Based on the old Testament, Samson (Victor Mature) is the last judge of Israel and is destined to free his people from bondage to the Philistines. He is distracted from this task by the temptations of Delilah (Hedy Lamarr), a sultry vixen out to avenge the death of her family and destruction of her home which was partly Samson's doing (in the film only, not the actual Testament, her role was much smaller though still crucial). When Samson's hair is cut he's in deep trouble, loses his eyes and becomes a sight of mockery. But then his hair grows back and, though blinded, he ultimately has the last laugh when he tears down the stone pillars holding up the temple, killing most - if not all - of the Philistines, including Delilah and himself.
Hedy Lamarr ... Delilah
Victor Mature ... Samson
George Sanders ... The Saran of Gaza
Angela Lansbury ... Semadar
Henry Wilcoxon ... Prince Ahtur
Olive Deering ... Miriam
Fay Holden ... Hazel
Julia Faye ... Haisham
Russ Tamblyn ... Saul (as Russell Tamblyn)
William Farnum ... Tubal
Lane Chandler ... Teresh
Moroni Olsen ... Targil
First off, Victor Mature plays Samson, just so no one's confused. He and Hedy both have chests and black hair, so I thought I'd clear everything up right off.
This is the story of Samson, a brawny but honorable guy, and the woman he loves. He loves two in the course of the film. The first is Angela Lansbury, who had a very bizarre name that escapes me. Ms. Lansbury, a marvelous actress, is my first bone to pick with Cecil B. DeMille. Who in heck would believe that Angela Lansbury and Hedy Lamarr are related?!? Even more incredulous--Angela Lansbury as Hedy's OLDER SISTER?!? You have to be a movie fan to know that Hedy was several years older than Jessica Fletcher-to-be Angela, but any moron can tell they're from two different countries. Angela's plummy English tones versus Hedy's Germanic mutterings makes for a weird family. Anyway, that's nitpicking.
Early in the film, Samson goes over to see sweetheart What's Her Name, only to have her sister Delilah bounce rocks off his ample chest. She looks like someone who isn't to be trusted, but nevertheless he's consumed by love's fire. (Isn't that soooooo dramatic.) He decides to go fight a lion barehanded, so he can win What's Her Name. The things you had to do back then to get a date. When she is amazed by his lion taming, she decides that she will indeed marry him. Delilah is enraged, but decides to wait for her chance for revenge. It comes at the wedding, where a silly chain of events leaves Samson alone again and Delilah homeless. (One of my favorite moments is in this scene, as Delilah's dad keeps begging people to take her instead of her sister. No one wants her!)
Fast forward an undetermined amount of time to reveal a plot against Samson. He's a huge pain in the neck to the bad guys, and they just can't figure out how he got to be so darned big. (We know it's God's doing, but the bad guys don't believe in God. DeMille hadn't made the more famous "Ten Commandments" yet, so we can understand their ignorance.) Delilah demands an unheard amount of money from several rich merchants, saying that she can find the secret of Samsons's strength. He tricks her a couple of times, but finally she guilts him into telling the truth. When she ruins him, he spends his time wishing he could break her scrawny neck. Frankly, I can sympathize with him. She does have a scrawny neck.
The finale comes when Delilah repents (she asks God to forgive her, indicating that she now believes in him and is truly sorry she annihilated another human being) and aids Samson in his extermination of all the mean people. The temple scene (before it falls down) seems really cruel, with everyone terrorizing Samson and him completely unable to stop them. Good wins out in the end, though, and everyone remembers Samson as a true hero. They don't remember Delilah in a nice way, because she neglected to tell anyone she repented. Thanks to that, she gets a bum rap to this day.
Favorite part--the "jaw bone of an ass" scene, where everyone tries to see how many times they can say "ass" and get away with it.
By the time the 1940s were rolling around, Cecil B. DeMille was doing a lot less work, but the work was getting more expensive. DeMille took off a couple of years now between films to create the opulent splendor that typifies his work.
Well Samson and Delilah abounds in opulence. The color cinematography is first rate and reason enough to see the film. Of course it has the usual stilted dialog that is common in DeMille's costume work. But one has to remember that DeMille made his show business bones with David Belasco in the Edwardian era. And that's how folks talked in those Belasco plays.
Acting honors in this go to George Sanders as the Saran of Gaza, Philistine ruler and sophisticated cad. This was the height of Sanders career, he received a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for All About Eve the same year. I think the Saran and Addison DeWitt would have understood each other very well.
Angela Lansbury is the original object of Samson's lust and she does okay, but personally if you had the choice between Jessica Fletcher and Tondelayo, who would you choose? Is that ever a no-brainer.
DeMille got a couple of loan-outs to play the leads. Hedy Lamarr could easily lay claim to be the most beautiful woman in the cinema. She never had much acting skill, but all she has to do is be seductive and that no one could do better.
And Victor Mature away from his home studio of 20th Century Fox where he was languishing, Samson and Delilah provided a whole new vista for him with roles in spectacle pictures where he could truly be that beautiful hunk of man.
Fay Holden is good as Samson's mother. In modern times I can just hear her telling him about settling down with a good Jewish girl.
Hedy Lamarr took the title role of Delilah and made it her own... She was full and sparkling as the Philistine temptress, the central figure of Samson's last love story, dark and troubled when she took advantage of Samson's confidence to betray him to his enemies, repent and full of love when she sees him blinded and disgraced... Her name has since become synonymous with a voluptuous treacherous woman...
Victor Mature was a mighty, troubled Samson, beset by conflicting emotions, totally dominated by a pagan woman... He teases with her, perhaps showing some smarts here for a change... He falls victim to his enemies through the love of Delilah, a sophisticated beauty with innate elegance, who beguiles him into revealing the secret of his strength... His performance was always up to the standard of Lamarr... Together, they acted with wonderful passion and were as convincing dramatically as long-suffering Hebrews as they were Philistines drunk with victory...
George Sanders, whose dignified presence was a perfect match for the Saran of Gaza, admires Samson for his strength, and envies him for the love of his people... He persuades Delilah to find out what is the source of Samson's strength so they can destroy him...
"Samson and Delilah' is a film of emotion, of love, and action... It is at once a wonderful, and rich historical look at an ancient era, an excuse for beautiful and passionate music, and a thrilling climax hardly rivaled in its size and lavishness... The film is wonderful to look at, and the music is terrific...
Look for Russ Tamblyn playing the little shepherd Saul...
This is one to see on a large screen. I first saw it when it came out in a theater,and the climactic scene was extremely impressive to a youngish teenager.
There was a lot of coverage of the film at the time, and Life magazine had a feature on it, including a pictorial of Mr. Demille showing Victor Mature the proper technique to use a jawbone as a weapon.
Possible spoilers follow.
In Demille's autobiography, he indicated how he used a sketch of a muscular hunk and a gorgeous woman to sell his underwriters on financing a Biblical film. He also related how he had his research staff scour historical documents to find a temple design that would collapse if its two main pillars were dislodged. The result is what's seen on the screen, though the collapse was aided by a few concealed charges.
Hedy Lamarr made an excellent Delilah, with the best of motivations for betraying Samson: she was spurned. This was set up before the wedding feast, where she enjoyed being with Samson, even though he wasn't paying attention. (I can't think of many functional and heterosexual males who would be that obtuse.) Although Victor Mature wasn't as beefy as later male stars like Steve Reeves or Arnold Schwarzennegger, this was okay because his strength was miraculous.
Naturally, the finale was spectacular, and that is what people went to theaters to see in a Demille film.
* Victor Mature won the role of Samson over Burt Lancaster, who had a bad back and was considered too young. Henry Wilcoxon was considered, but thought to be too old.
* Cecil B. DeMille considered Betty Hutton for the role of Delilah.
* For the scene in which Samson kills the lion, actor Victor Mature refused to wrestle a tame movie lion. Told by director Cecil B. DeMille that the lion had no teeth, Mature replied, "I don't want to be gummed to death, either." The scene shows a stunt man wrestling the tame lion, intercut with closeups of Mature wrestling a lion skin.
* At the premiere, Cecil B. DeMille asked Groucho Marx what he thought of the film. Groucho replied, "Well, there's just one problem, C.B. No picture can hold my interest where the leading man's tits are bigger than the leading lady's." DeMille was not amused, but Mature supposedly was.
* Sunset Blvd. (1950) was also being filmed around Paramount at the same time as this movie. In a scene where Gloria Swanson's character Norma Desmond visits the sound stage to see Cecil B. DeMille, he was actually directing a scene from "Samson and Delilah" and the actual cast members and crew are seen taking a break from this feature.
* With a $12 million gross domestically, this was the biggest hit Paramount had to date.
* Among DeMille's most serious candidates for the role of Delilah were Jean Simmons, Lana Turner, and Rita Hayworth. In the case of the latter two actresses, their respective studios (MGM and Columbia) refused to loan them to Paramount.