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Friday, November 8, 2013

SAMSON AND DELILAH (1949)

Cecil B. DeMille ended the 1940s, his most ludicrous decade, with this ridiculously popular, not to say ridiculous, Biblical number. Shot largely on airless soundstage sets, to match the clunky airless dialogue, the film spends most of its energy trying to redeem Hedy Lamarr’s Delilah from deepest villainy. But in the recent, whoppingly bright DVD restoration, Hedy looks so damn pleased to be back on an A-list movie project, the real redemption isn’t for her character, but for her career. (She’s like a slightly less deluded Norma Desmond in a return to the limelight nearly as brief.) Victor Mature’s Samson, as beefy & thick of neck as a linebacker in the off-season, got scant help from his director after he nixed wrestling with a live lion. The stuffed replacement DeMille gave him is infamous in Hollywood, but then, the rest of the action staging is just as weak. Flat as this all is, and with acting straight out of a local bible pageant, DeMille’s storytelling instincts remain in place and he manages to carry you along, even if you giggle on the way there. Things liven up for the third act, with a couple of darkly lit scenes for a blinded Samson at the grindstone to add some much needed vivant to the tableaux before we head off for that big temple finish. It’s all something of a trial run for THE TEN COMMANDMENTS/’56, with many a similar role & situation, except everyone keeps saying ‘Oh, Samson, Samson’ instead of ‘Oh, Moses, Moses.

DOUBLE-BILL: As the Saran of Gaza, a King who can never possess Delilah’s love as Samson does, George Sanders has the role Yul Brynner would get in THE TEN COMMANDMENTS/’56. But Sanders, who’s the best thing in here, would reprise nearly the same role in IVANHOE/’52, now pining for a young Elizabeth Taylor.

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