• Bible Films Blog

    Looking at film interpretations of the stories in the Bible - past, present and future, as well as current film releases with spiritual significance, and a few bits and pieces on the Bible.

    Monday, November 10, 2008

    Samson and Delilah and Sunset Boulevard

    I've been meaning to post this for weeks and weeks, but for some reason I've failed to, delaying other plans elsewhere. Anyway, perhaps as long as two months ago now, I had my first viewing of Sunset Boulevard. It was one of those films I'd been meaning to see for ages, and as I was reading Robert S. Birchard's "Cecil B. DeMille's Hollywood" it seemed a particularly good time.

    Unsurprisingly, the scene which most caught my attention was the one where Norma Desmond (played with relish by Gloria Swanson) goes to the Paramount Studio to meet her former director Cecil B. DeMille. For those not in the know, DeMille plays himself and it's interesting to see how closely his brief cameo coincides with the portrait of him in Birchard's book. Birchard repeatedly cites examples of DeMille's faithfulness to, and his care for, his former stars. Here he has a difficult case to deal with; one of his former, silent, leading ladies is deluding herself that she can make a comeback and has sent DeMille her own script. Meanwhile, one of DeMille's team has contacted Norma to try and borrow her vintage car for another film. Misinterpreting a call from DeMille's office as a sign of his interest in her script she rushes to Paramount to meet with him. There she is treated like the star she once was (see picture below), not least by another DeMille old timer who lets her experience life in the spotlight for one final brief moment. DeMille's sensitivity and care is apparent throughout, and whilst we should not forget that hie words are both scripted and directed, it also seems to come very easily to someone who only stepped in front of the cameras to act on a handful of occasions.The other thing that grabbed my attention was the fact that this scene appears to take place on the set of Samson and Delilah. I don't know much about this kind of stuff, but I would guess that this is the real set of Samson and Delilah. Firstly, Henry Wilcoxon (above) is filmed, but is not given any dialogue. Wilcoxon played a leading role in Samson and Delilah, but was also DeMille's associate producer . His presence would be easily explained if the Sunset Boulevard crew came onto the Samson and Delilah set, but it's unlikely that they would pay a star such as Wilcoxon just to be an extra.

    Secondly, the scene in question is being filmed on a studio sound stage as most of Samson and Delilah was. Would the makers of Sunset Boulevard really build a set that was identical to one that already existed? I suppose there is the possibility that the existing set didn't give the the right angles for the pulled back shots they required, but it still seems like the most probable answer?

    One final point, it took me a little while to figure out the chronology. After all Sunset Boulevard is set in, what was then, the modern day, so audiences assume that it's 1950. But Samson and Delilah was actually released the year before in 1949 suggesting that Boulevard actually takes place 1948-1949. I can't remember if there is any other evidence in the film that suggests a more specific date.

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