BluRay/DVD Reviews

SAMSON AND DELILAH

By • May 11th, 2013 •

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“I was doing a vaudeville act with a comedian named Dick Burney. We would go to all the different circuits on weekends. One of Cecil B. DeMille’s talent scouts saw me and brought me into Paramount, New York City, for a screen test for SAMSON AND DELILAH. I did the test in my street clothes but I passed it, and he sent me a seven-year contract. So, on my 22nd birthday, I left New York City on a plane to Hollywood and got myself a little apartment within walking distance of Paramount Studios, because I didn’t have a car.

I arrived at Paramount and walked into Mr. DeMille’s office. He had five two-foot-by-three-foot blow-ups of pictures on his wall. The pictures were of Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Dorothy Lamour, Alan Ladd, and me, in a pose called ‘Perfection in the Clouds,’ where I’m standing with my hands over my head stretching toward the sky. And he said, “This is my Samson.’

Then he added, ‘But you must realize that the motion picture camera puts on fifteen pounds, so you’re going to have to lose fifteen pounds. You understand?’ I said, ‘Yes, sir.’

He gave me a coach who would spend a couple of hours a day with me and he’d invite me to have lunch with him every day. All the starlets on the lot came up to me and said, ‘Why don’t you take me to lunch today?’ I couldn’t figure out why they were so interested in me. I thought, I’m a pretty good-looking guy and all, but not this much. I found out later the main reason was that they wanted to have lunch with Mr. DeMille, because they’d been there for years and never even met the man.

So I’d lose five pounds, then I’d go out to the beach on Sunday and all my friends would say, ‘Steve, you’re looking terrible. You’re ruining yourself. You’re the world’s greatest; what do you want to be just another actor for? Why don’t you stay in this field?’ Then I’d go back to the studio and DeMille would say, ‘Look, you’ve only lost five pounds, and I’ve got to start the picture about three or four months from now.’

Once a week I would have to do a skit for him. I would study it, and they’d give me other actors to work with. I was on a stage where they had a glass window between the seats and me, and I couldn’t see him. I did this on and off, I guess, for about three months. Then he called me into his office and said, ‘You’ve lost seven pounds in three months. Some days your skits are really good; and some days they’re terrible. It looks like you’re preoccupied with something. I’m going to start the picture a month from now, and I’m going to have to use Victor Mature. He’s not ideal for it, but he’s an experienced actor, and I can depend on him’”

Steve Reeves related this story to me some years ago, and it’s ironic, since SAMSON AND DELILAH, a film so deliciously DeMille, and overflowing with money well spent, really is the granddaddy of the Sword and Sandal genre, which held Reeves on its shoulders as HERCULES in the first of those Italian-produced films.

And what was Reeves’ reaction when he saw DeMille’s film in the theater?

“Nothing against Victor Mature, but I learned that a person has to have the sympathy of the public. In SAMSON AND DELILAH, in the scene where they blinded him, there were little ‘oohs’ and ‘ahs,’ but within six months I saw CAPTAIN FROM CASTILLE with Tyrone Power, where he gets wounded on the side of his head, and all the women in the audience went ‘Ohhhhh?’ Tyrone Power had the sympathy of the audience and Victor Mature didn’t – at least in that picture.”

Looking at it now, so many decades later, Mature (who apparently didn’t take himself or his career too seriously) could act, and he does a lot of quiet, subtle stuff here, more than making up for his non-Olympian physique, though Groucho Marx is rumored to have said to DeMille, at the premiere when the director spotted him and asked him what he thought of the film, “Well, there’s just one problem, C.B. No picture can hold my interest where the leading man’s tits are bigger than the leading lady’s.” Supposedly DeMille was not pleased. Supposedly Mature was.

Hedy Lamarr couldn’t act, but she was exquisitely beautiful and radiated a degree of hardness in her demeanor, thus making her a perfect Hollywood Delilah. George Sanders as the Saran of Gaza seemed to be walking through this role, unfortunately, but despite his apathy, his remarkable voice sometimes succeeded where his energy-level failed.

This was probably one of those films where audiences applauded at the color, which they were known to do in the late thirties and forties. The costumes, sets, and effects are all drenched in lush primary colors. The DVD handles many of them well, but there are times when the restoration team didn’t quite come up to Technicolor’s cinematic bravado.

In our era of CGI, it’s a special pleasure to see all the physical effects. I showed S&D to my Film History class, and while they were amused by its hokey-ness, and didn’t buy one speeded-up shot (which was acceptable back in the day), they collectively held their breath when the pillar Samson was pushing moved, and it wasn’t a computer effect.

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