Samson and Delilah (1949 film)

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Samson and Delilah
Samson and Delilah original 1949 poster.JPG
Original theatrical release poster
Directed by Cecil B. DeMille
Produced by Cecil B. DeMille
Screenplay by
Based on
Narrated by Cecil B. DeMille
Music by Victor Young
Cinematography George Barnes
Edited by Anne Bauchens
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release date
Running time
128 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $2.9[1]–3.1 million[2]
Box office $25.6 million[3]

Samson and Delilah is a 1949 American romantic biblical drama film produced and directed by Cecil B. DeMille and released by Paramount Pictures. It depicts the biblical story of Samson, a strongman whose secret lies in his uncut hair, and his love for Delilah, the woman who seduces him, discovers his secret, and then betrays him to the Philistines. It stars Hedy Lamarr and Victor Mature in the title roles, George Sanders as the Saran, Angela Lansbury as Semadar, and Henry Wilcoxon as Ahtur.

Pre-production on the film began as early as 1935, but principal photography officially commenced in 1948. The screenplay, written by Jesse L. Lasky, Jr. and Fredric M. Frank, is based on the biblical Book of Judges and adapted from original film treatments by Harold Lamb and Vladimir Jabotinsky.

Praised upon release for its Technicolor cinematography, lead performances, costumes, sets, and innovative special effects,[4][5][6] the film was a box-office success. It was the highest-grossing film of 1950.[7] Of its five Academy Award nominations, the film won two for Best Art Direction and Best Costume Design.[8]


Samson, a Danite Hebrew placed under Nazirite vows from birth by his mother Hazelelponit, is engaged to a Philistine woman named Semadar. At their wedding feast, Samson loses a bet with his wedding guests because of Semadar and attacks 30 Philistines to strip them of their cloaks to pay his betting debt. After paying his debt, Samson searches for Semadar, only to learn that her father Tubal married her to a Philistine once Samson left the wedding to pay his debt. A fight breaks out between Samson and the Philistines, which results in the death of Semadar and Tubal. Samson becomes a hunted man, and in his fury he begins fighting the Philistines. The Saran of Gaza imposes heavy taxes on the Danites, with the purpose of having Samson betrayed by his own people. The Saran's plan works, and frustrated Danites hand over Samson to the Philistines, much to the joy of Delilah, Semadar's younger sister. Samson is taken by Prince Ahtur, the military governor of the land of Dan, and a regiment of Philistine troops. En route back to Gaza, Ahtur decides to taunt Samson. Samson rips apart his chains and ropes and begins to combat the Philistines, toppling Ahtur's war chariot and using the jawbone of an ass to club the Philistine soldiers to death.

News of the defeat of Ahtur at the hands of Samson reaches the Saran. The Saran ponders how to defeat Samson. Delilah comes up with the idea of seducing Samson, thus having him reveal the secret of his strength and then deliver him for punishment. Her plan works; she cuts his hair, which he feels gives him his strength. To fully neutralize him, Samson is blinded by his captors and put to slave work, and is eventually brought to the temple of Dagon for the entertainment of the Philistines and the Saran. However, Delilah has been in love with Samson ever since his engagement with Semadar, and his blindness and torture make her feel deep remorse over her betrayal. She initially had betrayed him because she wanted to avenge the deaths of her father and sister, which she thought were caused "because of Samson."

Delilah later attends the public torture of Samson wielding a whip which he uses to be guided by her to the temple of Dagon's main support pillars. Once he stands between them, he tells Delilah to flee, but she remains, unseen by him, as he pushes the pillars apart. The pillars give way and the temple collapses, burying Samson, Delilah, and all the Philistines inside alive, including the court. In the end, the temple lies in rubble, and Saul and Miriam, his two closest Danite Hebrew friends, are left to mourn Samson's passing.




In 1935, DeMille paid $10,000 to historian Harold Lamb to write a film treatment of the biblical story of Samson and Delilah, which DeMille regarded as "one of the greatest love stories of all time."[9] However, DeMille later abandoned the film project in favor of The Plainsman,[9] but returned to it once Unconquered was completed in 1947.[10] DeMille hired illustrator Henry Clive to paint his visualization of Delilah on canvas in spring of 1948.[9] DeMille described his Delilah as "warm, soft, cunning" with a "dangerous capacity for vengeance."[9] He further expressed her as a "combination of Vivien Leigh and Jean Simmons with a dash of Lana Turner."[9]

Adding to his dramatization of the biblical story, DeMille bought the rights to Judge and Fool, a novel by Vladimir Jabotinsky which portrayed Delilah as the younger sister of Samson's wife.[2][11] He felt the novel "made possible a connected drama" for the film.[11]


Samson (Mature) and Delilah (Lamarr) inside Delilah's tent at the Valley of Sorek

When DeMille first commenced production on the film in 1935, some of the famous women suggested for the part of Delilah were Dolores del Río, Paulette Goddard, and Joan Crawford.[12] Once production restarted in 1947, DeMille and his staff considered dozens of Hollywood actors and actresses for the title roles. He said, "For Samson, I want a combination Tarzan, Robin Hood, and Superman. For Delilah... a sort of distilled Jean Simmons, Vivien Leigh and a generous touch of Lana Turner."[13] He later claimed front-runners were Miriam Hopkins as Delilah and Henry Wilcoxon as Samson.[13] Those considered were Märta Torén, Viveca Lindfors, Lana Turner, Rita Hayworth, Susan Hayward, Ava Gardner, Jane Greer, Greer Garson, Maureen O'Hara, Rhonda Fleming, Jeanne Crain, Lucille Ball, Jennifer Jones, Vivien Leigh, Gail Russell, Alida Valli, Linda Darnell, Patricia Neal, Jean Simmons, and Nancy Olson.[14][15][16] DeMille cast Hedy Lamarr (who was of Jewish descent) as Delilah after screening the film The Strange Woman, which featured Ian Keith (a contender for the role of the Saran).[17] DeMille first wanted Lamarr to play Esther in a biblical film he was planning to make in 1939,[18] but the film was never realized. However, he was content with Lamarr's performance as Delilah, describing it as "more than skin-deep." He also described her as "a gazelle–incapable of a clumsy or wrong move", and she would flirtatiously refer to herself as "Delilah" and DeMille as her "Samson."[19]

Burt Lancaster was the original choice to play Samson, but he declined due to a bad back.[20] Body builder Steve Reeves was also considered and DeMille lobbied long and hard to get the studio to pick up Reeves,[16] but both DeMille and the studio wanted Reeves to tone down his physique, which Reeves, still young and new to the industry, ultimately refused to do.[21] DeMille finally decided to cast Victor Mature as Samson after admiring his performance in the film Kiss of Death.[20][22]

Phyllis Calvert was originally cast as Semadar, but she relinquished the part due to her illness.[15] Therefore, DeMille cast Angela Lansbury in the role in July 1948.[15] When Lawrence Perry of The Pittsburgh Press interviewed Lansbury on September 24, 1949, he told her that the Bible does not describe Delilah as having a sister.[23] Lansbury replied, "Anyway, if Delilah didn't have a sister, Mr. DeMille has supplied one."[23]

Kasey Rogers auditioned and was screen-tested for the role of Miriam, the Danite girl who loves Samson.[24] But DeMille told her, "You're too pretty and you're too young", and Rogers was cast as a Philistine spectator in the temple scene and credited in the film as "Laura Elliot."[24] Rogers was given a close-up and several lines, including "Why can't I lead you like that?" and "It [the column] moved!" The role of Miriam was given to stage actress Olive Deering, who received sixth billing after the five main stars.


The 37-foot tall model of the temple of Dagon

Principal photography began on October 4, 1948 and ended on December 22, 1948.[2] The scenes involving the plowed field were shot on January 4, 1949, and added scenes and closeups were shot between January 18 and January 21, 1949.[2]

The film's special effects were supervised by Gordon Jennings.[25] The "money shot" was the toppling of the temple of Dagon, the god of the Philistines.[25] It is the penultimate scene in the film, cost $150,000, and took a year to shoot.[25] The bottom portion of the temple was constructed full-scale.[25] A separate 37-foot high model with a 17-foot high Dagon statue was built for the photographic effects.[25] The model was destroyed three times in order to shoot it through different camera angles.[25] Footage of the full-scale set was merged with footage of the scale model using a "motion repeater system" fabricated by Paramount, which enabled the exact repetition of camera moves.[25]

Victor Mature was frightened by a number of the animals and mechanical props used in the production, including the lions, the wind machine, the swords and even the water. This infuriated DeMille, who bellowed through his megaphone at the assembled cast and crew: "I have met a few men in my time. Some have been afraid of heights, some have been afraid of water, some have been afraid of fire, some have been afraid of closed spaces. Some have even been afraid of open spaces -- or themselves. But in all my 35 years of picture-making experience, Mr. Mature, I have not until now met a man who was 100 percent yellow."[26]

Connection with Sunset Boulevard[edit]

DeMille's legendary status led him to play himself in Billy Wilder's film noir Sunset Boulevard.[27] The film is about a fictional silent film star named Norma Desmond (played by Gloria Swanson) who, no longer active, once worked as an actress for DeMille. For the scene in which Desmond visits DeMille at Paramount, an actual set of Samson and Delilah was reconstructed to show the director at work.[27] The first day scheduled to shoot the scene was May 23, 1949, months after filming on Samson and Delilah had ended.[27] After the scene was shot in a total of four days, Wilder patted DeMille on the back and humorously told him, "Very good, my boy. Leave your name with my secretary. I may have a small part for you in my next picture."[27] Wilder later said that DeMille "took direction terrifically. He loved it. He understood it. He was very subtle."[27]


Samson and Delilah received its televised world premiere on December 21, 1949, at two of New York City's Broadway theatres, the Paramount and the Rivoli, in order to "accommodate the 7,000,000 movie-goers in the greater New York area."[28][29] Notable people who attended the event included Mary Pickford, Buddy Rogers, and Barney Balaban.[30]

It was successfully re-released in November 1959.[31]

Critical response[edit]

Samson and Delilah received rave reviews upon its release in 1949. Showmen's Trade Review wrote that the film "bids fair to stand as this veteran showman's most impressive and magnificent spectacle since that history-making 1923 religious epic [The Ten Commandments]."[32] The Harrison's Reports review says, "Mr. DeMille has succeeded, not only in keeping the story authentic, but also in presenting it in a highly entertaining way. Its combination of spectacularity and human interest will grip the attention of all movie-goers."[33] The Modern Screen reviewer remarked, "Its tremendous, impressive, and beautiful to look at."[34] Boxoffice considered it the "most prodigious spectacle ever conceived," while The Film Daily stated that it "[s]tands monumental alongside any contender."[35] The Exhibitor, a trade magazine, declared: "This will be classed with the big films of all time."[35]

Variety appreciated the film's cast by writing, "Victor Mature fits neatly into the role of the handsome but dumb hulk of muscle that both the Bible and DeMille make of the Samson character. Hedy Lamarr never has been more eye-filling and makes of Delilah a convincing minx. George Sanders gives a pleasantly light flavor of satirical humor to the part of the ruler, while Henry Wilcoxon is duly rugged as the military man."[5] Bosley Crowther of The New York Times admired the "dazzling displays of splendid costumes, of sumptuous settings and softly tinted flesh which Mr. DeMille's color cameras have brilliantly pageanted... Color has seldom been more lushly or unmistakably used."[4]

Film critic Leonard Maltin, in his review for Samson and Delilah, wrote: "With expected DeMille touches, this remains a tremendously entertaining film."[36]

Box office[edit]

Samson and Delilah was enormously successful, taking in $11,000,000 at the box office, making it the top moneymaker for 1950.[37][38] At the time of its release, it was the third highest-grossing film ever, behind Gone with the Wind (1939) and The Best Years of Our Lives (1946).[39] It was the second most popular film at the British box office that year.[40]


The film's Academy Award-winning costumes include this peacock gown and cape designed by Edith Head and worn by Delilah (Hedy Lamarr) at the Temple of Dagon

Samson and Delilah won Academy Awards for Best Color Art Direction (art directors Hans Dreier and Walter H. Tyler and set decorators Samuel M. Comer and Ray Moyer) and Best Color Costume Design (Edith Head, Dorothy Jeakins, Elois Jenssen, Gile Steele, and Gwen Wakeling).[8] It was also nominated for Best Color Cinematography (George Barnes), Best Music Score of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture (Victor Young), and Best Special Effects (Cecil B. DeMille Productions).[8]

The film was also nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Color Cinematography (George Barnes).[41]

Cecil B. DeMille won a French film award (the Film Français Grand Prix) for the film.[42]

The Christian Herald and the Protestant Motion Picture Council awarded its December 1949 Picture of the Month Award to DeMille for Samson and Delilah.[43]

Parents' magazine awarded its Parents' Magazine Medal to DeMille for "thirty-five years of devotion to research in the production of historical pictures culminating in his greatest achievement, Samson and Delilah."[44]

Boxoffice magazine awarded its Boxoffice Barometer Trophy to DeMille for producing Samson and Delilah, the "highest-grossing picture of the year."[45]

Samson and Delilah was one of the Best Pictures of 1949 at Look's Annual Film Awards in 1950.[46] DeMille received the All Industry Achievement Award for the film.[46]

Hedy Lamarr's Delilah was voted the year's 10th "best screen performance by an actress" at the British Picturegoer Awards in 1951.[47]

The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:

Home media[edit]

In 2012, a 4K-scanned digital restoration of Samson and Delilah was completed.[51] The restored version received its premiere at Cineteca Bologna's Il Cinema Ritrovato 2012.[52] Paramount Home Media Distribution released the film for the first time on DVD format (with English, French, and Spanish audio and subtitles) on March 12, 2013.[53] The film was released on Blu-ray Disc (with the original theatrical trailer) on March 11, 2014.[54]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Variety (March 10, 2018). "Variety (January 1949)". New York, NY: Variety Publishing Company – via Internet Archive.
  2. ^ a b c d Birchard 2009, p. 334.
  3. ^ Block, Alex Ben (2010). George Lucas's Blockbusting: A Decade-by-Decade Survey of Timeless Movies Including Untold Secrets of Their Financial and Cultural Success. HarperCollins. p. 323. ISBN 9780061963452.
  4. ^ a b Crowther, Bosley. "The New York Times – Movie Review: Samson and Delilah (1949)". The New York Times. Retrieved August 7, 2013.
  5. ^ a b "Variety – Review: "Samson and Delilah". Variety. Retrieved August 7, 2013.
  6. ^ McKay 2013, p. 76.
  7. ^ Barton 2010, p. 174.
  8. ^ a b c "23rd Academy Awards Winners".
  9. ^ a b c d e "De Mille Gets a Delilah in Oil to Start His Hunt for Actress". The Milwaukee Journal. April 26, 1948. Retrieved September 15, 2013.
  10. ^ Thomas, Bob (May 21, 1947). "Maureen for Eire Film". The Windsor Daily Star. Retrieved September 18, 2013.
  11. ^ a b Creelman, Eileen (November 21, 1949). "De Mille Discusses Changes In 'Samson and Delilah' Epic". The Youngstown Vindicator. Retrieved September 18, 2013.
  12. ^ Morin, Relman (November 19, 1935). "DeMille Gets Lots of Help Naming Samson and Delilah Characters in His Picture". St. Petersburg Times. Retrieved September 15, 2013.
  13. ^ a b HAIRCUT BY DE MILLE: Biblical Strong Man Meets Tough Foe in Director By PHIL KOURY HOLLYWOOD.. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 20 June 1948: X3.
  14. ^ Barton 2010, p. 169.
  15. ^ a b c Shearer 2010, chpt. 15.
  16. ^ a b Birchard 2009, p. 336.
  17. ^ Barton 2010, p. 170.
  18. ^ Graham, Sheilah (March 11, 1939). "Robert Morley, Hedy Lamarr Sought For DeMille Vehicle". The Miami News. Retrieved September 18, 2013.
  19. ^ Barton 2010, p. 171.
  20. ^ a b McKay 2013, p. 74.
  21. ^ An Interview with Steeve Reeves from The Perfect Vision Magazine, Volume 6 Issue, July 22, 1994, at drkmr gallery
  22. ^ Eyman 2010, p. 387.
  23. ^ a b Perry, Lawrence (September 24, 1949). "Film Star Glad She's Still Alive! Survives Peril of De Mille Film". The Pittsburgh Press. Retrieved September 15, 2013.
  24. ^ a b Weaver, Tom (2002). Science Fiction Confidential: Interviews with 23 Monster Stars and Filmmakers. McFarland. p. 249. ISBN 9780786411757.
  25. ^ a b c d e f g Eyman 2010, p. 392.
  26. ^ Wood, Bret. "Samson and Delilah". TCM Film Article. Retrieved 3 March 2018.
  27. ^ a b c d e Eyman 2010, p. 1.
  28. ^ a b "BoxOffice Magazine – December 10, 1949, p. 26". BoxOffice. Archived from the original on |archive-url= requires |archive-date= (help).
  29. ^ "Holiday Premieres Enliven the New York Scene: Both Paramount and 20th Fox Introduce Important Films". Boxoffice. Retrieved May 6, 2014.[permanent dead link]
  30. ^ "'Samson and Delilah' Opens In New York". Showmen's Trade Review: 17. December 31, 1949.
  31. ^ "Samson and Delilah (1950) – Notes". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved May 6, 2014.
  32. ^ "The Box-Office Slant". Showmen's Trade Review: 16–17. October 22, 1949.
  33. ^ ""Samson and Delilah" with Hedy Lamarr, Victor Mature and George Sanders". Harrison's Reports: 170. October 22, 1949.
  34. ^ Kane, Christopher (January 1950). "Movie Reviews". Modern Screen. 40 (2): 16.
  35. ^ a b "Today the voice of the public joins in this unprecedented praise from the voice of the industry for Cecil B. DeMille's Paramount Masterpiece Samson and Delilah". Variety. 177 (2): 6–7. December 21, 1949.
  36. ^ "Samson and Delilah (1950) – Overview". Retrieved August 10, 2013.
  37. ^ Steinberg, Cobbett (1980). Film Facts. New York: Facts on File, Inc. p. 21. ISBN 0-87196-313-2. When a film is released late in a calendar year (October to December), its income is reported in the following year's compendium, unless the film made a particularly fast impact (p. 17)
  38. ^ "All Time Domestic Champs", Variety, January 6, 1960 p 34
  39. ^ List of highest-grossing films
  40. ^ "Vivien Leigh Actress of the Year". Townsville Daily Bulletin. Qld.: National Library of Australia. December 29, 1951. p. 1. Retrieved July 9, 2012.
  41. ^ "Golden Globe Awards Official Website – Samson and Delilah – 1 nomination". Archived from the original on August 29, 2013. Retrieved August 29, 2013.
  42. ^ McCaffrey, Donald W. (1999). Guide to the Silent Years of American Cinema. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 108. ISBN 0313303452.
  43. ^ "Register of the Cecil B. DeMille Photographs, ca. 1900s-1950s, 1881–1959 – Awards". Retrieved August 29, 2013.
  44. ^ "Boxoffice Magazine – December 10, 1949, pg. 31". Boxoffice. Archived from the original on |archive-url= requires |archive-date= (help). Retrieved August 29, 2013.
  45. ^ "Boxoffice Magazine – December 30, 1950, pg. 16". Boxoffice. Archived from the original on |archive-url= requires |archive-date= (help). Retrieved August 29, 2013.
  46. ^ a b "Look's Annual Film Awards Put Paramount On Top". Boxoffice. March 11, 1950. Retrieved October 10, 2014.[permanent dead link]
  47. ^ "Anna Neagle's Film Award". The Mercury (May 10, 1951). Retrieved October 10, 2014.
  48. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Passions Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved August 19, 2016.
  49. ^ "AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved August 19, 2016.
  50. ^ "AFI's 10 Top 10" (PDF). Archived from the original on July 16, 2011. Retrieved August 19, 2016.
  51. ^ "PHE Press Release: Samson and Delilah". Home Theater Forum. Retrieved April 1, 2014.
  52. ^ "Il Cinema Ritrovato 2012". Cineteca Bologna. Retrieved April 1, 2014.
  53. ^ "Samson & Delilah DVD". TCM Shop. Archived from the original on April 3, 2015. Retrieved August 7, 2013.
  54. ^ Sluss, Justin. "1949 Cecil B. DeMille film "Samson and Delilah" on Blu-ray March 2014". High Def Disc News. Archived from the original on April 7, 2014. Retrieved April 1, 2014.


  • Barton, Ruth (2010). Hedy Lamarr: The Most Beautiful Woman in Film. University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 9780813126104.
  • Birchard, Robert S. (2009). Cecil B. DeMille's Hollywood. University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 9780813138299.
  • Eyman, Scott (2010). Empire of Dreams: The Epic Life of Cecil B. DeMille. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 9781439180419.
  • McKay, James (2013). The Films of Victor Mature. McFarland & Company. ISBN 9780786449705.
  • Shearer, Stephen Michael (2010). Beautiful: The Life of Hedy Lamarr. Macmillan Publishers. ISBN 1429908203.

External links[edit]