It’s good to know some holiday traditions stand the test of time.
Like hunting for brightly colored Easter eggs, biting the ears off a chocolate bunny and watching Charlton Heston part the Red Sea in glorious Technicolor the night before Easter.
As it has for decades, ABC is airing the epic film “The Ten Commandments” tonight, from 6 to 10.
Narrated and directed by Cecil B. DeMille and starring Charlton Heston as Moses, the 1956 film is the very definition of a classic Hollywood epic.
It runs a whopping three and a half hours (before adding commercials) and boasts an impressive cast, with Heston taking the lead as Moses, matched by Yul Brynner as his half-brother and nemesis, the Pharaoh Rameses. Other featured roles are played by Hollywood A-listers Anne Baxter, Edward G. Robinson (who utters my favorite line of the movie: “Where’s your Moses now?” as only he can), Yvonne De Carlo and Vincent Price.
Moses will eventually lead his people to Mount Sinai, where he receives the Ten Commandments while the other Hebrews party with a golden calf, but along the way DeMille illustrates key scenes from the Book of Exodus, including the plagues on Egypt and that parting of the Red Sea.
Filmed on location in Egypt, Mount Sinai and the Sinai Peninsula, the film was DeMille’s last and most successful work. It is a partial remake of his 1923 silent film of the same title and features one of the largest sets ever created for a film. It was also, at the time of its release, the most expensive film ever made.
John P. Fulton won an Oscar for the film’s special effects, including that Red Sea sequence, which took six months to create, combining on-location filming with segments filmed in a huge water tank at Paramount Studios in Hollywood.
“The Ten Commandments” was a hit, becoming the most successful film of 1956 and the second-highest-grossing film of the decade.
Most importantly for ABC, the film’s annual pre-Easter airing scores decent ratings year after year.
If you’re looking for Easter-themed TV viewing on Sunday, snuggle up with your TV while working your way through a bag of jelly beans with Turner Classic Movies.
The cable channel is airing Easter movies all day, including:
“The Silver Chalice” (1954) at 11 a.m., a movie filled with “intrigue and togas” and featuring a young Paul Newman.
“Barrabas” (1962) at 1:30 p.m., starring Anthony Quinn as the thief freed by Pontius Pilate before Christ’s crucifixion.
“The Shoes of the Fisherman” (1968) at 4 p.m., with Quinn starring again, this time as a pope who tries to stop nuclear war and starvation. It’s a stretch to call this an Easter film, but it does feature Laurence Olivier and John Gielgud, appealing to fans of British actors.
“Easter Parade” (1948) at 7 p.m., starring Judy Garland, Fred Astaire and a whole bunch of Irving Berlin tunes.
“King of Kings” (1961) at 9 p.m., starring Jeffrey Hunter as Jesus Christ. This film runs just a hair under three hours and is narrated by Kenosha native Orson Welles.
If you’re up late, the 1927 silent version of “The King of Kings,” also directed by DeMille, airs at midnight.
If TCM’s slate of movies doesn’t suit you, there are plenty of Easter-themed movies available on DVD and streaming, including:
“Ben-Hur” (1959). This is big-canvas filmmaking at its zentih, with Charlton Heston (Hollywood’s go-to guy for biblical epics in the ’50s) starring as a Jewish nobleman turned slave who keeps bumping into a certain Galilean carpenter. The chariot race scene is still stunning.
“The Prince of Egypt” (1998). This animated film tells the Moses story, complete with tunes and wacky characters. Extras on the DVD include commentary by the filmmakers.
Martin Scorsese’s “The Last Temptation of Christ,” which in its day (1988) ruffled as many feathers as Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ.” In a reverse, it was conservative religious groups who condemned Scorsese’s film, for its all-too-human Messiah (Willem Dafoe) who just wants to forget the whole sacrifice thing. Those same conservative groups embraced Mel Gibson’s “Passion” in 2004. That film tells the story of Christ’s crucifixion in gory detail.
“Life of Brian,” a stellar 1979 Monty Python comedy that tells the story of Brian (Graham Chapman), a reluctant “savior” born in a manger just down the street from Jesus Christ.
“Spartacus” (1960), with Kirk Douglas as a rebellious gladiator with a hole in his chin. It has nothing to do with the Easter story, but it’s set in the same period, everyone wears togas, and Kirk gets crucified at the end.
“Hop” (2011). This live-action/computer animated comedy tells the story of a rabbit named E.B. who is the son of the Easter Bunny (voiced by Hugh Laurie). Rather than take over the family business, however, this bunny would rather be a drummer in a rock band. James Marsden plays Fred O’Hare, a human who is out of work and wishes to become the next Easter Bunny himself.
“It’s the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown,” the 1974 animated TV special in which Linus tries to sell the rest of the Peanuts gang on the myth of a goodie-bearing canine.
Perhaps the best Easter film is “Here Comes Peter Cottontail,” the 1971 stop-motion animated TV special that explains how that rabbit can deliver candy-filled baskets to everyone. Danny Kaye and Vincent Price voice lead characters in this holiday tale.