Moïse Sauvé des Eaux was the first of three silent Bible films shown at the Ancient World in Silent Cinema event last week. Despite the similarity of subject and proximity of production, it was noticeable how different all three films were.
As much as anything, this film stood out for its use of colour. Contrary to popular belief colour was fairly popular in silent films: the earliest films use colour filters or hand-tinted the prints to bring in colour, whilst two- and three-strip technicolour was in use during the 1920s. Given that this film was made in 1910 it was too early to be even two-strip technicolor. That said, the films in which I had seen hand-colouring used had done so fairly primitvely. Lots of colouring outside the lines and so on. By contrast, the colouring in was so impressive that I'm still not entirely convinced that this was a hand-tinted film, but so far no other explanation suffices.
The film itself starts with Amram working with his fellow Israelites when a messenger brings the edict from Pharaoh that male, Hebrew babies are to be executed. We see the message courtesy of an intertitle styled like a scroll which contrasts with Pathé's usual red text on a black background style. As his son will later do, Amram steps in to stop a fellow slave getting beaten and then makes his way home to warn his family.
Inside the house, Amram and his wife (who is identified as Jochebed) decide to hide Moses whilst Miriam and Aaron look on. Rather unusually they wrap him up in straw and hang him from a hook above head height. The Egyptian soldiers are soon upon them and proceed to stick a sword into anything that looks like it might contain a baby, even the bundle of straw on the hook next to Moses's. The scene is actually rather tense, all the more impressive given the audience already knows that Moses will survive.
An intertitle card quotes Hebrews 11:23 and we revert to the exterior shot outside Amram and Jochebed's house. Shortly afterwards we see Jochebed gather Moses and a basket and head to the river with Miriam. There basket and baby are placed in the reeds, where they remain (rather than being floated down the river as in most other Moses films) which is actually in keeping with Exodus 2:3. Miriam hides - rather poorly it must be added - to keep an eye on her little brother, and when Pharaoh's daughter and her entourage come along she is quick to offer her mother's services as a wet nurse. So little time has elapsed that Jochebed has not gone far and baby and mother are reunited. There's a brief introduction to the Pharaoh.
The portrayal of Amram is also interesting, as although he is usually portrayed as rather a passive figure, he is depicted here as more of a heroic character.
Campbell and Pitts make no mention of this film and even the BFI database gives it a mere paragraph.
DRAMA. Biblical. The story of Moses. No main title. Credit (2). The father of Moses is seen at work with the Israelites. An edict is read by Pharaoh's messenger announcing that all newborn male sons of the Israelites must be put to death. The Israelites are angered and return to their homes. Moses' father tells the family of the edict. Pharaoh's soldiers arrive to collect the newborn boys. Moses is hidden in a basket hanging from the roof. The soldiers enter but fail to find the child. The mother takes Moses and his sister takes a basket, they bid farewell to the distraught father and take the child to the Nile. There they set Moses adrift in the rushes. Pharaoh's daughter and her entourage arrive at the river to bathe. They discover the baby and Pharaoh's daughter adopts him. Moses' mother imposes herself on Pharaoh's daughter and offers her services as a wet nurse. Pharaoh's daughter agrees. On their return to court Pharaoh's daughter presents Moses to her father (707ft). Note: German titles.Painting is Nicolas Poussin's "The Finding of Moses" from 1638.