Ten Commandments/60th Anniversary Edition: PICK  


Stalag 17/Special Edition: PICK


When it was a Game: Triple Play Collection: PICK


Content advisory:

Stalag 17: Wartime violence, sexual innuendo (teens and up). The Ten Commandments: Stylized violence; melodramatic romantic complications and sensuality (might be okay for kids). When It Was a Game: Nothing objectionable.

The 60th anniversary of Cecil B. DeMille’s 1956 The Ten Commandments is the occasion of a new three-disc DVD box set that includes a 6½-hour “making-of” documentary as well as DeMille’s own silent 1923 original The Ten Commandments, a film that makes a fascinating counterpoint to the classic Heston film. DeMille’s last hurrah and one of Heston’s best vehicles, The Ten Commandments finds the director’s archaic, stagey flair for melodramatic grandiosity and spectacle, along with Heston’s statuesque presence, solidly in support of the film’s aura of King James-era majesty and authority.

As in DeMille’s silent The King of Kings and Heston’s Ben-Hur, The Ten Commandments’ intentions are divided between reverent piety and sexed-up spectacle and costume drama. Heston’s Moses is not only the thundering liberator and divinely authoritative lawgiver; he’s also a red-blooded hunk who sweeps Nefretiri off her feet while leading the chosen people out of Egypt. It may not be quite the Biblical story, but The Ten Commandments is as much a fixture of Americana as a courthouse display of the stone tablets, and is as indicative of American ideals and affections — for good and ill.

Grimly hilarious, subversive and defiant, rough around the edges, and more than a little sad, Billy Wilder’s Stalag 17 may have been the inspiration for TV’s “Hogan’s Heroes,” but this is no campy farce. The desperation here is real, the ridicule of the buffoonish German sergeant (Sig Ruman) hollow bravado. Set in a Nazi POW camp, the film stars William Holden as a cynical black marketeer whose hard-nosed pessimism about his fellow prisoners’ ill-fated escape attempts brings him under suspicion as a Nazi mole. Famously dictatorial director Otto Preminger plays the formidable camp commandant as a variation on the character created by his fellow countryman and director Erich von Stroheim in an earlier POW-camp escape movie, Vatican film list honoree La Grande Illusion — though he has none of that character’s tragic, naive nobility.

Made less than a decade after the end of WWII and adapted from a still earlier Broadway play, the film’s wild-and-woolly gallows humor may not be really representative of life in a POW camp, but it accurately reflects and preserves the blend of anxiety and defiance that sustained the American public through the war years.

Spring is upon us, “a time of magic for the baseball romantic,” in the words of When It Was a Game, a unique three-disc set of one-hour programs on the great American pastime from HBO Sports. If the state of baseball today makes it hard to feel romantic about the sport, When It Was a Game — assembled entirely from home-movie footage shot by fans and players — will take you back to a more playful, matter-of-fact era, before players earned more per game than most fans earned in a lifetime and regional loyalty was uncomplicated by free agency.

For fans whose oldest images of the game date to black & white 1950s’ television, the 8mm and 16mm footage — mostly shot in color stock at least to the 1930s, but including some B&W footage as old as 1921 — offers a vision of such legends as Lou Gehrig, Hank Greenberg, Ted Williams and Jackie Robinson as they have rarely been seen before. Nostalgic narration is informative enough to engage non-fans, but for fans the images themselves are the real attraction.