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Samson and Delilah

Samson and Delilah(1950)

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Onscreen credits give the following notation: "Based upon the history of Samson and Delilah in the Holy Bible, Judges 13-16." Vladimir Jabotinsky's onscreen credit reads: "From original treatments by Harold Lamb-Vladimir Jabotinsky." It appears, however, that Jabotinsky's "treatment" was his novel, The Judge and the Fool, as translated by Cyrus Brooks. The following information was taken from the Paramount Collection at the AMPAS Library and various news items: Cecil B. DeMille first became interested in producing Samson and Delilah as early as 1935, when he commissioned writer Harold Lamb to write a screenplay based on the biblical story, from "The Book of Judges, 13-16," and bought the rights to Vladimir Jabotinsky's 1930 novel The Judge and the Fool, as translated from the German by Cyrus Brooks. Jeanie MacPherson and Sada Cowan were also hired to work on the script. At this time, DeMille also began a public campaign to find the ideal "Delilah," sending out a sketch of the sought-after look to cities around the country. In 1936, DeMille purchased the screen rights to the 1877 French opera Samson et Dalila, (music by Camille Saint-Saens, libretto by F. Lemaire). But the $5,000,000 production was shelved shortly thereafter.
       In 1946, DeMille renewed his plans for a film based on Jabotinsky's novel and the wealth of research he had accumulated on the topic. In his autobiography, DeMille remarked that Paramount executives were initially reluctant to embark on yet another expensive biblical production, as they felt that post-war audiences were not interested in Bible stories. In order to convince the executives of the story's marketability, DeMille engaged artist Dan Sayre Groesbeck to make a rendering of Samson and Delilah in which Samson's brute strength, and Delilah's seductive allure were emphasized. The executives were impressed by DeMille's commitment to making the tale a love story and agreed to back the project
       Pre-production for the final film officially began in the spring of 1948, when DeMille began researching the possibility of sending a second unit to the Middle East. In July 1948, after Palestine was ruled out as a location, DeMille sent a second unit, headed by directors Ralph Jester and Arthur Rosson, and including unit manager Donald A. Robb, cameramen Dewey Wrigley, Paul Hill, and grip Edgar Crowder, to North Africa to shoot background scenes and obtain authentic-looking props. Among the areas they filmed were Moulayidris and Volubilis, an ancient town in Morocco, and Bou-Saada near Algiers. According to a Hollywood Reporter news item, the unit shot in "twenty localities, from Algiers to Casablanca." Due to the extreme heat, the crew required an advance survey as to the availability of ice, which was packed around the film containers to protect the film stock.
       A September 1948 Hollywood Reporter news item reported that English actress Phyllis Calvert was originally cast as "Semadar" but withdrew due to illness and was replaced by Angela Lansbury. According to modern sources, Betty Hutton was considered for the role of "Delilah." In his autobiography, DeMille noted that he based the design of the Dagon temple on historical records written by Pliny the Elder, the first century A.D. Roman scholar. Although a Hollywood Reporter news item reported that the studio anticipated spending an estimated $250,000 on the construction of the temple, New York Times reported the actual cost as approximately $30,000. Modern sources note that the temple required five months to construct. According to a New York Times article, DeMille encountered trouble with his eighty-foot-square by eighty-foot-high scale model of the Philistine temple when dynamite charges, which were detonated to produce the collapse of the temple, failed to produce the desired effect. As a result, the temple, with its forty-foot statue of the god Dagon, was rebuilt at an approximate cost of $15,000, and the scene was reshot. The New York Times estimated the film's final cost at approximately $3,200,000. According to an April 1950 Hollywood Reporter news item, DeMille donated his research documents to the Library of Congress.
       While the film had its New York premiere on December 21, 1949, it was not generally released until 1950. According to a Paramount News item, the studio launched a publicity campaign with a "Mr. Samson" and "Miss Delilah" contest held at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, which included "winners of A.A.U. contests held over the nation." DeMille then granted the winners auditions. Steve Reeves, winner of the "Mr. Samson" contest, later became well-known for his portrayal of "Hercules." This film received Academy Awards for Best Art Direction/Set Decoration (color), and Costume Design (color). Samson and Delilah was also nominated for Academy Awards in the following categories: Special Effects, and Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture. Lux Radio Theatre broadcast a program based on this film on November 19, 1951, featuring Victor Mature and Hedy Lamarr, with highlights from the Saint-Saens opera. As noted in Hollywood Reporter news items, the film was re-issued in November 1959, at which time he did well at the box office. In 1984, a made-for-television version of Samson and Delilah was broadcast, directed by Lee Philips, and starring Antony Hamilton and Belinda Bauer. The television movie also featured Max von Sydow, Maria Schell, Jos Ferrer, and Victor Mature as Samson's father.