Salome 1953 - Movie Review
Considering the popular reputation of a girl known as Salome, who had something to do with the unhinging of John the Baptist's head, and considering the wide-eyed admiration in which Rita Hyworth is held, it is not surprising to find the two young ladies brought together and exploited in a film.
Columbia's "Salome," which broke the barrier at the Rivoli last night, is a flamboyant, Technicolored romance, based vaguely on a Biblical tale, wherein the highly regarded Miss Hayworth plays the legendary dancer at Herod's court. It is also a lush conglomeration of historical pretenses and make-believe, pseudo-religious ostentation and just plain insinuated sex.
No one of moderate perception, observing the posters for this film, is likely to be deceived too greatly as to its Biblical authenticity or its calculated provision of intellectual food. The billboard appearances of Miss Hayworth in various attitudes of repose, gowned in diaphanous garments and making with come-hither looks, suggest more profound enthusiasm for the delights of theatrical couture and the well-advertised allurements of a famous glamour queen.
And those are the dominating elements in this elaborately fanciful film, which makes its spectacular pretensions under the direction of William Dieterle. Although there prevails throughout the picture a righteously sanctimonious air, suggesting the whole thing is intended to be taken on a high religious plane, the climate is mainly saturated with the elegance of the heroine and the fascination of her. She is the object of all eyes.
In aggrandizing the lady, the gentlemen who wrote the script, Jesse L. Lasky Jr. and Harry Kleiner, have taken considerable liberties with the biblical story of the fate of John the Baptist and also with later fables of Salome.
Where the Bible's and other versions of the story of the dancing girl have her asking for the head of John the Baptist as a reward for her dancing before the King, this Hollywood version has her meaning to ask that the popular prophet be set free. Seems she has taken a strong liking to a Roman captain of Pontius Pilate's entourage who has himself become vastly taken with the new philosophy of John and of Christ. And, in order to obtain John's freedom, she dances before the licentious King, but before she has time to make her petition, her mother asks for and receives the prophet's head.
This dodge is, of course, an absolution of Salome of any blame for a bit of biblical intrigue about Which historians themselves are rather vague. It is with extreme shock and horror that she beholds John's gory head, resting sublimely on a platter, and she flees from Herod and her mother in utter shame. The last we see of her and her Roman captain, they are listening raptly to the Sermon on the Mount.
Prior to this amazing climax, the lady is allowed to spend some time charming other highly placed Romans, riding a galley in the Mediterranean Sea and moving in top palace circles in the land of Galilee, pursued by her handsome Roman captain and by King Herod, who is equally bemused. But her moment of greatest magnificence comes when she dances for the King, in a sort of discreet striptease version of the Dance of the Seven Veils.
In this latter performance, Miss Hayworth does give a lively show—more lively, at least, than the posturing that she does in the earlier parts of the film. And the pop-eyed entrancement of Charles Laughton as Herod in watching her is a pretty fair indication of what her fans are expected to do. Like Miss Hayworth's, Mr. Laughton's performance is not impressive in earlier phases of the film. Where he used to belch when he was sated, now he merely yawns.
As for Stewart Granger as the Roman captain, Judith Anderson as Queen Herodias, Alan Badel as John the Baptist, Basil Sydney as Pontius Pilate and many more, they are simply supporting adornments for Miss Hayworth's expensive Salome.
By Bosley Crowther