Under the Radar

Racy Bible Tales in 'Samson and Delilah'

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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