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SAMSON AND DELILAH(director: Cecil B. DeMille; screenwriters: Fredric M. Frank/Jesse Lasky, Jr.; cinematographer: George Barnes; editor: Anne Bauchens; music: Victor Young; cast: Victor Mature (Samson), Hedy Lamarr (Delilah), Angela Lansbury (Semadar), George Sanders (The Saran of Gaza), Olive Deering (Miriam), Russ Tamblyn (Saul), Henry Wilcoxon (Prince Ahtur); Runtime: 128; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Cecil B. DeMille; Paramount; 1949)
“Was once best described by the film critic Dilys Powell as the only epic film in which the hero had bigger tits than the heroine.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Cecil B. DeMille (“The Greatest Show on Earth”/”The Ten Commandments”/”Cleopatra”), the designated filmmaker of the quasi-religious film, directs this schlocky biblical epic. There’s also a stiff narration that attempts to keep it serious, which only makes things more absurd. Victor Mature rigidly plays his Hebrew Danite strongman Samson character as a nice dumb hunk who is cocky and playful. The bejeweled Hedy Lamarr looks beautiful as the wicked Philistine temptress Delilah. George Sanders and Angela Lansbury give delicious campy performances as supporting actors. The fictionalized screenplay by Fredric M. Frank and Jesse Lasky, Jr. leaves a lot to be desired, but words are not as important here as is spectacle, Technicolor, some religious musings and sex. The film is noteworthy only for the centerpiece 30-second destruction of the temple (DeMille was always good in tearing down temples). Otherwise, it seems as if DeMille’s idea of a Bible pic is to ally himself with God. It’s filled with cheesy papier-mach√© sets, has stagnant photography and was once best described by the film critic Dilys Powell as the only epic film in which the hero had bigger tits than the heroine.

It’s set in 1,000 B.C. and the Hebrews have been enslaved the last forty years by the Philistines. The plot has Samson, the Danite son of Manoah, rejecting the love of the sweet innocent girl from his Hebrew tribe, Miriam (Olive Deering), and going off with Semadar (Angela Lansbury), the Philistine daughter of Tubal and the older sister of Delilah. Saran of Gaza (George Sanders), the Lord of the Five cities, who is impressed that Samson kills lions with only his hands and had no problem beating his top warrior, grants the Hebrew strong man permission to marry Semadar even though she’s not of his faith. When Semadar, who was already promised to Prince Ahtur (Henry Wilcoxon), the Philistine military leader of Dan, betrays Samson’s trust at their marriage ceremony by giving Ahtur the answer to a riddle that causes Samson to lose his expensive wager–he rejects her. Instead the pouting Semadar marries her Prince, and the angry strongman routs their attacking army and brings down their temple killing Semadar. Samson then goes on the lam to the hills, where he’s hidden by the Hebrews. Delilah, as the spurned lover and who is now also angry that Samson destroyed her palace home, vows revenge and eventually gets that by luring Samson to be her lover and finding out that the source of his strength is his long hair. She then she cuts Samson’s hair and the strong man loses his strength.

If your idea of entertainment is to roll with such stodgy Philistine art and lap it up as kitsch hokum, then you’ll differ from me and settle for this plush and muscular half-baked historical epic.

The film proved to be a crowd favorite. It was budgeted at a cost of $3 million, and it earned an estimated $12 million at the box-office. This made it one of Paramount’s highest-grossing films to date.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”