“Samson and Delilah” (1949) starring Hedy Lamarr, Victor Mature, George Sanders, & Angela Lansbury

Samson: You came to this house as wedding guests. Fire and death are your gifts to my bride. For all that I do against you now, I shall be blameless. I’ll give you back fire for fire, and death for death!

Samson (Victor Mature) plans to marry Semadar (Angela Lansbury), though the Danites (his tribe) are ruled by the Philistines (her tribe). Also, the Danites believe in one god, while the Philistines worship many gods. Samson jumps over the wall of her house to spend time w/ Semadar, interrupting Ahtur (Henry Wilcoxon), the prince who called to court. Semadar’s younger sister, Delilah (Hedy Lamarr), is secretly in love w/ Samson; he doesn’t pay her much attention. Samson asks the local ruler, The Saran of Gaza (George Sanders), for Semadar’s hand in marriage after defeating a warrior in a test of strength. At their wedding banquet, Semadar betrays Samson, and a violent brawl breaks out among the men. Semadar is killed, as is her father; their house and lands are burned! Delilah vows revenge on Samson; she’ll find out why he’s so strong, then betray him to The Saran.

Prince Ahtur: This Samson has some unknown power, some secret that gives him superhuman strength. No man can stand against him.

Delilah: Perhaps he’ll fall before a woman. Even Samson’s strength must have a weakness. There isn’t a man in the world who would not share his secrets with some woman.

Victor Mature won the role of Samson over Burt Lancaster, who was dealing with a back injury and also considered too young. According to Scott Eyman’s biography of Cecil B. DeMille, the real reason that Lancaster did not get the role of Samson was due to his politics; Lancaster was liberal while DeMille was a conservative (as was Mature). Wilcoxon, Robert Ryan, and Robert Mitchum were also considered for Samson. Mature refused to wrestle a tame Hollywood lion; a stuntman is intercut w/ close-ups of the actor wrestling w/ fur.

Her performance was definitely the main asset of the film, one for which she deserved an Academy Award nomination. -Christopher Young, Hedy Lamarr’s biographer

Though cast as the older sister, Lansbury (23 y.o.) was 10 yrs younger than Lamarr (33 y.o.)- who hailed from Austria and was Jewish. Other candidates for the role of Delilah were Jean Simmons, Lana Turner, and Rita Hayworth. Yvonne De Carlo (who later starred in DeMille’s The Ten Commandments) also wanted to play Delilah. Lamarr wears 10 costumes (designed by Edith Head); the peacock gown and cape included 2,000 peacock feathers. Before the scene where Samson kisses Delilah, much discussion took place as to whether a man would kiss a woman w/ his eyes closed or open. Mature commented “a fellow would be a chump to close his eyes” when kissing Lamarr. In the final shot, Mature closed, opened, and then closed his eyes again.

Samson: Your arms were quicksand. Your kiss was death. The name Delilah will be an everlasting curse on the lips of men.

Samson and Delilah was the top-grossing movie of 1949 ($28M). DeMille wanted to shoot the background scenes in Israel, but couldn’t b/c of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. He decided to send a camera crew to North Africa for 2 mos; they brought back footage shot in Morocco and Algeria, as well as props. Despite this Biblical account of their battle against the Philistines, the oppressed people were never referred to as “Israelites”, “Hebrews”, or “Jewish” people. This omission (or avoidance) occurred in an era when studio chiefs were very sensitive to the fact that Hollywood was generally considered to be “run by Jews.” This movie was in post-production when Sunset Blvd. (1950) was being shot at Paramount. In the scene where Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) visits a soundstage to meet w/ DeMille, the set of Delilah’s tent was reassembled to show the director/producer at work. 

I find the American public fairly true to corn. It grows all across the great Midwest. It’s on the ground and in the hearts of the people. I’m very proud to say you’ll find a good deal of it my pictures. -Cecille B. DeMille, commenting on the “corny” reputation of this movie

[1] Victor Mature, a fine physical specimen of the male physique, seems to fit perfectly into the role of the brooding and oft-troubled Samson. George Sanders is superb as the Saran of Gaza. The absolute star of the show is the movie’s other lead actor, Hedy Lamarr… sets the screen on fire as the sensual and wicked Delilah…

[2] Acting honors in this go to George Sanders as the Saran of Gaza, Philistine ruler and sophisticated cad. This was the height of Sanders career, he received a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for All About Eve the same year. I think the Saran and Addison DeWitt would have understood each other very well.

[3] Hedy Lamarr took the title role of Delilah and made it her own… She was full and sparkling as the Philistine temptress, the central figure of Samson’s last love story…

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

One thought on ““Samson and Delilah” (1949) starring Hedy Lamarr, Victor Mature, George Sanders, & Angela Lansbury

  1. well, it’s not like most of the US was also somehow not Christian! I find the twentieth century fascination with these biblical dramas fascinating, though.

    Liked by 1 person

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