My post today is for The Sword & Sandal Blogathon, hosted by Debbie at Moon in Gemini. Be sure to check out her blog to read other writers’ posts about films set in ancient times.
From time to time, Hollywood turns to the Bible for film plots, and due to the supernatural elements in many of the bible’s stories, movies depicting such stories are usually considered epics and/or blockbusters; containing spectacular special effects and casts of thousands. Some Hollywood versions of famous biblical stories I have enjoyed and some I haven’t. A year or two ago, Turner Classic aired one I had never seen before so I set my dvr and settled in to watch Cecil B. Demille’s 1949 biblical epic: Samson and Delilah. I witnessed a pretty good film and it exceeded my expectations, for the most part. The film was released in late December of 1949, cost around $3,000,000 to make and did boffo at the box office, earning Paramount Studios a bit over $25,000,000 in profits. The film also won Academy Awards for Best Color Costume Design and Best Color Art Direction.
Samson’s story, is found in the Old Testament book of Judges, chapters 13-16. I’ve included this link if you want to read the actual story of Samson and Delilah. Highlights are his parents promising to raise their long awaited child as a Nazirite meaning Samson will never eat or drink anything made from grapes, he’ll never have a haircut, and he’ll not touch dead bodies or gravesites. That haircut part will eventually cause Samson’s downfall, but some say his real downfall was his wanting to be with pagan gals and not marrying a nice Israelite girl as his parents urged him to do. In telling Samson’s story for the big screen, the screenplay was based upon Russian writer Vladimer Jabotinsky’s novel, published in 1927: Samson Nazorei(Samson the Nazirite).
Of course, using the novel for the screenplay added story elements not found in the Book of Judges: Delilah was Samson’s sister-in-law, that the Saran of Gaza plots to have the Israeli tribe Samson hails from to turn him in due to high taxes imposed upon them, i.e. if you give us Samson, your taxes will be reduced, a bit of information about Dagon, the false god whom the Philistines worship, and Delilah sad at what happens to Samson after she betrays him and how she comes to his aid.
Victor Mature, an actor whose films I haven’t seen much of, is very good as Samson. He gives an earnest performance, as a strong man who is charming and stubborn, who wants right to succeed over injustice, and who is humbled when in his weakened state, he turns back to God to sustain him in his time of tribulation. I felt sorry for him, even when he didn’t listen to his parents and decided to hang out with pagan gals! My only complaint, and it’s certainly not Mature’s fault, is that the fight he has with a lion is obviously not done with a real lion. If you throw popcorn at your tv when this part of the film happens, I can nod my head in agreement with your actions!
Hedy Lamar is gorgeous as Delilah and no wonder Samson falls for her. Delilah is at first angry and sad about her older sister’s murder by Samson’s Philistine enemies. If it weren’t for him, her sister(ably played by Angela Lansbury, looking equally gorgeous) would still be alive. The Saran(coolly played by the always excellent George Sanders) of Gaza knows Delilah is the type of beauty that Samson can’t resist, and he knows she is wanting revenge, so he asks her what can the Philistines do to capture Samson? Without missing a beat, Delilah comes up with a plan to seduce Samson, find out what makes him so strong and thus how to weaken him so that he can be captured. There is a turning point in Delilah, though, and Hedy conveys it well. She is sorry for her part in helping Samson to be taken prisoner, realizes she really loves him, and helps him with his ultimate victory over the Philistines.
Look for Russ Tamblyn(before he was in 7 Brides for 7 Brothers and West Side Story) as Israelite teen Saul, Olive Deering as Miriam-both friends of Samson’s. Fay Holden as Hazelelponit, Samson’s mom, and Charles Evans as Manoah, Samson’s Dad. Mike Mazurki is the leader of the Philistine soldiers, and Henry Wilcoxen as Prince Ahtur, who wants Samson’s first wife, Semadar(Angela Lansbury). Director Cecil B. Demille also makes an appearance, or rather his voice does, as he narrates the film’s beginning.
Samson and Delilah is available to watch via Amazon’s Instant Rent, and it is also available to purchase at TCM’s Shop. Also, on Youtube, a kind soul has posted the entire movie, in 13 parts. I’ll sign off with some more pictures from the film.