In the reign of emperor Tiberius, Gallilean prophet John the Baptist preaches against King Herod and Queen Herodias. The latter wants John dead, but Herod fears to harm him due to a ... See full summary »
In the reign of emperor Tiberius, Gallilean prophet John the Baptist preaches against King Herod and Queen Herodias. The latter wants John dead, but Herod fears to harm him due to a prophecy. Enter beautiful Princess Salome, Herod's long-absent stepdaughter. Herodias sees the king's dawning lust for Salome as her means of bending the king to her will. But Salome and her lover Claudius are (contrary to Scripture) nearing conversion to the new religion. And the famous climactic dance turns out to have unexpected implications... Written by
Rod Crawford <firstname.lastname@example.org>
This was the last film produced by Rita Hayworth's production company, the Beckworth Company. Hayworth later called her "Dance of the Seven Veils" in this film, "the most demanding [dance] of my entire career," and said it required "endless takes and retakes." See more »
In Palestine, Claudius saves Salome from a gila monster, a venomous lizard found only in southwestern North America. See more »
Epic films based upon the Bible were popular in the 1950s, but sometimes they were only very loosely so based. "Salome" is a case in point. The "damsel" whose seductive dance before King Herod led to the execution of John the Baptist is not actually named in the New Testament, but tradition has identified her with Princess Salome, the daughter of Queen Herodias and the niece and stepdaughter of Herod. She has traditionally been painted as the ultimate Bad Girl, a wanton teenage temptress whose thoughtless cruelty led to John's death.
Well, in this film Salome is no longer a teenager but a mature beauty in her mid-thirties. (Rita Hayworth would have been 35 in 1953). More importantly, she is no longer a Bad Girl. (The studio, apparently, did not want Rita to play a villainess). To begin with, she is proud and independent-minded, but gradually softens under the influence of John's teaching and eventually converts to Christianity. (A "Salome" is numbered among Christ's followers in Mark's Gospel, but this is generally believed to have been a different person). Yes, she still gets to perform her sexy "Dance of the Seven Veils", but her motives for doing so are the precise opposite of those attributed to her in the Scriptures. In this version she is dancing in the hope that she can thereby influence the King to spare John's life.
As the film opens, Salome is living in Rome, where she has lived for most of her life. She has fallen in love with Marcellus, nephew of the Emperor Tiberius, but he forbids their marriage, not wanting a member of his family to marry a "barbarian", and exiles her back to Galilee. Once there she finds herself in a complicated political situation, made more complex by the teachings of the Baptist who condemns Herod's rule and his adulterous marriage to his brother's wife. Herodias is furious, and demands that her husband condemn the Baptist to death for treason, but he is reluctant to do so, believing that he will be cursed if he does; his reluctance makes their already unhappy marriage even more strained. In the meantime, Salome has found a new boyfriend, the handsome Roman soldier Claudius, who shares her interest in John's teaching.
Some later Biblical epics were an odd mixture of godliness and sexiness, combining an improving Christian moral with plenty of bare flesh on display. An example is "Esther and the King" in which Queen Vashti (who in the Bible is banished for refusing her husband's command to "show the people and the princes her beauty") gets into hot water for quite the opposite offence, that of showing them more of her beauty than she should by stripping down to her panties in the Royal Palace. In 1953, however, the Production Code was more rigidly enforced, so "Salome" is, on the surface at least, more godly than sexy. Hayworth's dance is really a Dance of the Six Veils, as she never removes the seventh and therefore remains fairly modestly clad to the end.
Below that surface, however, there is a lot going on. Hayworth, as lovely in her thirties as she had been a decade earlier, was gifted enough, both as an actress and as a dancer, to convey a great deal of erotic allure even when fully clothed, and although the censors could come down hard on any explicit displays of nudity, this sort of subtle sexuality was much more difficult for them to control. "Salome" is far from being Rita's greatest film (that was probably "Gilda"), but that dance is one of her greatest moments. (She later claimed it was "the most demanding of her entire career" as the director William Dieterle demanded endless retakes).
Among the other actors, the best contribution comes from Charles Laughton as the slimily lecherous Herod. Laughton had a tendency to overact, but in a role like this overacting is not necessarily a bad thing. Easily the worst comes from Alan Badel, playing John the Baptist not so much as a prophet as a swivel-eyed religious maniac, the first- century Galilean equivalent of a Hyde Park soapbox preacher. Judith Anderson is good as Herodias, but Stewart Granger is a bit wooden as Claudius, possibly because his character does not have much to do except stand around to provide a love-interest for the leading lady.
"Salome" will never, in my opinion at least, rank alongside the grand epics like "Ben-Hur" or "Spartacus"; there is too much of the smell of cheesy Hollywood sanctimoniousness about it. It does, however, have its virtues, and is certainly better than the likes of "Esther and the King", "The Silver Chalice" or "Sodom and Gomorrah", all of which do not just smell of sanctimoniousness but positively reek of it. It makes enjoyable, if undemanding, watching on a Sunday afternoon. 6/10
Some goofs. Claudius and Pontius Pilate refer to their military service in Britain, but Britain was not a Roman province during the reign of Tiberius. And whatever persuaded the scriptwriter that Gila monsters (natives of Mexico and the American South-West) are to be found in Israel?
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