The seasonal favorite The Ten Commandments was a crowning achievement for Cecil B. DeMille, the master of the Biblical epic. He started his career with a version of the film in 1923, and he returned to the story in the 1956 version, which turned out to be its last film. And what a way to go out— LIFE magazine dubbed it “DeMille’s Greatest” when it wrote about his technicolor telling of the Book of Exodus, starring Charlton Heston in the role of Moses.

“DeMille tells this story sumptuously,” LIFE wrote. “He built a huge set on Egypt’s sands—the gates of Per-Rameses and a 16-sphinx avenue—that drew more tourists than Giza’s single sphinx….The result is a film of reverent and massive significance.”

LIFE’s Ralph Crane went to Egypt to capture the scale of this grand production, and his pictures show what it took to make a big movie in the days before digital effects. (Though of course the film is remembered in part for a scene that did require special effects, however old school, the parting of the Red Sea. DeMille filmed that sequence back in Hollywood and used shots of pouring water in reverse to create the illusion of seawater pushed aside by the hand of God.) Plenty about this film required extraordinary effort, as can be seen in Crane’s shots of the massive sets and the hordes of extras—not to mention the caring of the many horses needed for the chariot scenes.

Another LIFE.com story shows captures a more intimate moment from this film, with baby Moses in the rushes—it was Heston’s son in the crib. Those moments great and small help make DeMille’s masterpiece one that families keep coming back to.

Charlton Heston (lower right), playing Moses, in a scene from the 1956 biblical epic ‘The Ten Commandments,’ directed by Cecil B. DeMille, Egypt.

Ralph Crane/Life Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Charlton Heston, playing Moses, in a scene from the the 1956 biblical epic ‘The Ten Commandments.’ directed by Cecil B. DeMille, Egypt.

Ralph Crane/Life Picture Collection/Shutterstock

On the Egypt set of 1956 Biblical epic The Ten Commandments.

Ralph Crane/Life Picture Collection/Shutterstock

On the Egypt set of 1956 Biblical epic The Ten Commandments.

Ralph Crane/Life Picture Collection/Shutterstock

On the set of the 1956 film The Ten Commandments in Egypt.

Ralph Crane/Life Picture Collection/Shutterstock

On the Egypt set of the 1956 film The Ten Commandments.

Ralph Crane/Life Picture Collection/Shutterstock

On the Egypt set of the 1956 film The Ten Commandments.

Ralph Crane/Life Picture Collection/Shutterstock

On the Egypt set of the 1956 film The Ten Commandments.

Ralph Crane/Life Picture Collection/Shutterstock

On the Egypt set of the 1956 film The Ten Commandments.

Ralph Crane/Life Picture Collection/Shutterstock

On the Egypt set of the 1956 film The Ten Commandments.

Ralph Crane/Life Picture Collection/Shutterstock

On the Egypt set of the 1956 film The Ten Commandments.

Ralph Crane/Life Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Cecil B. DeMille on location in Egypt during the filming of the 1956 movie The Ten Commandments.

Ralph Crane/Life Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Extras from the movie “The Ten Commandments” heading home after a day of shooting, Egypt, 1955

Ralph Crane/Life Picture Collection/Shutterstock

A group of horses from The Ten Commandments drinking water at camp, Egypt, 1955

Ralph Crane/Life Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Cecil B. DeMille directing a scene from the 1956 movie The Ten Commandments; on location in Egypt.

Ralph Crane/Life Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Extras pretending to a family during the filming of ‘The Ten Commandments in Egypt.

Ralph Crane/Life Picture Collection/Shutterstock

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