Though his people, the Israelites, are enslaved by the Philistines, Samson, strongest man of the tribe of Dan, falls in love with the Philistine Semadar, whom he wins by virtue of a contest of strength. But Semadar betrays him, and Samson engages in a fight with her real love, Ahtur, and his soldiers. Semadar is killed, and her sister Delilah, who had loved Samson in silence, now vows vengeance against him. She plans to seduce Samson into revealing the secret of his strength and then to betray him to the Philistine leader, the Saran.
It probably goes without saying that the 1950s were the time of the biblical film. No doubt, the Bible has actually been the source of many other movies as far back as the silent era, but it was really during this decade, while production companies struggled to compete against the growth of television, that the genre, embodied by sword-and-sandal epics, was at the height of its popularity, producing numerous box-office hits. 'Samson and Delilah' is believed to be the very film which sparked the public's interest, becoming one of the biggest hits of that decade, as well as being one of the highest-grossing films of all time. However, compared to what soon came after, such 'The Ten Commandments,' 'Ben-Hur' and 'David and Bathsheba,' the tale of romance and vengeance can seem rather dry, leaving audiences thirsty for something with more grandeur.
That's not to suggest the film lacks the sort of larger-than-life magnificence expected of the genre. In fact, its strength and much of its continued success is its production value, George Barnes's lush cinematography, the costume design and of course, the special effects. After all, this is a Cecil B. DeMille production, the renowned filmmaker known for his large-scale theatricality, extravagance and flamboyant, ornate staging. Most every scene is elaborately decorated and near ostentatious, every conversation lavished in radiant primaries and sparkling with the minutest detail carefully designed so that the suspension of disbelief is never ruined. Take for example, the tent scene where Delilah (a beautiful and superb Hedy Lamarr) seduces Samson (Victor Mature) to reveal the secret of his strength. It's a handsomely designed, orchestrated and executed sequence that showers the screen in rich colors.
Surely, what really brings down the house — or as it happens, what finally topples the temple — is the film's special-effects-laden grand finale, a literal "money shot" because it was the production's most expensive sequence. For those already familiar with the story, either the original tale or any other adapted version, this is where Samson regains his superhuman strength to destroy the Temple of Dagon by pushing against the huge stone pillars which support a humongous statue of the Mesopotamian god of fertility. Left to the imagination, it's a wild, fantastical moment signifying Samson's final dramatic act of faith. But in the hands of DeMille, working with special-effects supervisor Gordon Jennings, it becomes a dazzling, thrilling spectacle that astonishes — a combination of photographic optical effects and rather large models that ultimately makes the film quite memorable.
The plot itself, inspired by the Book of Judges and based on Vladimir Jabotinsky's novel, is unfortunately not quite as impressive and fails to leave a lasting effect. Aside from its sweeping romantic element, which is actually born out of bitterness, obsession and vengeance — always the makings for a good story — there's not really not much else to the tale. The moral, is of course apparent, with ideas about faith and the sins of vanity plainly expressed through Samson fight against the Philistines, but of more interest is Lamarr's Delilah. She is the epitome of the old proverb, "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned," and it's fairly clear DeMille also thought her more fascinating, giving the character slightly more attention than the hero. Much of the story is really her journey from heartbroken child to vengeful, betraying vixen and then, to her eventual remorse.
DeMille makes her a complicated, layered character. It's a juicy, provocative role which Hedy Lamarr chews on with remarkable exuberance and oozing with racy magnetism. It's no wonder she takes top billing, and she does a phenomenal job carrying the whole story. It's a good thing too because Victor Mature's Samson comes off largely as big, wooden, charmless giant. Mature's concentration is in keeping his chest puffed out and arms held stiff, slightly extended to his sides, as if he's imaging himself unable to fit through doors. There's a great deal to admire in 'Samson and Delilah,' particularly in Lamarr's performance, but Mature's presence is an endlessly smiling behemoth threatening to bring the show to ruins. Remarkably, other aspects of the production, like stone pillars, hold it together for a still enjoyable sword-and-sandal biblical epic.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Paramount Home Entertainment brings 'Samson and Delilah' to Blu-ray on a Region Free, BD50 disc inside a blue, eco-cutout case. At startup, viewers are taken to a static window showing a picture of the cover art with music playing in the background and menu options along the bottom.
Cecil B. DeMille's epic romance brings down the temple of Blu-ray with a glorious and mighty 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode that will have philistines falling to their knees!Likely using the same 4K-scanned restoration of the original camera negatives done in 2012, the presentation is a magnificent sight to behold with a radiant and opulent color palette.
Bold, lavish primaries pop off the screen with energy while an array of softer pastel hues washes the screen with extravagant beauty and warmth. Fine lines in the buildings and furniture are distinct, exposing the tiniest flaw in the wood and every pot mark on faux stones. Costumes are stunningly detailed, showing the softness and threading of each fabric. Flesh tones appear natural with lifelike complexions, revealing every blemish and wrinkle beneath the thick makeup. The only times of blurriness and poor resolution are understandably during editing fades, scenes with rear projection and special optical effects towards the end. But even then, the movie still looks rather fantastic.
Presented in its original 1.37:1 aspect ratio, contrast is comfortably bright, giving the high-def transfer a lovely shine and brilliance. Blacks are generally strong and pleasing, but a few times brightness levels take a small dip and make certain shadow details less visible. All things considered, however, this is a lovely and satisfying presentation.
Sadly, the Dolby TrueHD mono soundtrack is not quite the roaring, exciting and spectacular showpiece expected of such a sensational sword-and-sandal epic. And it really has nothing to do with it being a one-channel presentation. It simply boils down to an overall lack of presence and somewhat failing to engage listeners.
Dialogue reproduction is by far the best aspect, coming through cleanly and plainly in the center. But it seems as if background activity suddenly disappears, like the rest of the world vanishes while characters swoon over one another. The mid-range is not very dynamic and largely feels limited though for the most part, frequencies are delivered cleanly. However, every once in a while the upper ranges carry a bit of noise and distortion, which really only happens during the few action sequences. Bass is rather anemic, making most of the score and the grand finale feel a tad empty. In the end, it's a passable and mostly enjoyable lossless mix, but a few slightly less than pleasing moments are worth noting.
From Cecil B. DeMille, 'Samson and Delilah' is considered the motion picture which popularized the 1950s biblical film genre. It remains a satisfyingly entertaining sword-and-sandal epic, made all the more memorable by a spectacular production design and Hedy Lamarr's extraordinary performance. The Blu-ray arrives with a stunning 4K-scanned video presentation but only average audio quality and lacking in bonus material. Nonetheless, the barebones release should make fans quite happy while others will want to find a rental first.