• Bible Films Blog

    Looking at film interpretations of the stories in the Bible - past, present and future, as well as preparation for a future work on Straub/Huillet's Moses und Aron and a few bits and pieces on biblical studies.

    Matt Page


    Friday, September 15, 2006

    Samson and Delilah (1949) Scene Guide

    Having covered the Bible Collection of Samson and Delilah yesterday, I thought it would be good to look at the scenes for DeMille's famous 1949 version of the story. This was a highly influential film. After the Hays Production Code had killed off the biblical epic in the early 1930s, this film kick-started the epic film revival that was so prevalent in the 50s and early 60s.
    [Story of Moses recounted]
    [Extra-biblical Episode]
    Girl from Timnah (Judges 14:1-5)
    Samson kills a lion (Judges 14:5-7)
    A Wedding Riddle (Judges 14:10-18)
    Samson Pays his Guests (Judges 14:19)
    Death of Wife and Family (Judges 14:20; 15:6-7)
    Burning of Fields (Judges 15:1-5)
    [Extra-biblical Episode]
    Samson's People Betray Him (Judges 15:9-11)
    Jawbone of an Ass (Judges 15:14-17)
    [Extra-biblical Episode]
    Delilah agrees to trap Samson - (Judges 16:5) (Judges 16:5)
    Samson falls for Delilah - (Judges 16:4) (Judges 16:4)
    Samson tricks Delilah - (Judges 16:6-12) (Judges 16:6-12)
    Delilah betrays Samson - (Judges 16:15-22) (Judges 16:15-22)
    [Extra-biblical Episodes]
    Death of Samson - (Judges 16:23-30) (Judges 16:23-30)
    [Extra-biblical Episode] (Judges 16:31)
    A Few Notes
    As noted yesterday, DeMille omits chapter 13 of Judges - the angelic visitations announcing Samson's birth. There are a number of interesting points here. Firstly, in DeMille's next and final biblical epic, The Ten Commandments he is at pains to draw as many parallels as possible between his protagonist and Jesus, adding all sorts of flourished, and changing minor details (such as the manner of death of the Israelite infants in Exodus 1:22). Yet here he spurns the most obvious connection between Samson and Jesus. Secondly, DeMille replaces this opening with a more universal introduction, voiced over the image of the earth seen from afar. This demonstrates his intention to give the picture universal resonances. A similar technique is also applied that the start of The Ten Commandments

    The other incident missing from this portrayal is that of the prostitute of Gaza, and Samson carrying the gates to Hebron. This puts Samson in a more positive light, he is naive and a little weak, rather than someone who is driven by lust.

    Both the 1996 version and this one have Delilah choose to betray Samson before he has fallen in love with her, whereas the text shows that she is only approached after her and Samson has fallen in love. This has two implications. Firstly, it makes Delilah appear as a calculating, manipulative, sexual predator (women in bible epics tend to fall into one of two categories pious or whore). DeMille's casting of Lammarr enhances this. Lamarr carried a certain notoriety after she appeared nude in Extase (1932). Whilst the film was banned in the US, it gave her a particularly type of fame, and using an actress with such connotations brought something to the role that other actresses, such as Angela Lansbury, could not have. Whilst the text does portray Delilah as manipulative, there is nothing to indicate her initial love wasn't genuine. Secondly re-ordering these scenes in this fashion takes away the parallels between Delilah and the girl from Timnah. In both cases Samson unwisely falls for a Philistine girl, who shows her loyalties are with her people rather than her lover. However, this then leads to Samson being able to rout the Philistines. Interestingly Demille demolishes this point of comparison, but establishes another - than Semador and Delilah are sisters. Over the years, art has perhaps been a little unfair to Delilah.

    One of the interesting additions to the text is the role of the boy Saul, who we find out at the end of the film will be Israel's first King. It's probably the most positive portrayal of Saul on film (in contrast to say that of Orson Welles), but it also creates a link between Samson's weaknesses and that of the man who followed him. Additionally it portrays Samson as a prophet as well as leader. Given that Saul was a Benjaminite, and Samson a Danite there is cause to question whether Samson would even have led Saul's people. At the same time it is not inconceivable that he would have, and is a nice touch.

    One other contrast with the biblical text is that here Samson burns the Philistine fields because his wife has been killed, whereas in Judges, she, and her father, are killed because Samson burnt the fields after his wife was given to someone else.

    There are a few comments on this film, and portrayals of Samson through the ages at the Samson and Delilah Home Page

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