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SPECTACLE AND ROMANCE A LA DEMILLE
on March 14, 2013
In the history of filmmaking, no other director handled the genre of Biblical epics with more panache and reverence than Cecil B. DeMille. Yet, in his entire celebrated career the director made only five such movies: THE TEN COMMANDMENTS (1923), KING OF KINGS (1927), THE SIGN OF THE CROSS (1932), SAMSON AND DELILAH (1949), and his own remake of THE TEN COMMANDMENTS (1956).
The fourth film in DeMille's Biblical canon is his most passionate, and its style and structure was responsible for inspiring the highly successful Italian sword and sandal sub-genre a decade later. From the moment that scroll unfurls introducing the opening title - CECIL B. DEMILLE'S SAMSON AND DELILAH - you know you're going to be in for a thoroughly satisfying viewing experience. Offering rip-roaring action, colorful spectacle, and sensual romance all presented in an engaging storytelling manner, this is a masterpiece of the kind only DeMille could make. The picture manages to stay quite faithful to the Bible account in Judges 13-16, with only a few instances where Jesse L. Lasky, Jr. and Fredric M. Frank's script takes dramatic license. For instance, the film depicts Samson's bride and Delilah as sisters whereas the Bible doesn't substantiate such a relationship between them. Also, in the movie Samson is blinded by a red-hot blade held close to his eyes, while in the actual account they're bored out of their sockets. Aside from these textual deviations the film is a largely accurate, vivid dramatization of the most famous romantic betrayal in recorded history.
Victor Mature and Hedy Lamarr flesh out definitive portrayals in the lead roles; Mature is beefy and totally at ease playing the straying strongman whose weakness is women, and Lamarr is the epitome of the beautiful seductress who betrays him. The two actors are so perfectly suited as Samson and Delilah, that it's impossible to imagine someone else in their place. The supporting players are also top-notch: George Sanders is superb as the cynical Saran who has both envy and respect for Samson, Angela Lansbury plays Samson's fickle bride-to-be Semadar, and Henry Wilcoxon makes a strong impression as Samson's jealous rival, Ahtur.
The production values of SAMSON AND DELILAH are of the highest quality by 1949 standards, and the film won deserved Oscars for Hans Dreier and Walter Tyler's art direction, Sam Comer and Ray Moyer's set decoration and Edith Head's costumes. Gordon Jennings' special effects department created some spectacular visuals, which still pass muster today. The big climax set in the Philistine Temple of Dagon is a triumph of convincing miniature high-speed photography and integrated live action. George Barnes' Technicolor cinematogaphy is lush and artfully lit, reminiscent of the paintings by Rembrandt. I'd be amiss if I didn't give high praise for Victor Young's fabulous music score which, in my opinion, is one of the finest ever written. Everything about this DeMille extravaganza is done with an expertise and a showmanship that defined an era of great cinematic entertainment.
Paramount Home Video has finally released SAMSON AND DELILAH on DVD in meticulously restored condition, and it looks and sounds terrific - as good as it must've been on its initial release. This edition contains Victor Young's overture and exit music, which was also on the previous laser disc that served as the source for unauthorized DVD copies of this title. The new edition contains no special features, and has the standard menu options of English, French and Spanish subtitles, and scene selections. The audio is in the original mono. Looking as sumptuous as it does on DVD, it's curious why Paramount didn't opt for a Blu-ray edition. Maybe down the line...
Something many people today forget is that Cecil B. DeMille was one of the founding fathers of America's film industry. He made movies that were enormously popular with the public because he had an innate understanding of what people wanted and the creative ability to deliver it. SAMSON AND DELILAH demonstrates that inimitable DeMille touch to the fullest degree.
My highest recommendation.