Under the Radar

Racy Bible Tales in 'Samson and Delilah'


Bible pictures used to be big business in Hollywood and directors used Old Testament stories as a great way to have both men and women march around in the kind of skimpy costumes they'd never get away with in a picture about another era. Cecil B. DeMille's Samson and Delilah (1949) takes a relatively minor story and blows it up into an epic tale of betrayal and epically skimpy costumes. The movie's just been released on an artfully restored Blu-ray.

Delilah is played by Hedy Lamarr, the Austrian-born actress who emigrated to Hollywood to escape the Nazis and, as part of the war effort in WWII, co-invented the spread spectrum technology that later formed the basic theory behind modern cellphones. No, really. Samson is played by sword-and-sandal stalwart Victor Mature, who plays the strongman basically the same way he'd later play similar roles in The Robe, Demetrius and the Gladiators and The Egyptian.


DeMille made only two more movies after this one: The Greatest Show on Earth (a circus movie which mysteriously won the Oscar for Best Picture in 1953) and the classic The Ten Commandments with Charlton Heston, a movie incredibly familiar to anyone who grew up with a television in the '60s and 70s. Samson and Delilah is a racier practice run before the DeMille took on the epic sweep of the Moses story.


Angela Lansbury appears as Semadar, who Samson loves but kills after she betrays him. Delilah, as all Old Testament readers know, vows vengeance on a man she had secretly loved even though he was paired up with her sister. Readers of Judges know the outcome and it's not a good one for our hero. It's pretty weird to see a 24-year-old Jessica Fletcher as the hot girl in a movie.


The only extra here is the theatrical trailer, since no one from the movie (except Angela Lansbury) is still around to make any featurettes or commentary tracks. A giant box office success, this was about as racy as a movie got in 1949.

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