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Even 55 years after its release, Cecil B. DeMille's grand epic, "The Ten Commandments," is still getting help from Utahns who have had a long history in bringing this blockbuster movie to the big screen.
Famed Utah artist Arnold Friberg co-designed the movie's Oscar-nominated costumes. Emery County bit actor Delos Jewkes performed the voice of God during the scene when he writes the commandments.
And the old Centre Theater in Salt Lake City was the first to hold a special preview screening of the movie before its national release. That was because DeMille believed that if Salt Lake City audiences approved of one of his films, audiences everywhere would.
Now, Brigham Young University, which holds the Cecil B. DeMille papers in its special collections, has helped produce a new Blu-ray disc version of the movie for home video, which was released this week.
"That's his signature film and one which he will always be associated with," said James D'Arc, curator for BYU's L. Tom Perry Special Collections, about DeMille's Hollywood legacy. DeMille also directed the classics "Samson and Delilah" and "The Greatest Show on Earth."
In the late 1970s, DeMille's daughter donated the director's papers to the university. The gift included more than 1,200 boxes of production records, scripts, research files and publicity files. There also are 38,000 photos and 10,000 pieces of production art, costume sketches and scene drawings.
The new release is part of a $55 limited-edition gift set for the Blu-ray, which includes replicas of the movie's theater program and some of Friberg's costume sketches from BYU's archive. D'Arc also is interviewed for a new 70-minute documentary on the making of the film.
"DeMille was a packrat," D'Arc said about why the filmmaker kept so much of his production work. "He was one of the real founders of the Hollywood film industry. There was a tremendous ego factor there, as well. He knew he was making motion-picture history, and he kept everything. Thank goodness he did."
Some of the treasured objects in the collection include 8-inch replicas of the stone tablets DeMille had produced for promotional purposes, made from actual granite from Mount Sinai. There's even a studio commissary menu with DeMille's sketches scribbled on the back.
"There were things we've never seen," said Cindy Walker, Paramount's executive director of Blu-ray and DVD content, about BYU's collection, which she viewed last year. "We don't have them, you have them. To completely connect the studio history with the actual asset history there in Utah was mind-blowing."
A year ago, the movie was digitally restored by scanning the original camera negative through a computer and cleaning it frame by frame. The project was completed for last year's annual television broadcast on ABC (and it will be shown again this year during Easter weekend). That new version was then used for the upcoming Blu-ray.
"There's such incredible detail paid to each aspect of the film, and it really pays off in this version," said Ron Smith, Paramount's vice president of preservation and restoration, who oversaw the project. "It really comes through. You're going to see things [in the film] you've never seen before."
The DeMille collection is just one of several Hollywood archives at BYU, including those by James Stewart, directors Howard Hawks ("His Girl Friday" and "Rio Bravo") and Merian C. Cooper ("King Kong"), and legendary movie composer Max Steiner ("Gone with the Wind" and "Casablanca").
But BYU's D'Arc believes DeMille's archive "is really one of our flagship collections."
"DeMille is the thread through which Hollywood history can be chronicled, and the DeMille collection is one of the few first-class sources for the writing of the history of Hollywood," D'Arc said. "And there's an electric thrill coming with seeing these documents … about the making of one of the greatest motion pictures of all time."
Thou shalt not pay admission
A free screening of Cecil B. DeMille's 1956 blockbuster, "The Ten Commandments," will be offered at the Harold B. Lee Library in the center of the Brigham Young University campus in Provo.
When • The newly restored print of "The Ten Commandments" will screen Wednesday, March 30, at 6 p.m.