The Haircut: a Review of “Samson”
In 1935, Cecil B. DeMille paid Harold Lamb, a writer of historical novels, the 2018 equivalent of $150,000 for a “treatment” (a dozen-or-so pages) of the story of Samson from the Book of Judges – such was the popularity of the Biblical epic. And DeMille’s Samson and Delilah would become a huge success, although it wouldn’t reach the screen until 1949. It became the highest-grossing film of 1950 and was the precursor of DeMille’s even more successful The Ten Commandments (1956), itself a remake of his own 1923 film of the same name. (His 1927 King of Kings is, in my opinion, one of the best silent films ever made.) DeMille, who pretty much founded Hollywood, never stopped looking to the Bible for inspiration.
Reviewing The Ten Commandments for the New York Times, Bosley Crowther wrote:
This is unquestionably a picture to which one must bring something more than a mere wish for entertainment in order to get a full effect from it. But for those to whom its fundamentalism will be entirely credible, it should be altogether thrilling and perhaps even spiritually profound.
By “fundamentalism” one assumes Mr. Crowther meant the film’s respect for its Biblical source, and he would probably have agreed with Variety’s take on Samson and Delilah: “a fantastic picture for this era in its size, in its lavishness, in the corniness of its story-telling and in its old-fashioned technique.”
Those are fair judgments about most Biblical epics – at least until Franco Zeffirelli’s Jesus of Nazareth (1977), which was a bridge between what Variety, two decades earlier, had called the “smarties and the hinterlanders.” I’ll get to Mel Gibson in a minute.
It’s surprising that the story of Samson wasn’t retold in the era of bodybuilder wannabe-epics. I mean: Schwarzenegger: Samson!