“Before the dawn of history, ever since the first man discovered his soul, he has struggled against the forces that sought to enslave him...” – Prologue narrated by Cecil B. DeMille
Sex, Biblical Pageantry, spectacle – stir rapidly, add Cecil B. DeMille
and voila – instant box office block-buster.
With those ingredients and more, Samson and Delilah
became the number-one film of 1949, netting Paramount its biggest take of the ‘40s. Part of the reason was the cast. Brawny, beefy Victor Mature was the “and more” for the ladies in the audience. He was the hunk of the year and can easily be seen as a Rambo
prototype by today’s audiences, right down to the sweatband. As he swings the ass’s jawbone, crushing all foes, it seems likely that Sylvester Stallone
had to have had this image in mind when he created his Rambo
character, who bears more than a passing resemblance to Victor Mature. Overwhelmed by the attention afforded him by the females, Mature relinquished his title as “America’s Number One Sweater Boy”. Hollywood Legends quoted him as stating at the time that “I can’t help it if I’ve got something more. I’m tired of being nothing but a male strip-teaser”.
As one-half of the title role, Mature’s Samson was up to his ass’s jawbone in women. Hedy Lamarr, at age 36, seemed a bit old for the part of Delilah, but even more bizarre was the casting of Angela Lansbury
as her older sister, Semadar, since she was only 24.
Notable among others in the cast was George Reeves in the minor part of the Wounded Messenger. Reeves, television fans will recall, later became a muscle man in his own right when he landed the part of Superman.
The one-time wrestler seemed to have a promising acting career in the late ‘30s, but his film roles were basically supporting ones, including a brief but memorable cameo as one of the Tarleton Twins in Gone With The Wind
. Reeves also appeared in From Here to Eternity
. He starred as the Man of Steel in the weekly Superman
television series from 1951 to 1957, and the handsome actor eventually found himself typecast after this long TV stint as Superman.
It eventually became too much for him to cope with, and Reeves took his own life in 1959.
DeMille, of course, was the acknowledged master of Biblical epic, having already made one version of The Ten Commandments
in 1923 (another would follow in the ‘50s), as well as other religious spectacles such as The King of Kings, The Sign of the Cross
, and The Crusades
. Of his 18 sound films, 12 are built around historical situations. Samson and Delilah
helped kick off the ‘50s trend of Biblical spectaculars.
While DeMille excelled at managing crowd scenes, he was lax in other areas, for example, the unconvincing scene where Samson has to wrestle with and kill the lion. The poor beast was noticeably tranquilized into la-la-land while Samson appeared to vanquish the animal, complete with dubbed roars. Like Superman
he bends rather fake-looking steel (or iron) in his bare hands. And the effect of his pulling down the temple would have been more believable if it had not been supported by two tiny pillars.
Critics were mixed in their appraisal of Samson and Delilah
. Time noted: “even lovers of cinematic art who recognize Samson and Delilah as run-of-DeMille epic should enjoy it as a simple-minded spree. In its way, it is as much fun as a robust, well-organized circus.” Puns of DeMille’s name abounded, as in The New York Times review; “If ever there was a movie for DeMillions, here it is...Victor Mature as Samson is a dashing and dauntless hunk of man...Hedy Lamarr as Delilah is a sleek and bejeweled siren whose charms have a strictly occidental and twentieth-century grace and clarity.”
In 1984, Samson and Delilah
was remade as a movie for television, with Antony Hamilton as the strongman and Belinda Bauer as the Philistine temptress. Shown occasionally for late-night viewing, it is worth catching for a special reason—the part of Samson’s father was played by Victor Mature, still going strong after all those years.