Yul Brynner had a banner year in 1956 appearing in two best picture nominees The King and I, for which he won his Oscar, and this film as well as appeared as the male lead in Anastasia which won Best Actress for Ingrid Bergman. Naturally Brynner won for the least of his efforts as the titular King of the King and I, although I guess everyone is just missing something considering how ridiculously successful his performance was for that character, rather than his decent enough work in Anastasia, or his performance here. Although his role as Rameses is supporting, in those days what mattered was whether one was considered a leading actor or a supporting actor though rather than the actual role you played. Brynner plays the chief villain of the film as the heir apparent to the Egyptian throne, although his birth right is being questioned by the other prince Moses (Charlton Heston). Now I'll admit Brynner can sometimes be bland actor, and the first challenge presented to him is being in a biblical epic which can often cause an amplified blandness when sometimes it seems like the actors let the flamboyant costumes to do the work for them.
Well Brynner avoids this though by very much embracing the grandeur of the film. Brynner better than anyone else in the film takes it upon himself to really sell perhaps the overly dramatic lines. Brynner though speaks with such a pride and booming voice very much needed for a future King. Brynner seems to particularly love to say Rameses's well catchphrase really "So it has been said so may it be written". Brynner brings such a confidence in this statement and successfully reflects Rameses character which simple foresees that everything shall go his way even before any of it has happened. Brynner does the pompous villain quite well because he never makes Rameses seem stupid, rather he presents him as a man who just merely quite well aware of his position. Brynner importantly does create in Rameses's eyes that desire for power as well. Brynner exudes this making it abundantly clear early on in the film that Rameses is well aware of Moses's threat, and is constantly looking for his chance to diminish the problem. Even some of Ramses's methods to besmirch Moses early on are rather weak, but Brynner still brings his palatable presence in the scenes in order not to weaken Rameses as a worthy antagonist.
What I like most about Brynner's performance though is the fun he has with the role actually. One of my favorite moments relatively early on is Rameses scene with the next Pharaoh's bride to be, Nefretiri (Anne Baxter). The problem is though she is promised to the Pharaoh no matter what, whether it is Moses or Rameses. Where Moses is obviously a bit swept away by her charms there's no such problem for Rameses who knows she's the real cutthroat. Brynner manner towards her is perfection as he does express a desire, but along with it such a disdain towards her in the same moment. Brynner's performance shows that Rameses is not at all tricked by her. The best moment of their interaction though is when Nefretiri states that she'll never love Rameses. Brynner reaction is pure perfection as he seems to almost stop himself from bursting out laughing as he so callously states "Does that matter?" brilliantly portraying that Rameses hardly cares about such trivial things, being for more interested in the power represented by having her rather than actually having her as a loving wife.
Brynner is quite entertaining by being so unabashedly evil, although he does regulate this properly leaving the even more flamboyant evil to two other players. What Brynner does well though is create frankly the danger of the ego created by the man. Brynner is always paints Rameses well as the man well aware of his position and is quite enjoyable and menacing in playing this up. A great moment for him as when Moses returns after being found out and exiled by Rameses to convince Rameses to let the Hebrews go. Again Brynner has such a memorable reaction as he is so condescending as he shakes his head and just says "Moses Moses Moses" as though he somewhat enjoys Moses's resilience even if he in no way takes it seriously. Moses is determined though announcing the plagues against Egypt which slowly becomes worse. Brynner's whole performance technically has worked up to this point as Rameses's refusal to accept the power of God, despite the evidence shown to him, is made believable through the personality that he has established up to this point. As the plagues begin to grow worse though Brynner is effective in subtly conveying a certain weakness growing in Rameses's resolve. He actually never exactly breaks down or anything like that, which makes sense since it takes almost being killed by a risen sea to finally put an end to his opposition to Moses, but Brynner does well to express the wear each plague takes on Rameses's ego. Brynner gives very strong and particularly assured work here that turns Rameses into a remarkable villain fitting for such a grand epic.
Eventually Dathan does see the right thing when Moses kills Baka and reveals himself to be Hebrew. Dathan naturally sells this information to Rameses for the price of basically replacing Baka in every respect including inheriting his house, his wealth, as well as the Hebrew woman Lilia he desired. Dathan is given it all and Edward G. Robinson plays up the sleaze of Dathan beautifully. He loses that face of the rat switches to one of such self-satisfaction. Robinson delivers the unpleasantness that is Dathan with great aplomb. Robinson is very entertaining by playing into the despicable nature of Dathan. He's particularly good in the scene where Lilia begs for him to essentially allow her not to be his prostitute. Robinson does well to not even be actively cruel or anything. I mean he does not yell as Dathan or portray any sort of violent intention in the man. Robinson instead just shows simply how much Dathan enjoys his new position of power, which is unpleasant enough. Robinson does not hold back on the exuberance of an evil man essentially enjoying the spoils of his vile deeds.
After the Hebrews are given their freedom Dathan is also sent off his way because even though he was living as an Egyptian he was a Hebrew as well. Robinson makes it particularly satisfying when Dathan becomes a fearful fool since he made him just so smug before. That fall is well realized as he makes Dathan is clearly quite concerned when the people he must go with are the same people he lorded over and showed cruelty towards. For the rest of the film Dathan technically returns to his form as a rat although this time as loud squeaking rat rather than the quiet observer. Every time a problem seems to arise Dathan is always the first to chime in and blame Moses while suggesting they return immediately to Egypt. Here Robinson comes as sniveling pest in every moment just waiting to make his own speech which is always as passionate in its pessimism, as Moses's speeches are in terms of optimism. Finally after they've completely escaped Rameses's grasp and await word from God, Dathan immediately tries to take over telling the Hebrews to convert to paganism. Robinson becomes the grand slime here well expressing that grand vision in Dathan, and makes his level of persuasion somewhat convincing through his darkly impassioned speech. Robinson adds a nice bit character in every scene he is in and is entertaining in every phase of Dathan's villainy right until he goes out in quite the bang.