Moses the Lawgiver (1974)
When I tell you that this is a FIVE HOUR made for TV movie that chronicles the Exodus story in the Bible, you might think that this might be the most pain I’ve ever endured for Anthony Quayle. No, that dubious honor belongs to 72 Hours in Munich, a 97 minute made for TV movie that chronicles the assassination of Israeli athletes at the Olympics. The surprising thing is that Moses the Lawgiver is actually not terrible. If that doesn’t sound like a ringing endorsement, I will also tell you that if you happened to have stumbled onto this post because you’ve been assigned the Exodus story as part of a school assignment or something, you could do worse than to watch Moses the Lawgiver. Besides Anthony Quayle, the film also features Burt Lancaster and Irene Papas, has a screenplay by Anthony Burgess and music by Ennio Morricone (though a little Morricone goes a long way with me and FIVE HOURS is officially a FUCK TON of Morricone.)
Young Moses is ably played by William Lancaster, Burt’s son, and Elder Moses is of course played by Burt. I’ve never been the biggest Lancaster fan with the exception of From Here to Eternity and The Killers. Lancaster’s performance here is fine, apart from some trouble with the fake beards they’ve given him and really shouldn’t looking good in a fake beard, be one of the top requirements for playing Moses? He’s a pleasantly chill Moses, hanging out in tents petting lambs instead of striking beardy prophetic poses. (Moses poses?) Quayle is wearing his own beard, though sadly they’ve given him a god-awful wig. On the list of the top three worst hair pieces Quayle ever had on his head this comes in between Saraband for Dead Lovers and Damn the Defiant. Fortunately as his character, Aaron, ages, he’s allowed his own hair. It’s really pleasing to see Quayle having so much screen time, and playing lots with Lancaster, Marina Berti who plays Aaron’s wife and Ingrid Thulin who plays his sister.
Like Scorcese’s film of Last Temptation of Christ, Moses the Lawgiver gives a grittier Holy Land than the typical Hollywood offering. It’s a lot of people wandering around in the desert, (the film was shot in Morocco and Israel) not bathing, sleeping in tents, wearing loads of fur and rags and arguing among themselves. If that isn’t your cup of tea than you should avoid this movie like one of the ten plagues. As you all probably know from the number of Lawrence of Arabia posts on my blog that is TOTALLY my cup of tea.
Burgess’ script focuses on the struggle of Moses and Aaron to accept the burden God has placed on them, sort of a Last Temptation of Moses, spin on Exodus. Moses is the brains and Aaron is his press secretary, deflecting the constant “but isn’t Moses batshit crazy and possibly a little slow in the head?” with “yes, but miracles.” And to be honest, if Quayle were coming at me with the Team Yahweh rhetoric I would be powerless to resist. I’d be signing up like the rest of them, hoping that I could avoid the smiting, the plagues and the punishment wandering in the wilderness for a shot at the promised land, enemies conveniently vanquished in a forty second montage in the final episode. Aaron is just that good at his job. Well, except for the time he gets to run the whole show while Moses is up Mount Ararat indefinitely. Yes, Moses is stone tablet smashing mad, but he reserves his worst disappoint for Aaron: “What the shit, Aaron? You had one job! Remember, the whole “no other gods before me” thing which was literally the only talking point we’ve had for like a year and you just went ahead and made a golden calf?!!” I’m paraphrasing, but you get the idea.