Edith Head once noted that Cecil B. DeMille sent his researchers out to find the sexiest story in the Bible so he could mine it for the movies.
In 1949 Paramount released what was, up to that time, DeMille’s most successful film, the blockbuster epic, Sampson and Delilah, an Old Testament extravaganza costarring Victor Mature, Hedy Lamarr, George Sanders and Angela Lansbury (as Hedy’s older sister, no less). That’s sensuous-looking Hedy and macho Mature pictured above.
Mature’s virile good looks — he was referred to in his day as Hollywood’s “beautiful hunk of man” — served him well opposite Hedy. He plays the fearsome Samson, endowed with enormous strength providing his long hair remained untrimmed. As we well know, he fell for temptress Delilah, who gets out the scissors while the big guy snoozes, betraying him for hard cash. (What a great role for sultry Hedy.)
DeMille had his problems with Mature. He castigated him on the Samson for not performing various stunts, one calling for the actor to stick his head in the mouth of a lion. Despite the macho image, Mature had his share of on-set fears and phobias, and was called “100 percent yellow” by DeMille.
He wasn’t exactly thrilled with Hedy either.
DeMille was put off by her shaky command of the English language (she was Austrian); her habit of posing as if for a still photograph at the end of each scene; and her face that as gorgeous as it was never seemed to fully register emotion.
But what about DeMille himself. Wasn’t he just another Hollywood bigwig cynically seeking for sex and raunch under the cover of the sacred Old Testament? Didn’t DeMille himself came from a secular Jewish back round, and personally didn’t believe a Biblical word?
Perish the thought. DeMille came from an artistic, devoutly Christian family, and regarded the Bible as the Holy Writ. And, yes, it provided great story material — and great box office potential.
Samson and Delilah grossed $11 million in its initial release — very big money at the time — and was at one point the third largest grossing movie in Hollywood history, behind 1939’s Gone With The Wind and 1946’s The Best Years of Our Lives.
Samson and Delilah generated Oscar nominations for art direction and costume design. One of its five costumers was — Edith Head.
The movie certainly was the biggest popular hit of Mature’s 45-year career. In his last credit he performed a well-paid cameo turn in an ABC tv movie version of Samson and Delilah — as Samson’s father.