Judge Bill Gibron once smited his enemies with the jawbone of an ass...or maybe it was the assbone of a jaw.
Like Romeo and Juliet With Extra Cheese.
It's rare when I discuss my personal feelings about a film. No, not my learned critical opinion, but my actual individual memories and reminiscences. I tend to avoid the dreaded "I" since it takes things out of the realm of real journalist (if reviewing movies is considered the same) and into the sphere of reflection and reporting. I don't lament those who do use it, however. They want to reach their audience and believe that one on one is better than analysis and attitude. They are probably right.
Anyway, I have a silly soft spot in my heart for Samson and Delilah. Along with the Jackie Gleason weeper Gigot, it was one of the few films I shared with my late father. Dad has been dead now for going on 17 years, and yet I can vividly remember his comments as we settled in for this Cecil B. DeMille "classic" (and I will clean up the language for those of you sensitive to such things).
"ARGH! Victor F-ing Mature. Whoever thought this guy should be an actor…"
"Yea! Yea! Yea! Hedy Lamar. Look at the (body or various body parts) on her…"
"I'd let her cut my g-d hair…if I had any…"
"Mature is supposed to be some sort of strong man? My kid has more f-ing muscles than him…"
"(Shoot)! Look at that temple crumble. How'd they do that?"
As a boy of about eight, sitting starry-eyed in my dad's rare presence, I drank in every comment. To this day, I still think Ms. Lamar is a sexual knockout in this film while Mature looks like someone who should be selling shoes, not trying to pull down an entire Philistine stone works. The acting is, as with most Golden Era efforts, a tad melodramatic and mannered, but DeMille knew spectacle. He staged excellent battle sequences and the last act demolition still looks pretty good by today's chaotic CG standards.
The story is simple. Celebrated strongman Samson (Mature, My Darling Clementine) gets engaged to a Philistine woman named Semadar (Angela Landsbury, The Manchurian Candidate). An incident at their wedding party turns our hero into a wanted man. The Saran of Gaza (George Sanders, All About Eve) wants the fugitive and hopes his own people will turn him in. Eventually, he is captured, much to the delight of Semadar's sister, Delilah (Lamar, My Favorite Spy). Hoping to defeat him and seeking payback, she seduces him and cuts off his hair. That's bad, because Samson believes the source of his power is in his pompadour. Blinded, he is tormented by the Philistines. Eventually, Delilah falls in love with her mark and their coupling leads to a tragic end.
Of course, some 45 years after the fact, I am now drawn to different aspects of this endearing experience. For one, it's amusing to see George Sanders and Angela Lansbury, about as proper and British as you can get, playing the roles of swarthy desert dwellers—or something like that. With this being DeMille, such jaw-dropping juxtapositions are to be expected. Similarly, if you pay close attention, you can see West Side Story and Twin Peaks' Russ Tamblyn as Saul, and future TV Superman George Reeves in a minor role. Finally, DeMille's production design is without equal. This man lavished money on his movies and Samson and Delilah shows it (the film also won two Oscars in the process).
Viewed without the profane running commentary of my father, I still enjoyed Samson and Delilah. Yes, it's incredibly hokey and dopey as Hell in parts. Yes, DeMille is the king of saying "Yes" to each and every cinematic success he can conceive of. Victor Mature remains a questionable leading man to me, even if I celebrate his later years chutzpah for appearing in the Monkee's experimental masterpiece, Head, but there's no denying the chemistry between he and Ms. Lamar. Finally, it's probably interesting to note that, as a bald man, the concept of having my virility tied to my hairline has always been a foolish fabled fallacy. I could have Brad Pitt's locks and still suffer at the hands of some of these solider extras.
Now, the not so good news. Paramount is proposing that this new DVD release has been "meticulously restored" and for the most part, they're telling the truth. Even in a format flummoxing full screen transfer (the movie is from 1949, after all), the image is startling. Colors pop, details are definitive, and every dollar DeMille spent on the film is right up there on the screen. Even the Dolby Digital Mono soundtrack comes across as clean and crisp. So what's wrong with this release? Well, there are NO EXTRAS. None. Paramount couldn't even put together a decent set of bonus features for this exceedingly fun film. It seems strange to put so much time and effort into an excellent transfer and image and not give the end product some decent context. Oh well…
Call it campy or kitschy or cheesier than a Papa John's pizza, but for me Samson and Delilah will always be that rarity in my childhood, that moment when I shared cinema with my dad and we both enjoyed the experience. It's epic spectacle of the most hyper melodramatic kind. It's also a well made film full of unexpected delights.
Not guilty. Enjoy!
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