold, clinical cross between Alvin Toffler's "Future Shock" and INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS where people live in cubicle communes, wait on line for shoes and divorces (while ever- present pictures of Lenin frown down on them), and forfeit their soul by believing that any hint of love and humanity must be shrugged off as bourgeoisie. The film's agenda (shot in near-Expressionist style by cinematographer Karl Struss) is hit-over-the-head obvious in that despite the depth and despair of the Great Depression, embracing communism is definitely not the answer. There's even a bit of Murnau's SUNRISE thrown in for good measure and Karl Struss' lighting turned the usually bland Gene Raymond into quite a handsome man. The wild-eyed Bolechevik giving a street corner rant against God near the beginning is none other than an uncredited John Carradine, who tended to make a habit of such things. Well worth checking out.
MODERN COMMANDMENTS is rarely to never viewed today. But it might be worth seeing considering that some of DeMille's THE TEN COMMANDMENTS, his classic from 1923!
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