Review – Takes Super-Strength to Sit Through This (“Samson”)

Being of Christian persuasion, I occasionally like some religious films from time to time. From the really good (Passion of the Christ, Risen) to the truly bizarre (Noah, Mother!) each one tries to invoke passion, peace and, in this case, a sense of “what the heck were they thinking??”

Striving for some Biblical accuracy (but failing miserably), this incarnation has our hero, Samson (Taylor James), as a living prophecy that one day he’ll free his Jewish people from the bondage of those nasty Philistines in town. But Samson, a lovable, cock-sure, and Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson wanna-be has a triple agreement with God: NO wine drinking, NO touching the dead, and NO cutting of hair. In return, he gets miraculous strength when called upon, which his brother Caleb (Greg Kriek), mother (former Bionic Woman Lindsey Wagner) and father (Rutger Hauer, unrecognizable) are pleased with.

Maybe someday he’ll use it to free his people, but until then the slave people of the Tribe of Dan will still be attacked by the vicious and scenery-chewing Prince Rallah (Jackson Rathbone, looking like Johnny Depp). Meanwhile, King Balek (Billy Zane, doing a cross between Rod Steiger & Marlon Brando) hates his wacked-out son, but hates the Jews even more and tries to keep what little peace there is. Pretty soon Samson falls for Taren (Frances Sholto-Douglas), a pretty Philistine slave girl and wants to marry her, giving Rallah a chance to humiliate Samson at his wedding feast with a riddle. Rallah gets his sister Delilah (Caitlin Leahy) to eavesdrop, finding an answer to a riddle and making Samson look like a fool. Oh, and Rallah kills Taran, too, so that sucks.

This leads to Samson wiping out Rallah’s army of thousands with just the jawbone of an ass (a pretty cool scene, BTW) where only Rallah survives because. . .reasons. But killing that many soldiers takes alot out of a guy, so we pick up the story “many years later” where Samson now sports a preposterous shaggy beard (you can actually see the glue lines). He tries to make peace with the King, but Rallah has another plan; he gets Delilah to ingratiate herself into Samson’s life by any means possible and, after an awkward and forced romance, Samson falls for her and eventually tells her his Three Vow Secret.

Next thing you know, she Super-Cuts him, Rallah blinds him, and then throws in the temple dungeon. Samson, bereft of sight and strength, is taken inside the temple for all the local Philistines to witness, and that’s where he ‘brings the house down’ for his final act. This is one of those really low-budget religious films you watch when you’re in third grade Sunday School. Four writers (Zach Smith,  Jason Baumgardner, Timothy Ratajczak, and Galen Gilbert) who barely have any screenwriting experience, wrote this poorly executed and ill-paced movie. They shoulda stuck with their day-jobs in post-production and TV writing.

This is Bruce MacDonald’s only second directorial effort and it shows he’s better off as a producer. Coupled with a laughably bad script (check out King Balek’s murder scene, it’s a riot!), the pacing languishes on and on, while the acting ranges from hammy to hardly registering on the Richter Scale. There are questionable scenes that happen for no reason and really odd editing choices. James looks like a Neanderthal Taylor Lautner and doesn’t know how to play his character from one scene to the next. Leahy looks just plain confused, Rathbone is way, WAY over-the-top hilarious, but ya gotta love Billy Zane who is the only actor here who gives his performance any fun, nuance, or style.

Samson and Delilah (1949)
Ah, 1949. The golden age of Technicolor and Biblical stories that didn’t have idiotic Godzilla-sized ‘rock angels’ in them. (yeah, I’m talkin’ to YOU, Darren Aronofsky!). Yes, the days of epic films like The Ten Commandments, King of Kings, Ben-Hur, The Robe, and this faithful retelling of the classic Biblical story, care of master director, Cecil B. DeMille.

It’s after Moses and his Israelites saga, but the plot’s the same: the oppressed Danites are under the terrible rule of the Philistines, much like the Pharaoh was against the Jews.

But the Danites have an ace-in-the-hole, and that’s Samson (Victor Mature); an egotistical brawny beefcake who’s been blessed by God (through his hair, no less), with unbeliev- able strength. Even though he’s betrothed to lovely Miriam (Olive Deering), Samson wants to marry Semadar (Angela Lansbury), the daughter of the befuddled old Philistine, Lord Ashkelon (Russell Hicks–doing an uncanny imitation of the Sultan from Disney’s Aladdin). However, the suave soldier Artur (Henry Wilcoxon) wants Semadar for himself.
Luckily, there’s Semadar’s beautiful, yet conniving older sister, Delilah (Hedy Lamaar). She lusts after Samson something fierce and will do anything to get him, even scheming to destroy her sister’s marriage to Samson. . .which she does. After a post-marriage fight breaks out (all because of an unsolved riddle), Semadar is killed and Samson goes nuts, becoming a Robin Hood-like criminal, stealing from the Philistines and making himself a wanted man. Oh, he’s caught and all, but he slaughters an entire regiment with the jawbone of an ass. (yes, he did. Google it!).
But you can catch a man better with a woman than you can with an army, so Delilah decides to play the long con with Samson in exchange for some mega $$$. She lures him into her tent of lust and seduces him into divulging his secret (his bargain with God and his long hair). Next thing you know, he’s betrayed, blinded, and buzz-cutted! That bitch! Taken to the city of Gaza, he’s chained to a stone mill (like Conan was) for public ridicule and suffering. As time passes, Delilah woos the new Saran (aka: the King), played to perfection by George Sanders.
But once Delilah sees the blinded and shackled Samson, her hearts melts. Ravaged by guilt and remorse, she prays to Samson’s God and boldly tries to free him. It’s only then Samson, his hair restored to it’s glorious length, gets his full strength back. Having felt he betrayed God by lusting after Delilah instead of helping his people, he decides to destroy the temple of Gaza (with about 3000 watching) and him along with it! The ending has him ‘bringing down the house’ in spectacular fashion with 1949-style SPFX, miniatures, and no CGI!
Based faithfully on the Bible’s Book of Judges, the screenplay by prolific writer Jesse L. Lasky, Jr. (The Ten Commandments, The Buccaneer) and Fredric M. Frank (The Ten Commandants, The Greatest Show On Earth) really did their homework. Okay, so they did fill in the gaps with a lot of the old Hollywood romantic fluff and stuff to pad out the over 2 hour running time, but director Cecil B. DeMille’s signature is all over this picture. From the opening paper scroll titles, to the religious flavor, this movie looks and feels so much like his Ten Commandments movie it’s eerie.
Yes, it’s dated by today’s standards and there are some very funny unintentional moments, like Mature wrestling a lion (a guy in a furry costume), many of the extras spouting their one line like their lives depended on it (hysterical!), some rather hammy performances, and a 13-year-old Russ Tamblyn making his screen debut as Saul, who just wants to use his sling, darn it! Also, don’t blink and you’ll miss George Reeves as a wounded soldier… two years later he’d go on to be TV’s iconic symbol of truth, justice, and the American way. Superman!

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