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Samson and Delilah Movie Review

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1949 – Cecil B. De Mille –

“Give me any couple of pages from the Bible, and I'll give you a picture,” Cecil B. De Mille is famous for claiming. Of course, he didn't promise a subtle picture. Take away the widescreen dimensions and the comparatively better special effects in his remake of The Ten Commandments, and you end up with something like De Mille's Samson and Delilah with its studio sets and uneasy mix of acting and posturing.

The opening credits claim that the film is based on three chapters from the book Judges, but the screenwriters have shaped the material to bring Delilah (Hedy Lamarr) into the narrative sooner by adding a love triangle. Samson loves the Philistine woman Samadar (Angela Lansbury), even though her younger sister Delilah desires Samson for herself. As Samson kills a lion with his bare hands, De Mille cuts to shots of Delilah looking on, aroused by the ferocity of the struggle. She herself all but attacks him after he has slain the lion (“One cat at a time,” Samson says, pushing her away). On the night of his wedding to Samadar, he poses a riddle to the many guests, but they coerce Samadar into getting the answer from him. Losing his bride to Ahtur (Henry Wilcoxon), Samson burns down the estate in revenge, which gives Delilah her motive for cooperating with the Philistines to learn the secret of his great strength.

The leads do not come off quite as effectively as some of the supporting cast. Mature is better than Lamarr although he only registers the single trait of dignified strength throughout. George Sanders plays the Saran of Gaza with the sole exercise of finesse seen in the movie: the Saran seems to take nothing seriously, and he studiously scrutinizes his ant village as he hears reports of the latest Hebrew uprising. De Mille regular Wilcoxon as Ahtur is the most inexpressive, but George Reeves, who played Superman on 1950s television, has a very good moment as the bleeding messenger who describes Samson's slaying of the Philistines with the jawbone of an ass. If Reeves and Wilcoxon had just switched parts, the film would have had more life.

When Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) visits De Mille at Paramount in Billy Wilder's movie Sunset Boulevard (1950), she interrupts the filming of Samson and Delilah. Surprisingly, De Mille's extras in the scenes from the Wilder picture are costumed more convincingly than in De Mille's own film, where the use of Technicolor led to too much gold lamé. Andrew Lloyd Webber and Christopher Hampton, in their musical version of Wilder's film, also tweaked the image of De Mille when they have a party guest sing: “Behold, my children, / It is I, Cecil B. De Mille. / Meeting me must be quite a thrill, / But there's no need to kneel.”

Cast: Hedy Lamarr (Delilah), Victor Mature (Samson), George Sanders (the Saran of Gaza), Angela Lansbury (Samadar), Henry Wilcoxon (Ahtur), Olive Dearing (Miriam), Fay Holden (Hazelelponit), Julia Faye (Hisham), Rusty Tamblyn (Saul), William Farnum (Tubal), Lane Chandler (Taresh), Moroni Olsse (Targil), Francis J. McDonald (streetside storyteller), William Davis (Garmiskar), John Miljan (Lesh Lakish), Arthur Q. Bryan (Philistine merchant), Mike Mazurki (leader of Philistine soldiers), George Reeves (wounded messenger) Screenwriter: Jesse L. Lasky Jr., Frederick M. Frank, Harold Lamb, Vladimir Jabotinsky Cinematographer: George Barnes Composer: Victor Young Producer: Cecil B. De Mille for Paramount Running Time: 128 minutes Format: VHS, LV Awards: Academy Awards, 1950: Art Direction/Set Decoration (Color), Costume Design (Color); Nominations: Color Cinematography, Original Dramatic/Comedy Score (Victor Young) Box Office: $9M or $11.5M (depending on the source).

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