Home > Films > T > The Ten Commandments

Tuesday November 20th 2018

The Ten Commandments | 1923

The Ten Commandments filming location: Cathedral of St Peter and St Paul, Filbert Street, San Francisco
The Ten Commandments location: the cathedral under construction: Cathedral of St Peter and St Paul, Filbert Street, San Francisco

Cecil B DeMille’s early silent version of the story of Moses and the Israelites bizarrely grafts on a modern morality fable. Not surprisingly, the director's plans to film in Egypt were rejected by producer Adolf Zukor as too expensive, so the epic sets were finally built in California on the Nipomo Sand Dunes, which extend from Point Sal to Pismo Beach, north of Los Angeles, around Guadaloupe.

The huge mountains of sand, up to 450 high, are held together by a network of grasses, ice plant, verbena and silver lupine. The city of 'Per Rameses', its grand boulevard lined with an avenue of sphinxes and pharaohs, was subsequently buried beneath the shifting sands, and is now being uncovered as a genuine archaeological relic.

The Ten Commandments filming location: Nipomo Sand Dunes, California
The Ten Commandments location: the 'Egyptian' desert: Nipomo Sand Dunes, California | Photograph: Wikimedia / Mike Baird

The Israelites were chased by 250 Egyptian chariots across the famous Muroc Dry Lake Bed in the Mojave Desert. After the parting of the Red Sea, the Israelites journey across Balboa Beach, between Newport and Laguna Beach, south of Los Angeles. Pharaoh’s chariot host stopped by the Pillar of Fire at Anaheim Landing.

The modern-day sequences feature the Cathedral of St Peter and St Paul, 666 Filbert Street in San Francisco, which was still under construction. Gutsy Leatrice Joy ascended 200 feet on the workmen’s elevator, to cheers from an appreciative crowd below.

Nearlt 50 years later, the Cathedral cropped up on screen again as the church at which psycho-killer Scorpio threatens to kill a priest in Don Siegel's Dirty Harry.