April 12, 2004 12:00 PM


TCM (Mon.-Wed., April 5-7, 8 p.m. ET)

The night before this two-part profile of the legendary director premieres, ABC has scheduled its perennial rerun of DeMille’s 1956 epic The Ten Commandments. My advice: Watch Moses part the Red Sea on Sunday. Then tune in Wednesday (when the more absorbing second half of American Epic airs) and see how DeMille pulled off what one admirer, Steven Spielberg, calls “the greatest special effect in film history.” Spielberg maybe too effusive in lauding a man who also specialized in kitschy, overlong spectacles like Samson and Delilah and The Greatest Show on Earth. But there’s no question that DeMille, who died in 1959, enthralled audiences with a winning formula that mixed pomp and piety with battles, orgies and wild animals (yep, that’s a real lion on Gloria Swanson in 1919’s Male and Female).

As this warts-and-all portrait tells it, no one acted more imperiously on set than DeMille, who kept a flunky just to tote his megaphones. Still, even his detractors can’t deny the visual grandeur of DeMille’s movies, as shown in footage of his re-creation of the Exodus with an army of thousands of extras—not a single one of them computer-generated.

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