Samson and Delilah


Some terms

Dan: A son Jacob by Bilhah and the ancestor of the tribe of Dan, a one clan family that settled in the north of Canaan and built a city called Dan

Nazirite: a person pledged never to shave or drink intoxicants

Philistines: A group of people whose origin is uncertain (maybe Asia Minor, Crete or points north). They arrived in S.W. corner of Asia about the 12th Century B.C. Their 5 major cities were Ashdod, Askalon, Ekron, Gath and Gaza. The Greek word for Philistine is the origin of the word Palestine.

Philistine gods or Baals were Ashtaroth (Astarte), Beelzebub (Baalzebub - possibly meaning "Lord of the Flies") and Dagon

Academy Awards:


Best Art Direction (Color)
Best Costume Design


Best cinematography (color)
Best special effects
Best Score

Biblical Reference for Samson and Delilah

Judges 13-16
Hebrews 11:32

Manoah = ?

The story deals with the relationship between the Israelites and Philistines - something which had been turbulent and the Philistines appear in the David and Goliath story.

Samson is involved in a number of events:

killing a lion barehanded while traveling with his mother and father to get Philistine bride
Posing a riddle
Slaughtering 30 Philistines at one time to get clothes
Smashing the strongest bonds
Carrying off the gates of Gaza
Killing 1,000 Philistines with the jawbone of an ass.
Bringing down the temple of Dagon at Gaza

Israelites have been disobedient again and are given over the Philistines for 40 years. Manoah, a Danite has a wife who is barren. She sees an angel who announces Samson's birth (sign he will be a holy person) to her. Samson is to be raised as a Nazarite - a person, who can not cut his hair, come in contact with grapes/wine. Avoiding dead bodies Samson is big strong stupid kid, and does things which are dopey, but often become good. Kills lion with bare hands and finds bees and honey in the lion Decides to marry Philistine woman. Gets parents to arrange and then has wedding party to which come 30 companions. Posses riddle "Out of the eater came forth meat, and out of the strong came forth sweetness." If guessed he gives sheets and clothes to companions, if not they give him 30 sets. Wife wheedles answer from him. Samson kills them and exchanges their clothes for others since they won. He burns the Philistines fields. They retaliate killing his wife and father in law He retaliates Philistines threaten Jews, they agree to get Samson Samson kills Philistines with jaw bone of ass Falls in love with Delilah (Philistine) Tells her that his strength is in his hair (once again a woman gets it out of him) She cuts his hair and turns him over to the Philistines who blind him and shackle him to millstone and put him to work grinding meal. He is brought to the temple of Dagon where he causes the temple to collapse and kills more Philistines than in his life.


Victor Mature (Samson) had appeared early in such films as One Million B.C. which established him as a virile "strong man" in film. He appeared in a number of musical films and then dramas. Samson and Delilah is his first Biblical epic, but he went on to do many more including The Robe (the first film released in Cinemascope), Demetrius and the Gladiators, The Egyptian and finally in 1984 he played Samson's father in a T.V. version of Samson and Delilah! His reputation as an actor is not great, and he himself claims that when he applied for membership in an exclusive club and was turned down on the grounds he was an actor he said "I'm not an actor and I have more than 25 films to prove it!" He was, non the less considered physically powerful looking and was well regarded by both men and women.

Hedy Lamarr (Delilah) had appeared in the nude in the film Ekstase (1933) (Ecstasy) (billed as Hedy Kiesler). The somewhat scandalous nature of that film set her up to play overtly sexual women, hence was a "natural" for Delilah.

Notice that Hedy Lamarr, Angela Lansbury and George Sanders (who all play the leading Philistines) are European, while Victor Mature is American. A similar scenario exists for The Ten Commandments (1956) with an American, CHarleton Heston playing Moses and Yul Bryner playing Pharaoh. Americans play Israelites, foreigners play "the other". What does that imlpy? As an odd bit, watch for De Mille's use of lines in the crowd spoken by extras.


How close is this to the Bible story?

Does it have any resonances with the contemporary world of the time the film is made?

Question of Samson and suicide.

Notice the shifts in make-up that happen in the film. Delilah is heavily made up in "glamour" make-up, whereas Miriam is not. By the scene where Delilah comes to see Samson in the grist mill, her make-up has become much more like Miriam's indicating she has moved closer to that position and is no longer going to betray Samson.

Samson when lead to the temple, has longish hair again and in addition has grown a beard. Since hair is the symbol of his strength we know it has return in force (additional hair) and he will be stronger than ever.

In real life, people walking through an organized space may find that the designers have constructed the space so that things are slowly revealed to visitors. THis is done by making turns in the paths so that buildings may be seen from new vistas after each turn.

How does the camera reveal the temple?

Notice the way the scene opens on what appears to be a small street. When it pans over we are shown a large open sapce with a troop of dancers. The area looks quite large. Then the camera moves so that we can see the immensity of the whole temple standing above the arena area.

Different genres of film have different things which people want to see. (In jargon, the films specularize people's scopophilia which varies from genre to genre).

For biblical epics, the major "specularizations" are as follows:

(Not all films have all of them)

1. architecture (usually negative) temple of Dagon etc.
2. geographic and or cosmic spectacle: the creation, vast deserts etc.
3. the body: maleness and femaleness (see gladiator dance and the performance in Temple of Dagon
4. the orgy: justify the showing of decadence and corruption
5. presentations, ceremonies gift giving
6. costumes, fabrics jewels, ornaments (fabrics etc,)
7. ancient warfare
8. slavery - possibly related to:
9. sadism, masochism, torture punishment (grist mill, Temple of Dagon)

In some ways, the biblical films are like westerns; in other respects like those melodramas aften called "women's films".

The Western deals with opening up a country (nation) which is parallel to the founding and development of "The Promised Land".

The films also echo women's ilms in that in several of the biblical stories which are male dominated, women are suddenly introduced in a romantic mode. See for example Sodom and Gomorrah, Samson and Delilah, and Solomon and Sheba

There are certain patterns or themes which appear in these fims which you need to watch for: Reflections of America:
Russia/Pagans - Egyptians, Philistines/ slavery

Gender relations (In this film Samson is manipulated by several women (his wife. Semadar and her sister, Delilah). Delilah is later referred to twice as a "peacock" with her dress which looks like peacock eyes found on male peacocks).

Parallels between American revolution and the establishment of Israel (in post 40's films).

The co-opting of the Old Testament into the New by de-ethnicizing Hebrews. (Delilah gets silver (like Judas) for betraying Samson

One needs to read The Bible in part to see how the story is altered to make points which differ from those in . Normally this is not needed with most films, but because the source material is so well known it becomes moer important to see where the films diverge from the text.


Camille Saint Saens' opera Samson and Delilah