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Samson & Delilah (DVD Review)

1 Apr, 2013 By: Mike Clark

$19.99 DVD
Not rated.
Stars Hedy Lamarr, Victor Mature, George Sanders, Angela Lansbury.

Beyond imploring us to be very, very careful in our choice of hairstylists, the moral of C.B. DeMille’s penultimate Biblical spectacular would seem to be: Steer clear of Philistine chicks. Even the sister who doesn’t end up with Samson (a memorably blond Angela Lansbury as snooty Semadar) ends up being dispatched in one of the most memorable exits DeMille ever staged. (It would have been fun to see Lansbury’s character in The Manchurian Candidate go out the same way.) As for the family’s other vixen … well, it’s actually Hedy Lamarr who gets top-billed here, which perhaps gives some indication of just how much blood ends up on Delilah’s eventually repenting hands. Still, Victor Mature was a slightly bigger star at this stage of the game, and it is Samson, of course, who adds a new dimension to the term “bringing down the house.”

According to the AFI Catalog for the 1940s, the director actually thought about casting Betty Hutton as the temptress, which by comparison makes Lamarr almost come off as Shakespearean. As for Mature, he probably provides some ammo here for detractors who said he was no actor, an assessment with which he concurred. But I always thought that despite a flair for self-parody that almost attained Dean Martin levels, Vic could read impossible beefcake dialogue with fairly impressive conviction — even if the stuffed lion he hugs here (while an obvious stunt double handles the tough stuff) isn’t much of a brief for the defense. Nor is Groucho Marx’s oft-quoted remark about being disinclined to enjoy a movie where the actor had bigger breasts than his leading lady.

Lansbury and especially George Sanders (as “the Saran of Gaza”) give legitimately rich performances, though this is one of those spectaculars you watch to a great degree for the décor; the movie won Oscars for art/set decoration and costumes, while one of its three additional nominations went to George Barnes’s Technicolor cinematography. S&D is so good-looking that even my old laserdisc looks surprisingly OK — though it is, of course, nothing compared with the spiff-up it’s gotten here, which is Technicolor the way it ought to be.  But there is, of course, no ball Paramount can’t drop when it comes to respecting its own library — so there is no Blu-ray release of a movie that slam-dunk would have been one of the greatest-looking high-def releases of the year.

Running nearly 2¼ hours with its Victor Young overture whose main theme Milt Jackson and West Montgomery later recorded as a jazz tune, the picture feels longer than the 90-minutes longer The Ten Commandments. But it is a still a movie for which many of a certain age still harbor affection — and not just those who saw it at the time. Paramount gave S&D a successful 1959 re-issue in first-run theaters — pairing it with the 1955 Kirk Douglas-Silvana Mangano Ulysses, whose U.S. distribution rights eventually passed on to Warner by the time the home entertainment industry commenced. It was a shrewd move because Joe Levine and Warner Bros. had made a ton off Steve Reeves and Hercules earlier in the year.


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