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Featured DVD Review: Samson and Delilah

April 17th, 2013

Samson and Delilah - Buy from Amazon

Samson and Delilah was a Bible Epic made more than 60 years ago. Despite being a huge hit at the time (it was the biggest hit of the year and one of the biggest hits of the decade) it has never been released on DVD. That changed earlier this year, but has the film aged well? The Bible Epic is a genre that has fallen out of favor with moviegoers. And if it does holdup, does the DVD do it justice?

The Movie

Samson and Delilah tells the story from the Book of Judges in the Old Testament. There's a short prologue describing how the Hebrews have come under the tyrannical rule of the Philistines, but how the human spirit longs for freedom. We then see an old man sitting in the middle of the town talking to a group of kids about how the Hebrews used to be slaves in Egypt, but then they were freed. Thus, they will be freed from the slavery they find themselves in today. While he continues to talk, a group of Philistine Soldiers begin to harass him. Miriam (Olive Deering), a young Hebrew woman, tries to admonish the soldiers for picking on the elderly and children. When the soldiers threaten her with rape, a young boy warns them that if they hurt her, Samson will kill them. They are not worried, for while Samson is strong, he's more interested in womanizing than in fighting.

When we meet Samson, he's being yelled at for drinking and gambling with the Philistines. He's supposed to be the leader of the Hebrew people, but he spends all of his time with their enemies. In fact, he's planning on marrying a Philistine woman, Semadar, despite his mother's wishes that he marries Miriam. However, Prince Ahtur is also courting Semadar. Ahtur can give Semadar's father, Tubal (William Farnum), lots of valuable gifts, but he can't match Samson's strength. When Tubal catches Samson visiting Semadar, he tries to persuade Ahtur to be with Delilah instead. Delilah would rather be with Samson as well. When Semadar and Ahtur go off to hunt a lion, she offers to help Samson kill the lion first. That will help him win Semadar's hand. She only asks that she can go with Samson.

Samson is able to kill the lion in a rather unconvincing wrestling match before The Saran of Gaza shows up with Prince Ahtur and Semadar. Delilah tells The Saran what Samson did, but Saran doesn't believe her. He gets Ahtur to look for a wound made by a weapon. When he doesn't find one, he wants to see Samson's strength for himself, so he orders Garmiskar, his strongman, to wrestle Samson. Garmiskar, who is only slightly less hairy than the lion, is quickly defeated, in an even more unconvincing wrestling match. Saran is impressed and offers Samson a prize, a ring. However, Samson wants a different prize: A Philistine wife. At first Delilah thinks he's talking about her, but of course he's talking about Semadar.

At the wedding, Prince Ahtur asks for entertainment and tries to goad Samson into singing, but instead Samson offers them a riddle. "Out of the eater came forth meat, and out of the strong came forth sweetness." He says if Prince Ahtur can solve the riddle, Samson will buy all 30 of Ahtur's soldiers new cloaks, but if they fail to answer the riddle by the wedding night, they will all buy Samson a new cloak. It appears Samson will win, until Delilah steps in. She convinces them to make Semadar get the answer for them. In order to do that, Prince Ahtur warns Semadar that the soldiers are growing angry and if they lose the bet and she marries Samson, there will be violence.

Will this plan work? If so, how will Samson react to being betrayed? Neither of those questions are spoilers. After all, the ending to this story is one of the more famous events in the Bible, but that's a good a place as any to end the plot summary.

As far as Bible Epics go, Samson and Delilah isn't very epic. It is more of a middling romance with a few fight scenes thrown in here and there to liven things up during its two-hour running time. There are a number of reasons why the romance doesn't work. High on this list is Victor Mature, who is just not a very good actor. I'm not the only one who thinks he was deficient in acting talent. In fact, he used to joke about that very topic. He lacks screen chemistry with both Angela Lansbury and Hedley Lamarr, I mean Hedy Lamarr, and if you don't believe the romance, then it is impossible to believe the plot. The movie depends on Delilah being passionately in love with / enraged by Samson, but you don't see that from their performance together. To be fair, the script and dialogue are clumsy enough that you can't entirely blame the lead actors for this problem. There are some parts that still work. Often the film looks great; it did win Oscars for Art Direction/Set Decoration and Best Costume Design, after all. On the other hand, the visual effects have not aged nearly as well. As I mentioned above, the action scenes are mostly laughable. The climax is rather well done, given the age of the movie, but that's not really high praise.

If you grew up watching this movie, then there's a high amount of nostalgia factor here. However, this was the first time I saw Samson and Delilah and I was just not sold.

The Extras

There are no extras. When I first saw there were no extras, this, I assumed this was because the movie was too long to fit on a DVD with extras. I didn't realize how short the film is for a Bible Epic.

The Verdict

Rent it. Even if you are a huge fan of Samson and Delilah, it just isn't worth a purchase, at least not yet. The film was very recently given a 4k restoration, which is four times the resolution of current Blu-ray technology. There's no reason to do that and limit yourself to DVD. The Blu-ray has to be on its way, and it will undoubtedly have extras worthy of the film.

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Filed under: Video Review, Samson and Delilah, Harvey Korman, Hedy Lamarr, Angela Lansbury, Victor Mature, George Sanders, Henry Wilcoxon