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SALOME (director: William Dieterle; screenwriters: Harry Kleiner/based on a story by Harry Kleiner & Jesse Lasky, Jr.; cinematographer: Charles Lang; editor: Viola Lawrence; music: George Duning/Daniele Amfitheatrof – music for dances; cast: Rita Hayworth (Princess Salome), Stewart Granger (Commander Claudius), Charles Laughton (King Herod), Judith Anderson (Queen Herodias), Sir Cedric Hardwicke (Tiberius Caesar), Basil Sydney (Pontius Pilate), Maurice Schwartz (Ezra), Alan Badel (John the Baptist), Rex Reason (Marcellus Fabius); Runtime: 103; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Buddy Adler; Columbia Pictures; 1953)
“It’s pure Hollywood bunk, that’s great on pomp, splendor, costumes and lush Technicolor, but short on being convincing.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

William Dieterle (“Magic Fire”/”Volcano”/”The Devil and Daniel Webster”) directs without much initiative this box office smash Bible epic that stars a sultry but no longer electric Rita Hayworth, whose showstopping scene is when she does the famous striptease dance of the “seven veils” that caused the beheading of John the Baptist. It’s the 34-year-old Rita’s second film after her return from a short run as the wife of international playboy Muslim Prince Aly Khan and hanging out with the rich and famous on the French Riviera. The slick narrative by Harry Kleiner & Jesse Lasky, Jr. ignores scriptures and reinvents it by falsely making Salome out to be a convert of John the Baptist, who helped the doomed prophet instead of her true role in the foul deed as an unchaste temptress. They changed her role on orders from Columbia studio boss Harry Cohen, who didn’t want his star playing an evil woman. What ultimately does the film in, is the lame script by Kleiner, the heavy-handed direction by Dieterle and the strident performance by Alan Badel as a John the Baptist who is portrayed as more self-righteous than holy (no one performed well, but his performance was just the pits). It’s pure Hollywood bunk, that’s great on pomp, splendor, costumes and lush Technicolor, but short on being convincing.

Rome’s tyrant leader Tiberius Caesar (Sir Cedric Hardwicke) does not give his assent to his Roman nephew, Marcellus Fabius (Rex Reason), and his request to marry the beautiful Princess Salome (Rita Hayworth), because she’s not a Roman and anyone not a Roman is a barbarian. The tyrant also banishes Salome from Rome, where she has lived all her life. She must now return by boat to the province of Galilee, where her corrupt step-father King Herod (Charles Laughton) and scheming real mother Queen Herodias (Judith Anderson) rule. Mom let her daughter live in Rome so her venal hubby wouldn’t bed down with her. On the slave-driven boat trip with the pampered princess are the newly appointed Pontius Pilate (Basil Sydney), the ruthless governor of Galilee, ordered by Caesar to maintain the peace in Judea because his army is stretched thin, and the handsome commander, in secret a follower of John the Baptist’s new religion, Claudius (Stewart Granger), who makes a play for Salome but is temporarily rebuffed.

In the wilderness of Galilee, John the Baptist (Alan Badel) is preaching sedition by telling the people not to obey Herod and Herodias because they broke the Laws of Moses and are adulterers (she married her former hubby’s brother) and are not the rightful rulers. Herodias wants him executed, but Herod’s adviser Ezra (Maurice Schwartz) warns him of the prophesy not to harm the prophet or suffer an ill-fate.

But Herodias forces Herod’s hand and he has John arrested, to the anger of the crowds. John maintains that he is not the Messiah and only preaches the truth, but he’s found guilty in Herod’s court. Herod, in private, tells the prophet if he stops his denunciations, he can go free. John refuses and is imprisoned. Herodias then uses her daughter to wiggle her fanny in front of her hubby and promises he can have her if he delivers the head of John the Baptist. Salome is fooled into doing the dance, thinking it was a plan concocted by her lover Claudius to please Herod so he would release the prophet.

The story of Salome has has been filmed many times; its best version remains Alla Nazimova’s stylized 1923 silent based on the Aubrey Beardsley drawings for Oscar Wilde’s play. This version is just spectacle and hokum and too ridiculous to take with any seriousness, except as being a vehicle for Rita (who does okay when dancing).


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”