Samson and Delilah (1949 film)

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Samson and Delilah
Samson and Delilah original 1949 poster.JPG
Original theatrical release poster
Directed by Cecil B. DeMille
Produced by Cecil B. DeMille
Screenplay by Jesse L. Lasky, Jr.
Fredric M. Frank
Harold Lamb (treatment)
Vladimir Jabotinsky (novel)
Based on Holy Bible (Book of Judges)
Narrated by Cecil B. DeMille
Starring Hedy Lamarr
Victor Mature
George Sanders
Angela Lansbury
Henry Wilcoxon
Music by Victor Young
Cinematography George Barnes
Editing by Anne Bauchens
Studio Paramount Pictures
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release dates
  • January 13, 1950 (1950-01-13) (Los Angeles premiere)
Running time 128 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $3,097,563[1]
Box office $25,600,000[2]

Samson and Delilah is a 1949 American epic religious romance film produced and directed by Cecil B. DeMille, shot in Technicolor, and released by Paramount Pictures. It stars Hedy Lamarr as Delilah, Victor Mature as Samson, George Sanders as the Saran, Angela Lansbury as Semadar, and Henry Wilcoxon as Ahtur. The screenplay, written by Jesse L. Lasky, Jr. and Fredric M. Frank, is based on the biblical Book of Judges and adapted from original film treatments by Harold Lamb and Vladimir Jabotinsky.[1]

Samson and Delilah is one of few pre-1950 sound films to remain under the ownership of Paramount Pictures. It was the highest-grossing film of 1950,[3] and, adjusted for inflation, it is the sixth highest-grossing biblical film.[2] Of its five Academy Award nominations, the film won two for Best Art Direction and Best Costume Design.[4]

Plot[edit]

Samson, a Danite Hebrew placed under Nazirite vows from birth by his mother Hazelelponit, is engaged to a Philistine woman named Semadar. At their wedding feast, Samson loses a bet with his wedding guests because of Semadar and attacks thirty Philistines to strip them of their cloaks to pay his betting debt. When his deeds become known, Semadar and her father Tubal are killed; Samson becomes a hunted man and in his fury he begins fighting the Philistines. The Saran of Gaza imposes heavy taxes on the Danites, with the purpose of having Samson betrayed by his own people. The Saran's plan works, and frustrated Danites hand over Samson to the Philistines, much to the joy of Delilah, Semadar's younger sister. Samson is taken by Prince Ahtur, the military governor of the land of Dan, and a regiment of Philistine troops. En route back to Gaza, Ahtur decides to taunt Samson. Samson rips apart his chains and ropes and begins to combat the Philistines, toppling Ahtur's war chariot and using the jawbone of an ass to club the Philistine soldiers to death.

News of the defeat of Ahtur at the hands of Samson reaches the Saran. The Saran ponders how to defeat Samson. Delilah comes up with the idea of seducing Samson, thus having him reveal the secret of his strength and then deliver him for punishment. Her plan works; she cuts his hair, which he feels gives him his strength. In order to fully neutralize him, Samson is blinded by his captors, put to slave work and is eventually brought to the temple of Dagon for the entertainment of the Philistines and of the Saran.

However, Delilah has been in love with Samson ever since his engagement with Semadar, and his blindness and torture make her feel deep remorse over her betrayal. She initially had betrayed him because she wanted to avenge the deaths of her father and sister, which she thought were caused "because of Samson."

Delilah later attends the public torture of Samson wielding a whip which he uses to be guided by her to the temple of Dagon's main support pillars. Once he stands between them, he tells Delilah to flee, but she remains, unseen by him, as he pushes the pillars apart. The pillars give way and the temple collapses, burying Samson, Delilah, and all the Philistines inside alive. In the end the temple lies in rubble, and Saul and Miriam, his two closest Danite Hebrew friends, are left to mourn Samson's passing.

Cast[edit]

Production[edit]

Development[edit]

In 1935, DeMille paid $10,000 to historian Harold Lamb to write a film treatment of the biblical story of Samson and Delilah, which DeMille regarded as "one of the greatest loves stories of all time."[5] However, DeMille later abandoned the film project in favor of The Plainsman,[5] but returned to it once Unconquered was completed in 1947.[6] DeMille hired illustrator Henry Clive to paint his visualization of Delilah on canvas in spring of 1948.[5] DeMille described his Delilah as "warm, soft, cunning" with a "dangerous capacity for vengeance."[5] He further expressed her as a "combination of Vivien Leigh and Jean Simmons with a dash of Lana Turner."[5]

Adding to his dramatization of the biblical story, DeMille bought the rights to Judge and Fool, a novel by Vladimir Jabotinsky which portrayed Delilah as the younger sister of Samson's wife.[1][7] He felt the novel "made possible a connected drama" for the film.[7] The final screenplay was written by Jesse L. Lasky, Jr. and Fredric M. Frank, based on the biblical account, Lamb's treatment, and Jabotinsky's novel.

Casting[edit]

Mature and Lamarr as Samson and Delilah

When DeMille first commenced production on the film in 1935, some of the famous women suggested for the part of Delilah were Dolores del Río, Paulette Goddard, and Joan Crawford.[8] Once production restarted in 1947, DeMille and his staff considered dozens of Hollywood actresses for the role. Those considered were Märta Torén, Viveca Lindfors, Lana Turner, Rita Hayworth, Susan Hayward, Ava Gardner, Jane Greer, Greer Garson, Maureen O'Hara, Rhonda Fleming, Jeanne Crain, Lucille Ball, Jennifer Jones, Vivien Leigh, Gail Russell, Alida Valli, Linda Darnell, Patricia Neal, Jean Simmons, and Nancy Olson.[9][10][11] DeMille cast Hedy Lamarr as Delilah after screening the film The Strange Woman, which featured Ian Keith (a contender for the role of the Saran).[12] DeMille first wanted Lamarr to play Esther in a biblical film he was planning to make in 1939,[13] but the film was never realized. However, he was content with Lamarr's performance as Delilah, describing it as "more than skin-deep." He would also described her as "a gazelle–incapable of a clumsy or wrong move," and she would flirtatiously refer to herself as "Delilah" and DeMille as her "Samson."[14]

Burt Lancaster was the original choice to play Samson, but he declined due to a bad back.[15] Body builder Steve Reeves was also considered and DeMille lobbied long and hard to get the studio to pick up Reeves,[11] but both DeMille and the studio wanted Reeves to tone down his physique, which Reeves, still young and new to the industry, ultimately refused to do.[16] DeMille finally decided to cast Victor Mature as Samson after admiring his performance in the film Kiss of Death.[15][17]

Phyllis Calvert was originally cast as Semadar, but she relinquished the part due to her illness.[10] Therefore, DeMille cast Angela Lansbury in the role in July 1948.[10] When Lawrence Perry of The Pittsburgh Press interviewed Lansbury on September 24, 1949, he told her that the Bible does not describe Delilah as having a sister.[18] Lansbury replied, "Anyway, if Delilah didn't have a sister, Mr. DeMille has supplied one."[18]

Kasey Rogers auditioned and was screen-tested for the role of Miriam, the Danite girl who loves Samson.[19] But DeMille told her, "You're too pretty and you're too young," and Rogers was cast as a Philistine spectator in the temple scene and credited in the film as "Laura Elliot."[19] Olive Deering was cast as Miriam, instead. She later played the real biblical Miriam, sister of Moses, in DeMille's last and most successful film The Ten Commandments.

Filming[edit]

Principal photography began on October 4, 1948 and ended on December 22, 1948.[1] The scenes involving the plowed field were shot on January 4, 1949, and added scenes and closeups were shot between January 18 and January 21, 1949.[1]

DeMille's legendary status led him to play himself in Billy Wilder's film noir Sunset Boulevard.[20] The film is about a fictional silent film star named Norma Desmond (played by Gloria Swanson) who, no longer active, once worked as an actress for DeMille. For the scene where Desmond visits DeMille at Paramount, an actual set of Samson and Delilah was reconstructed to show the director at work.[20] The first day scheduled to shoot the scene was May 23, 1949, months after filming on Samson and Delilah had ended.[20] After the scene was shot in a total of four days, Wilder patted DeMille on the back and humorously told him, "Very good, my boy. Leave your name with my secretary. I may have a small part for you in my next picture."[20] Wilder later said that DeMille "took direction terrifically. He loved it. He understood it. He was very subtle."[20]

The film's special effects were supervised by Gordon Jennings.[21] The "money shot" was the toppling of the temple of Dagon, the god of the Philistines.[21] It is the penultimate scene in the film, cost $150,000, and took a year to shoot.[21] The bottom portion of the temple was constructed full-scale.[21] A separate 37-foot high model with a 17-foot high Dagon statue was built for the photographic effects.[21] The model was destroyed three times in order to shoot it through different camera angles.[21] Footage of the full-scale set was merged with footage of the scale model using a "motion repeater system" fabricated by Paramount, which enabled the exact repetition of camera moves.[21]

Release[edit]

Here—for me—is the climax of thirty-seven years of motion picture making, the dream of a lifetime come true.

Cecil B. DeMille, an excerpt of a half-page DeMille statement about Samson and Delilah published in New York newspapers in late 1949.[22]

The film received its world premiere at two of New York City's Broadway theatres, the Paramount and the Rivoli, on December 21, 1949, in order to "accommodate the 7,000,000 movie-goers in the greater New York area."[22]

Critical response[edit]

The 37-foot tall model of the temple of Dagon

Samson and Delilah received moderately positive reviews upon its release in 1949. Variety described the film as a "lusty action story with a heavy coating of torrid-zone romance."[23] The magazine also appreciated the film's cast by writing, "Victor Mature fits neatly into the role of the handsome but dumb hulk of muscle that both the Bible and DeMille make of the Samson character. Hedy Lamarr never has been more eye-filling and makes of Delilah a convincing minx. George Sanders gives a pleasantly light flavor of satirical humor to the part of the ruler, while Henry Wilcoxon is duly rugged as the military man."[23] Bosley Crowther of The New York Times admired the "dazzling displays of splendid costumes, of sumptuous settings and softly tinted flesh which Mr. DeMille's color cameras have brilliantly pageanted... Color has seldom been more lushly or unmistakably used."[24]

Film critic Leonard Maltin, in his review for Samson and Delilah, wrote: "With expected DeMille touches, this remains a tremendously entertaining film."[25]

One of the more amusing--and at the time unprintable--quotes came from Groucho Marx. In his 1967 memoir Hollywood, Garson Kanin relates how a group of reporters (who should have known better) approached the irrepressible comedian after the premiere to get his opinion of the film. His reply: "First picture I've ever seen where the male lead has bigger tits than the female."[26]

Box office[edit]

Samson and Delilah was enormously successful, taking in $11,000,000 at the box office, making it the top moneymaker for 1950.[27][28]
It was the second most popular film at the British box office that year.[29]

Accolades[edit]

Award Category Name Outcome
Academy Awards[30] Art Direction (Color) Art Direction: Hans Dreier, Walter H. Tyler
Set Decoration: Sam Comer, Ray Moyer
Won
Cinematography (Color) George Barnes Nominated
Costume Design (Color) Edith Head, Dorothy Jeakins, Elois Jenssen, Gile Steele, Gwen Wakeling Won
Music (Music Score of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture) Victor Young Nominated
Special Effects Cecil B. DeMille Productions Nominated
American Film Institute[31][32] AFI's 100 Years...100 Passions Nominated
AFI's 100 Years...100 Film Scores Victor Young Nominated
Boxoffice Magazine[33] Boxoffice Barometer Trophy Cecil B. DeMille Won
The Christian Herald and the Protestant Motion Picture Council[34] Picture of the Month Award (December 1949) Cecil B. DeMille Won
Film Francais[35] Grand Prix Cecil B. DeMille Won
Golden Globe Awards[36] Cinematography - Color George Barnes Nominated
Parents' Magazine[37] The Parents' Magazine Medal Cecil B. DeMille Won

Home media[edit]

In 2012, a 4K-scanned, digital restoration of Samson and Delilah was completed.[38] The restored version received its premiere at Cineteca Bologna's Il Cinema Ritrovato 2012.[39] Paramount Home Media Distribution released the film for the first time on DVD format, with English, French, and Spanish audio and subtitles, on March 12, 2013.[40] All previous DVDs are pirated copies from official VHS cassettes or television broadcasts of the film. The film was released on Blu-ray Disc, with the original theatrical trailer, on March 11, 2014.[41]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e Birchard, pg. 334.
  2. ^ a b Block, Alex Ben (2010). George Lucas's Blockbusting: A Decade-by-Decade Survey of Timeless Movies Including Untold Secrets of Their Financial and Cultural Success. HarperCollins. p. 323. ISBN 9780061963452. 
  3. ^ Barton, pg. 174.
  4. ^ "23rd Academy Awards Winners". www.oscars.org. 
  5. ^ a b c d e "De Mille Gets a Delilah in Oil to Start His Hunt for Actress". The Milwaukee Journal. 26 April 1948. Retrieved 15 September 2013. 
  6. ^ Thomas, Bob (21 May 1947). "Maureen for Eire Film". The Windsor Daily Star. Retrieved 18 September 2013. 
  7. ^ a b Creelman, Eileen (21 November 1949). "De Mille Discusses Changes In 'Samson and Delilah' Epic". The Youngstown Vindicator. Retrieved 18 September 2013. 
  8. ^ Morin, Relman (19 November 1935). "DeMille Gets Lots of Help Naming Samson and Delilah Characters in His Picture". St. Petersburg Times. Retrieved 15 September 2013. 
  9. ^ Barton, pg. 169.
  10. ^ a b c Shearer, ch. 15.
  11. ^ a b Birchard, pg. 336.
  12. ^ Barton, pg. 170.
  13. ^ Graham, Sheilah (11 March 1939). "Robert Morley, Hedy Lamarr Sought For DeMille Vehicle". The Miami News. Retrieved 18 September 2013. 
  14. ^ Barton, pg. 171.
  15. ^ a b McKay, pg. 74.
  16. ^ An Interview with Steeve Reeves from The Perfect Vision Magazine, Volume 6 Issue, 22 July 1994, at drkmr gallery
  17. ^ Eyman, pg. 387.
  18. ^ a b Perry, Lawrence (24 September 1949). "Film Star Glad She's Still Alive! Survives Peril of De Mille Film". The Pittsburgh Press. Retrieved 15 September 2013. 
  19. ^ a b Weaver, Tom (2002). Science Fiction Confidential: Interviews with 23 Monster Stars and Filmmakers. McFarland. p. 249. ISBN 9780786411757. 
  20. ^ a b c d e Eyman, pg. 1.
  21. ^ a b c d e f g Eyman, pg. 392.
  22. ^ a b "BoxOffice Magazine - December 10, 1949, p. 26.". BoxOffice. 
  23. ^ a b "Variety - Review: "Samson and Delilah". Variety. Retrieved 7 August 2013. 
  24. ^ Crowther, Bosley. "The New York Times - Movie Review: Samson and Delilah (1949)". The New York Times. Retrieved 7 August 2013. 
  25. ^ "Samson and Delilah (1950) - Overview". tcm.com. Retrieved 10 August 2013. 
  26. ^ "Accidental Heroes of the 20th Century: 24 - Groucho Marx, Comedian", The Independent, 23 February 1999
  27. ^ Steinberg, Cobbett (1980). Film Facts. New York: Facts on File, Inc. p. 21. ISBN 0-87196-313-2.  When a film is released late in a calendar year (October to December), its income is reported in the following year's compendium, unless the film made a particularly fast impact (p. 17)
  28. ^ "All Time Domestic Champs", Variety, 6 January 1960 p 34
  29. ^ "Vivien Leigh Actress Of The Year.". Townsville Daily Bulletin (Qld. : 1885 - 1954) (Qld.: National Library of Australia). 29 December 1951. p. 1. Retrieved 9 July 2012. 
  30. ^ "NY Times: Samson and Delilah". NY Times. Retrieved 2008-12-20. 
  31. ^ "America's Greatest Love Stories - 400 Nominated Films". afi.com. Retrieved 29 August 2013. 
  32. ^ "AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores - Honoring America's Greatest Film Music". afi.com. Retrieved 29 August 2013. 
  33. ^ "Boxoffice Magazine - December 30, 1950, pg. 16.". Boxoffice. Retrieved 29 August 2013. 
  34. ^ "Register of the Cecil B. DeMille Photographs, ca. 1900s-1950s, 1881-1959 - Awards". Retrieved 29 August 2013. 
  35. ^ McCaffrey, Donald W. (1999). Guide to the Silent Years of American Cinema. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 108. ISBN 0313303452. 
  36. ^ "Golden Globe Awards Official Website - Samson and Delilah - 1 nomination". goldenglobes.org. Retrieved 29 August 2013. 
  37. ^ "Boxoffice Magazine - December 10, 1949, pg. 31.". Boxoffice. Retrieved 29 August 2013. 
  38. ^ "PHE Press Release: Samson and Delilah". Home Theater Forum. Retrieved 1 April 2014. 
  39. ^ "Il Cinema Ritrovato 2012". Cineteca Bologna. Retrieved 1 April 2014. 
  40. ^ "Samson & Delilah DVD". TCM Shop. Retrieved 7 August 2013. 
  41. ^ Sluss, Justin. "1949 Cecil B. DeMille film “Samson and Delilah” on Blu-ray March 2014". High Def Disc News. Retrieved 1 April 2014. 

Bibliography[edit]

External links[edit]