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Samson and Delilah DVD Review

Samson and Delilah (1949) movie poster Samson and Delilah

Theatrical Release: December 21, 1949 / Running Time: 134 Minutes / Rating: Not Rated

Director: Cecil B. DeMille / Writers: Jesse L. Lasky Jr., Frederick M. Frank (screenplay); Harold Lamb, Vladimir Jabotinsky (original treatments)

Cast: Hedy Lamarr (Delilah), Victor Mature (Samson), George Sanders (The Saran of Gaza), Angela Lansbury (Semadar), Henry Wilcoxon (Prince Ahtur), Olive Deering (Miriam), Fay Holden (Hazeleponit), Julia Faye (Hisham), Russ Tamblyn (Saul), William Farnum (Tubal), Lane Chandler (Teresh), Moroni Olsen (Targil), Francis J. McDonald (Storyteller), William Davis (Garmiskar), John Miljan (Lesh Lakish), Arthur Q. Bryan (Fat Philistine), Laura Elliot (Spectator), Victor Varconi (Lord of Ashdod), John Parrish (Lord of Gath), Frank Wilcox (Lord of Ekron), Russell Hicks (Lord of Ashkelon), Boyd Davis (First Priest of Dagon), Fritz Leiber (Lord Sharif), Mike Mazurki (Leader of Philistine Soldiers), Davison Clark (Merchant Prince), George Reeves (Wounded Messenger), Pedro de Cordoba (Bar Simon), Frank Reicher (Village Barber), Colin Tapley (Prince)

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It seems absurd for an old movie to finally make its DVD debut in 2013 with a little fanfare, a touted restoration, and no concurrent Blu-ray option. But Samson and Delilah hails from Paramount Home Entertainment,
a studio that recently broke from its monthly catalog Blu-ray strategy and signed the rights to most of its film holdings over to Warner Home Video. That move made the big bigger; Warner already had by far the biggest library of any major studio (and one they mind-bogglingly deny this site access to in favor of scarcely-trafficked blogs). Meanwhile, reflecting their thinned out theatrical schedule, Paramount's own home video output has slowed to a crawl.

As one of the best-known works of showman director-producer Cecil B. DeMille (The Ten Commandments), the 1949 Biblical epic Samson and Delilah is no obscure film, although sixteen years of curious unavailability on the world's leading home video format has no doubt reduced its reputation. Now it arrives on DVD at a time when catalog sales continue to plummet, surrendering retail space and giving rise to manufacturing on demand while collectors have turned their attentions and wallets to Blu-ray Disc.

Delilah (Hedy Lamarr) clings to the strong arms that Samson (Victor Mature) used to slay a lion. Samson may have her heart, but the Saran of Gaza (George Sanders) has Delilah's (Hedy Lamarr) loyalty.

Attributed to four screenwriters and three chapters from the Book of Judges, Samson and Delilah tells the story of an unusually strong man and the woman whose largely unrequited love of him led to betrayal. A thousand years before the birth of Christ, Samson (Victor Mature) of the Dan tribe lives by his own rules. Instead of returning the love of sweet local woman Miriam (Olive Deering), Samson rides over to Timnah ask for the hand of a blonde Philistine named Semadar (Angela Lansbury). Military governor Ahtur (Henry Wilcoxon) has eyes for the same flaxen-haired maiden, so a rebuffed Samson takes a chariot with Semadar's brunette younger sister Delilah (Hedy Lamarr).

In the wild, Samson demonstrates his remarkable strength by wrestling a lion to death using nothing but his bare hands. Delilah is impressed, but the show of force, followed by a comparable defeat of a tall, hairy warrior, prompts the Saran of Gaza (George Sanders) to grant a request of Samson, which he uses to land the hand of Semadar. At the wedding ceremony, Samson bets thirty Philistines a garment for or from each that they cannot solve his riddle. The scorned Delilah gets involved and the wager winds up resulting in death and heightened hostilities.

Samson, who is proclaimed "the lion of Dan", cannot be tamed, no matter how great the opposition. He shows up the Philistine army with merely the jawbone of an ass, adding to his legend before he goes missing. As the Philistines try to devise a plan to capture this Dannite threat, Delilah volunteers to use her charms to seduce Samson and discover the secret of his power.

While Hedy Lamarr goes unnoticed in the corner, blonde big sister Semadar (Angela Lansbury) is pursued by suitors left and right. His mane restored but not his eyesight, Samson (Victor Mature) topples the temple of Dagon by brute force in the film's climactic scene.

Like most of DeMille's efforts (save for, arguably, The Ten Commandments), Samson and Delilah is not considered a great film. It is, however, considered a significant one, as a major attraction of its time and a demonstration of mid-20th Century cinematic ambition. It's interesting how DeMille's notion of an epic is a far cry from ours.
Today, the word "epic" triggers expectations of hordes of costumed extras, expansive locales, technical marvels, and a long runtime. Samson gives us little of all that, the director relying more on his titular leads striking theatrical, lobby card-ready, romantic poses at the center of the narrow Academy Ratio frame.

Yes, Samson was a Technicolor production at a time when that was still somewhat of a novelty largely reserved for musicals and westerns. Arriving ten years after Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz took bold strides, though, this film doesn't do all that much to advance the medium. Much of Samson relies on static conversations conducted on small, artificial sets. DeMille manages to give the illusion of an epic on relatively modest means. There is that scene of man and lion evidently fighting, which relies heavily on choppy editing and a sufficiently shrouded stunt double. To convey Samson's strength, a variety of techniques are employed with mixed results, from tasteful wire work to obviously fake pillars and some unconvincing rear projection and matte work. It's important to keep the modest technical achievements in perspective, but the aforementioned 1939 MGM landmarks are just two of a number of films from this era whose effects hold up better.

Even upon release, this film drew more technical than dramatic notice. Its five Academy Award nominations all recognized technical aspects. The two Oscars that it won -- Best Art Direction-Set Decoration and Best Costume Design, both separating color films from black & white ones -- came in the categories most willing to overlook storytelling deficiencies. Samson isn't poor in that department, anyway, just not as riveting as it could be coming from scriptures in what many people consider to be the most important book in the world. This tale boils down to a star-crossed romance set against a conflict not made terribly palpable.

There are a number of creative choices you can question along the way. For instance, Samson is supposed to have this supernatural strength, yet Victor Mature has a typical broadness to him; perhaps that is more believable than the athlete's physique a modern production would require of an actor, but it certainly doesn't convey Samson's power. Similarly raising eyebrows is the casting of Angela Lansbury and Hedy Lamarr as sisters. Twelve years Lamarr's junior, Lansbury plays the elder sister, which you kind of accept because Lansbury has always had a matronly air (by 1962, she was playing the mother of a man three years younger than her). Still, it is odd that the beautiful Lamarr is an afterthought and concession in the presence of Lansbury, who fetches such exciting, exotic gifts as gauze.

Doubts of "epic" classification are removed in the big finale, as a disabled Samson is brought to public forum and ridiculed by little people. The sequence plays like a circus act, especially given the playful musical accompaniment supplied by Victor Young's Oscar-nominated score. If this near-climax feels undignified for the subject matter, it at least might have helped prepare DeMille for The Greatest Show on Earth, the 1952 drama that would win the Oscar for Best Picture, an honor it is today considered unworthy of. Broadening his scope to cover more of the Old Testament, DeMille would create a more satisfying religious epic in The Ten Commandments, the biggest hit of its time (greatly surpassing Samson, which was the runaway hit of '49) and still one of the most enduring thanks to annual television airings.

That film's long association with Easter seems responsible for Samson and Delilah's overdue DVD debut occurring this month. The disc preserves the film's four-minute opening overture and two minutes of exit music, which brings it to a not so epic 134-minute runtime.

Samson and Delilah DVD cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com DVD Details

1.33:1 Fullscreen (Original Aspect Ratio)
Dolby 2.0 Mono (English, French, Spanish)
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
Closed Captioned
Release Date: March 12, 2013
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $19.99
Black Eco-Friendly Keepcase
Also available on Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

This release does not solve the mystery of Samson and Delilah's long absence from DVD, but it does reward patience with an excellent presentation. Wikipedia claims that a "costly" 4K-scanned digital restoration was completed last year, which makes the lack of a Blu-ray version even more curious than it otherwise would be. The DVD's slightly windowboxed 1.33:1 transfer is just about perfect, boasting a clean, vibrant, and consistent element. The picture looked soft on one Hedy Lamarr close-up (probably out of generosity to the 35-year-old Austrian-American leading lady), but otherwise was as sharp and detailed as standard definition allows.

Sound is presented in 2.0 Dolby Mono. While the recordings are dated, they are nonetheless intelligible and clear enough at all times. Subtitles and dubs are offered in French and Spanish along with English subtitles and closed captions.

After waiting 16 years for a DVD release, "Samson and Delilah" fans are asked to keep waiting for bonus features.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

Paramount offers no bonus features whatsoever, not even a theatrical trailer,
though this is one of the films they've held on to the longest. Another obvious possible inclusion lies in IMDb's trivia page's revelation that the film was treated to a Lux Radio Theater broadcast in 1951 with Mature and Lamarr reprising their title roles. That'd be a no-brainer on a Criterion Collection disc.

The release's simplicity extends to the menus and packaging. The former offers static, silent screens adapted from the cover art, while the latter gives neither an insert nor a slipcover to the standard black Eco-Box keepcase.

Samson (Victor Mature), Delilah (Hedy Lamarr) and a flower share a Technicolor embrace in Cecil B. DeMille's 1949 Biblical epic "Samson and Delilah."

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Since the release of classic films to home video in general retail has slowed to a trickle, the long-awaited DVD debut of Samson and Delilah seems more exciting than it is. This Cecil B. DeMille film is reasonably engaging and technically noteworthy. Age makes this a classic more than quality, but it has enough of the latter to generate a bit more than historical interest. While Paramount really should have sprung for a Blu-ray version and some extras, fans might just be happy to at last get this film on DVD looking the best it ever has.

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Produced and Directed by Cecil B. DeMille: The Ten Commandments
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Reviewed March 2, 2013.



Text copyright 2013 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1949 Paramount Pictures and 2013 Paramount Home Entertainment.
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