“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

“Sullivan’s Travels” (1941) starring Joel McCrea & Veronica Lake

In Preston Sturges’ highly influential film, John Sullivan (Joel McCrea) is a wealthy/naive/30-ish director of comedies who wants to make a serious pictured focused of the troubles of the poor. Despite the protests of his producers, Sullivan sets off on a journey, wearing a tramp’s (homeless man’s) clothes and carrying only a dime! Along the way, he meets a beautiful/spirited/failed actress- Veronica Lake (only 19 y.o.)- and gets more hard knocks than he bargained for. In 2007, the AFI ranked Sullivan’s Travels as the #61 Greatest Movie of All Time. This film was selected into the National Film Registry in 1990 for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” Jerry Seinfeld said for what it’s about, Sullivan’s Travels is his favorite movie.

Sullivan: I’m going out on the road to find out what it’s like to be poor and needy and then I’m going to make a picture about it.

Burrows (his butler): If you’ll permit me to say so, sir, the subject is not an interesting one. The poor know all about poverty and only the morbid rich would find the topic glamorous.

Sturges may’ve got the idea for this movie from stories he heard from actor John Garfield, who lived as a hobo, riding trains and hitchhiking cross-country for a brief time in the 1930s. In his autobiography,  Sturges explained that wrote the film as a reaction to the “preaching” he found in other comedy films “which seemed to have abandoned the fun in favour of the message.” Film buffs will notice how Sturges pokes fun at The Grapes of Wrath and mentions (directors) Frank Capra and Ernst Lubitsch.

Sullivan: …I’m going to find out how it feels to be in trouble. Without friends, without credit, without checkbook, without name. Alone.

The Girl: And I’ll go with you.

Sullivan: How can I be alone if you’re with me?

Sturges wrote the film w/  McCrea in mind, which pleasantly surprised the actor. He credited the director w/ instilling confidence and treating him as if he were a bigger star than Clark Gable. Sullivan plans to make O Brother, Where Art Thou? (a title borrowed by Joel and Ethan Coen for their 2000 film). The author of the book Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? is “Sinclair Beckstein,” an mash-up of Upton Sinclair, Sinclair Lewis, and John Steinbeck. Directors Peter Bogdanovich and Stephen Spielberg have spoken re: how this film influences their work.

Policeman: How does the girl fit into the picture?

Sullivan: There’s always a girl in the picture. What’s the matter, don’t you go to the movies?

Barbara Stanwyck was Sturges’ first choice for The Girl; studio execs suggested Ida Lupino, Lucille Ball, Frances Farmer and Ruby Keeler. Lake was pregnant during the making of this movie (6-8 mos)! The only people (in the production) who knew were the costume designer Edith Head and Sturges’s then-wife, Louise. Head designed costumes to hide the condition. Lake was afraid that she wouldn’t be allowed to make the film if her advanced state of pregnancy was known (b/c of the physical demands of the role). The Girl has some clever lines which may make modern viewers think of the #MeToo movement!

Filled with pathos and poignancy, Sturges’ film is an insightful sojourn across the territory of the human condition. It’ll make you laugh and it’ll make you cry, as along with Sullivan you come face to face with some hard truths about reality.

Some very enjoyable references to socially conscious movie-making, to Ernst Lubitsch in particular, make this particularly fun with some knowledge of the period and the films mentioned, albeit not necessary. And almost worth seeing alone for Veronica Lake’s memorable performance as a failed starlet.

Sturges’ most daringly double-edged film, laced with bitter ironies. It is also arguably the most audacious film in Hollywood’s (mainstream) history, audacious because it takes the kinds of risks that can so easily fall flat on their face, and right until the final image, as Sturges becomes increasingly ambitious and multi-layered, you wonder how long he can keep it up without getting ridiculous. It never does…

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

“The Naked Street” (1955) starring Farley Granger, Anthony Quinn, Anne Bancroft, & Peter Graves

Expect a fast progression, some good solid filming, and acting that holds its own. The director, Maxwell Shane, is really more of a screenwriter, and so it figures the writing here is pretty good (he co-wrote, too).

Quinn is wonderful as the tough gangster who isn’t afraid to push people around to get what he wants. For 1955 his performance is pretty raw and rough…

…Quinn delivers a scary and riveting performance. The actor’s just back from Italy where he starred in the powerful classic La Strada (1954). So maybe he was trying to show Hollywood a thing or two, since he delivers a lot more than the role requires. Then there’s Bancroft, already a magnetic personality, and on her way to an Oscar-studded career.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

In this short/lesser-known noir film, Brooklyn-raised gangster, Phil Regal (Anthony Quinn), finds out that his younger sister, Rosalie (Anne Bancroft), is pregnant by a local punk, Nicky Bradna (Farley Granger). She insists that she loves this man, though he’s on death row for a murder committed during a robbery. Regal’s henchmen scare all the witnesses to change their testimony, so Nicky is released, and free to marry Rosalie. Soon, Phil regrets what he did for Nicky, who isn’t content to be an honest working man/devoted husband. A young journalist, Joe McFarlan (Peter Graves), is also investigating Regal’s business activities.

We see how criminals don’t just come out of the blue, but are a product of their environment (which must’ve been risky to show in the mid-50s). The story itself is far-fetched, but the acting and dialogue will keep you interested. Quinn (around 40 y.o.) creates a compelling underworld character who’ll go to any length to protect his sweet immigrant mom and naive little sister. I got a kick out of seeing 23 y.o. Bancroft; she was striking w/ large expressive eyes. I learned that both her parents were Italian immigrants to NYC; Quinn’s heritage is Mexican (mother) and Irish (father). Graves (younger brother of Gunsmoke‘s James Armess) looks handsome in a conventional way (athletic/square-jawed/thick hair); later he’d become famous on TV also (Mission: Impossible). This was one of Granger’s last (movie) roles; he decided to focus on theater soon after (which was his first love). Fans of soap operas may also recognize a sassy/young Jeanne Cooper (in a small/uncredited role); she was also the mother of L.A. Law star Corbin Bernsen.

My 1,000th Post: “While the City Sleeps” (1956) starring Dana Andrews, Rhonda Fleming, George Sanders, Vincent Price, Ida Lupino, & John Barrymore, Jr.

…tempers hard-core noir with more mainstream motives. It’s a slick, entertaining, and at times even scary movie.

With an intriguing plot and an impressive ensemble approach with the casting, this film offered much and, although it could have been darker in tone, it still offered a lot of potential to be a slick urban mystery. 

Hitchcock of course treated the subject of a mother-fixated psychopath just a bit better a few years later…

I did like how Lang seemed to enjoy himself thumbing his nose at the production code.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

The main plot concerns what happens at Kyne News Service after the founder/boss suddenly dies. Walter Kyne (Vincent Price), a playboy who doesn’t know much re: his father’s business, decides to have a contest among the heads of its three divisions for a new executive role. Mark Loving (George Sanders) runs the news wire, Jon Day Griffith (Thomas Mitchell) runs the newspaper New York Sentinel, and the paper’s art director is Harry Kritzer (James Craig). Walter’s wife, Dorothy (Rhonda Fleming), is having an affair w/ Harry, who is also the best friend of her husband. While these men one up each other, anchorman Edward Mobley (Dana Andrews), pursues the story of a murderer targeting young women living alone. Ed is trying to convince his girlfriend/Loving’s secretary, Nancy Liggett (Sally Forrest), to marry him. The gossip columnist, Mildred Donner (Ida Lupino), may be seeing Mark, but she also has eyes for Ed.

From 1936 to 1956, German director Fritz Lang made some psychologically astute movies, often working w/ pulp fiction (lightweight material). Most of these were thrillers, dealing w/ the psychosis of the killer. Plot never really interested Lang; he focused more on the details and characterizations. The serial killer here (played by John Barrymore, Jr.) is never the focus of attention. This movie was based on a real 1946 murder case, when William Heirens killed three women and left a message (in lipstick on a bathroom mirror) after the second murder. He urged the police to catch him before he killed again; the press dubbed him “The Lipstick Killer.”

As TCM’s Eddie Muller noted, usually noirs don’t have this many big names. The lighting (for the most part) is flat, like you’d see on a ’50s TV show, Muller explained. I noticed the “K” logo for Kyne Enterprise looks similar to one in Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane (also produced by RKO). The first half presents the POV of those who report the news, so if you’re interested in journalism and corporate intrigue, check it out. I watched it twice in the past two years; I didn’t appreciate it much the first time.

After 6+ mos. of quarantine life, I’m having a tough time staying positive. Also, have you noticed how much laundry and dishes there are to do!? I’d like to cook more, but my work has become quite busy (and stressful) this Summer/Fall. I feel tired pretty much all the time these days. This blog is helping me to stay sane (no joke). Thanks to all who are reading, subscribing, sharing, and liking my posts! I hope you all stay safe!

Hitchcock’s “Stage Fright” (1950) starring Jane Wyman, Marlene Dietrich, Michael Wilding, & Richard Todd

Commodore Gill: The best thing you can do, my girl, is go back to the Academy; practice your soul-shaking antics in surroundings where they can’t do any harm.

Jonathan Cooper (Richard Todd) is wanted for questioning by the police who suspect him of killing the husband of a famous theater actress. His friend Eve Gill (Jane Wyman), offers to help him hide; she’s infatuated w/ Jonathan. He says that his lover, actress Charlotte Inwood (Marlene Dietrich- fabulous at age 49), is the real murderer. He even carries a dress smeared w/ blood! Eve’s father, Commodore Gill (Alistair Sim- famed as Scrooge in A Christmas Carol), reluctantly decides to let Jonathan stay in his seaside cottage. Eve wants to investigate the murder herself! She follows one of the cops in charge of the case, Detective Inspector Wilfred Smith (Michael Wilding- who later became one of Elizabeth Taylor’s husbands), to a pub. To get close to Charlotte, Eve becomes a substitute for her maid/dresser, Nellie Goode (Kay Walsh). Eve’s unsuspecting mother, Mrs. Gill (Sybil Thorndyke), thinks that her daughter is busy w/ classes at R.A.D.A.

D.I. Smith: Perhaps you’re allergic to bars. Look, would you feel less uneasy if I sat with you? Or, more uneasy? Perhaps you’re allergic to strange men too.

Eve Gill: No, I love strange men! I mean, I’m very fond of them.

Sir Alfred Hitchcock’s 21 y.o. daughter, Patricia, was studying at R.A.D.A. (one of the settings for the movie) at this time. He wanted to spend some time w/ her (after being based in Hollywood for several years); Pat has a small part in the movie. Hitch also had Pat double for Wyman in the early scenes that required “dangerous driving” in the opening. Pat is given the unflattering name of “Chubby Bannister,” which was a term of endearment according to Hitch (b/c she was “a girl you could always lean on”).

Charlotte Inwood [to Eve]: Oh, darling, don’t confide in me. Pour some tea will you?

The novel upon which this movie was based, Man Running by Selwyn Jepson, appeared in serial form in Collier’s Magazine (August 9, 1947 to September 13, 1947). Hitch thought of Stage Fright as “more than a murder mystery, it is a critical examination of the acting craft” (a subject that long fascinated him). Eve wears costumes, puts on an accent, and creates a role for herself. This movie is significant b/c it broke a (long-established) cinematic convention that flashbacks were always a true account of earlier events. In Stage Fright, the opening flashback turns out to be a lie, which confused then angered viewers of that day (as they felt cheated)!

Ladies must be well fed. -Hitch commented, having steaks and roasts flown in from the U.S. for his two leading ladies (while food was being rationed in London)

Wyman (who had achieved success the previous year at the box office) worked for weeks in to perfect her Cockney accent; Walsh coached her each day after filming was completed. Wyman was required to appear frumpy/dowdy when acting as the maid, but she was reluctant (when Dietrich appeared so glamorous). Hitch said that Wyman would cry when she’d see Dietrich looking glamorous on-set when she had to wear her maid’s disguise. Much to Hitch’s bemusement, Wyman secretly wore make-up or tried other tricks to improve her appearance (so failing to maintain character).

Eve Gill [in disguise]: My Dad says that man on the run might turn up here. Might even get into the dressing room. Might even murder me, madame.

Charlotte Inwood: The scene of the crime, the murderer returns to – not the theater.

In a rare move, Hitch allowed Dietrich creative control, esp. in how her scenes were lit. Dietrich learned re: cinematography from directors Josef von Sternberg (also one of her exes) and Günther Rittau; so Hitch let her to work w/ the film’s cinematographer, Wilkie Cooper, to light and set her scenes the way that she wished. Dietrich’s costumes were designed by Christian Dior. One of the songs that Dietrich sings is Édith Piaf’s signature song, La Vie en Rose. Dietrich and Piaf were close friends; Piaf granted her permission to use the song. Dietrich’s The Laziest Girl in Town (written by Cole Porter) is spoofed in Blazing Saddles (1974). According to Dietrich’s autobiography, she began her love affair w/ Wilding while making this movie.

I heard she’d only wanted to do it if she were billed above me, and she got her wish. Hitchcock didn’t think much of her. She looks too much like a victim to play a heroine, and God knows she couldn’t play a woman of mystery, that was my part. Miss Wyman looks like a mystery nobody has bothered to solve. -Dietrich on working w/ Wyman

[1] It is the masterful presence of the great Alastair Sim, however, that makes Stage Fright one of Hitchock’s most enjoyable to watch. He is equally at home playing comic relief as he is to serving as the plot glue that makes Eve’s capers possible.

[2] Great use of silent sequences, close ups, slow motion, black humor, and mood lighting… this murder mystery offers all kinds of plot twists and sly humor even though you know the outcome long before it unspools.

[3] The performances here are all excellent, especially Jane Wyman and Marlene Dietrich as Charlotte Inwood, perhaps the laziest girl in town, but also the most flamboyant. The secondary characters are also in fine form and make memorable impressions that adds to the enjoyment factor of this film.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews