"Salome", has really come in for it's fair share of criticism in the years since it's 1953 release. Criticised for it's blatant altering of the New Testament story that depicts the beheading of John the Baptist, it has been called everything from a campy mess to an insult to scholars of the Bible. However I always just appreciate the film for it's many outstanding qualities that well and truly earn it a place in my personal pantheon of great 1950's Biblical Epics. Lacking the wide scope of for example "The Ten Commandments", "Salome", takes a short incident in the Bible and turns it into a highly entertaining and at times tragic story. It certainly succeeded in provided an eye filling showcase for actress Rita Hayworth, only recently arrived back in Hollywood after an unsuccessful marriage to Prince Aly Khan. Despite the break from Hollywood she has never been more alive and sensual as in this role and her justly famous rendition of the notorious "Dance of the Seven Veils", is the dramatic and indeed sensual climax of the film. If for nothing else Rita Hayworth will always be imprinted in viewers minds as the Princess Salome seductively performing this dance before an obviously besotted King Herod just prior to John the Baptist's head being brought into the room on a platter.
We have all read about John the Baptist as children and how Princess Salome agreed to do the "Dance of the Seven Veils", in return for the Baptist's head. Hollywood being Hollywood, has altered the story and Salome is now not the total wanton of the Bible story but a basically decent girl surrounded by total corrupting influences. This artistic licence aside the story is an affectivly told one and includes some terrific actors having the time of their lives with their colourful characters. The story opens with young Princess Salome residing in the Rome of the Emperor Tiberius (Cedric Hardwicke). She has been sent there by her mother Queen Herodias (Judith Anderson), who is intent on keeping her away from the incestuous attention of her step father King Herod (Charles Laughton). Salome however runs foul of the Emperor when she falls in love with Marcellus a relative of the Emperor. Refusing to allow his family to marry "barbarians", Salome is sent back to her parents in Galilea. On the journey over she is placed in the care of Roman Commander Claudius (Stewart Granger), and the two begin a definite love /hate relationship. Upon arriving back in her homeland Salome discovers all is not well as her mother Queen Herodias, who is trapped in a loveless marriage with Herod, has consuming ambitions for the throne and rather disturbingly King Herod takes an unwelcome and decidely unheathy interest in his beautiful step daughter. The kingdom is rife with unrest and John the Baptist is constantly speaking out against the corruption and godlessness of the ruler and his court. When he speaks out at the Queen as an adulteress Salome goes to find out more about this outspoken preacher and discovers that Claudius who she now realises she loves, is actually one of his followers. Queen Herodias makes plans to have the baptist assassinated however it fails and Herod takes him into his custody to keep him out of the way. The people meanwhile begin to rise up in protest at John's imprisonment and Salome learns the true nature of her evil mother when she asks her to perform the Dance of the Seven Veils, before Herod in return for the Bapist's head. Dancing before the King is simply another word for prostitution and Salome decides to leave the Palace. A visit with Claudius to the imprisoned John makes her see the power of what he is preaching about the Lord's word and she decides to save him by appeasing her father in law and performing the dance. However Herodias has her way and John is beheaded much to Salome's horror who now sets out on her own life as a Christian with Claudius.
Glitzy hokum? Perhaps, but highly entertaining nevertheless. "Salome", was for a long time a project dear to the heart of Cecil B. DeMille who would have been in his element with such an exotic story. He envisioned using Rita Hayworth as the legendary Salome however it never came to be. It was finally up to Columbia chief Harry Cohn fifteeen years later to finally put this project into reality. No expenses was spared on talent both in front of and behind the camera and it shows in the final film. Luscious costumes designed by Jean Louis, breathtaking colour photography and the typical trademarks of 1950's Epics, lavish sets and intrigue are poured on thick in "Salome". Rita Hayworth despite not resembling a Princess native to the Holy Land does well in the role and in her famous dance shows off the skills that served her well as a dancer earlier in her career. Judith Anderson as the evil Queen steals every scene she is in in another classic nasty performance and Charles Laughton performs to his hammy best as the decadent King Herod. These two veteran performers by their colourful playing really bring "Salome", alive in their scenes. "Salome", benefits from some truly superb camerawork for both the palace scenes and also for the actual locations in the Holy Land which were used for the first time with this film. These locations give a rich and realistic look to many of the outdoor scenes in "Salome", recreating the times of the New Testament perfectly.
Being a huge fan of these lavish biblical epics produced in the 1950's I can still see the obvious holes in this film version of "Salome". Rather than seeing them as faults however one has to just take the film at face value, not take it too seriously and just enjoy it for the great production it is. It has romance, intrigue, gorgeous sets and costumes and enough action to satisfy most epic movie lovers. For a "refashioned", look at one of the Bible's more famous stories you are sure to love Columbia Studios lavish "Salome", starring the legendary Rita Hayworth.