Sound Features

In making the transition from silent films to sound films, DeMille drew on his experiences with both voice and sound effects in the theater. Most “early talkies” were little more than photographed stage plays. DeMille was one of a few directors who understood that sound need not always be used in a totally literal fashion to tell the story.

On Dynamite (1929), his first sound film, DeMille freed the camera from a soundproof booth, hastening the construction of the first camera “blimp,” as well as implementing a makeshift microphone boom. Sound could not yet be mixed, so DeMille put two microphones on a set.

The Sign of the Cross (1932) was the first fully integrated sound film. Every shot counted. Every transition was assured. DeMille’s use of symbolism, crowds, crane shots, dialectical montage, contrapuntal sound, music cues, sound effects, and even silence was masterly. It was truly a moving picture.

By the time of The Ten Commandments (1956), his last project, DeMille was making films that were as much operas as movies. Every element was orchestrated to yield a maximum emotional response. He used VistaVision because its larger gauge would disguise the increased grain of special effects in the parting of the Red Sea, in which numerous optical effects were used simultaneously. The impact of the scene was not diminished by changes in image texture, and nothing lessened the spell he wove. The Ten Commandments was a hypnotic experience.