SODOM AND GOMORRAH [1962] [HCF REWIND]

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HCF may be one of the newest voices on the web for all things Horror and Cult, and while our aim is to bring you our best opinion of all the new and strange that hits the market, we still cannot forget about our old loves, the films that made us want to create the website to spread the word.  So, now and again our official critics at the HCF headquarters have an urge to throw aside their new required copies of the week and dust down their old collection and bring them to the fore…. our aim, to make sure that you may have not missed the films that should be stood proud in your collection.

 

HCF REWIND NO.80. SODOM AND GOMORRAH [1962]

AVAILABLE ON DVD

RUNNING TIME: 155 mins/123 mins/112 mins

 

 

In the desert lie the twin cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, full of vice and decadence.  Queen Bera is unaware of the fact that her brother Astorath is plotting to overthrow her with the aid of the Elamites.  Meanwhile, Lot leads his family and a tribe of Hebrews through the desert, hoping that he can find a permanent home for them along the fertile banks of the River Jordan. As the Hebrews approach their destination, Lot meets the beautiful Ildith, and begins to fall for her despite her being a citizen of Sodom.  A deal is made where the Hebrews can live on Sodomite land as long as they make grain and defend them against attackers, but parties on both sides are unhappy with both this and Lot’s relationship with Ildith, while more and more Hebrews start to enjoy the Sodomite lifestyle…..

Despite it being a really huge production, Sodom and Gomorah seems to have been almost forgotten since its release.  It’s certainly no classic like Ben Hur and The Ten Commandments, but this camp and corny Biblical epic is a lot of fun.  It seems to be mostly regarded as being awful, with its second unit director, a certain Sergio Leone, claiming that the most expressive actor was the pillar of salt which [ as if you don’t know the story] somebody turns into at the end.  That is a bit harsh.  The film is quite interesting in several respects, such as the way it blends the ‘worthy’ Hollywood epic with the peplums [cheap and cheerful dramas set in the Ancient World] that were churned out in droves in Italy before the spaghetti westerns took over.   It also has a fair bit of sex and violence, with bits of that odd Italian kind of sadism which was often on view during their horror films of the time.  It’s really a bit of a mess and is full of flaws; where for instance, despite the title, is Gomorrah?  It’s never mentioned, unless it’s supposed to be part of Sodom [which is highly inaccurate].  I always enjoy watching this film though; in fact, I’ve seen it more often than some of the more praised examples of the genre.

It was directed by Robert Aldrich, a strange choice perhaps for this film, and to be honest you’d swear Cecil B.De Mille made it if you didn’t know otherwise. Filmed in Morocco with scorpions and snakes everywhere, it was a difficult production with lots of injuries including the two main stars Stewart Granger and Stanley Baker spraining their back and almost losing a finger respectively.   Granger and Pier Angeli hated each other so much they refused to communicate except for the time when Angeli told him he was the only one of the film’s leading actors she had not slept with while on location. Money was constantly wasted, such as having tons of water poured onto sand because when extras trampled all over it you couldn’t see much because of all the dust created, then, because the water  dried too quickly, loads of water mixed with petrol was used.  The wildly over-budgeted film would have had to be a megahit to make money, though it was quite popular in mainland Europe.  It was planned as a Roadshow release [with prologue and intermission] in the UK and US but was never actually shown in that way.   It received an ‘X’ certificate in the UK and was often cut down to the point where it existed in several versions.  I used to own the 112 min version on video, and it certainly moved fast, but was also badly edited to the point that I could tell the film was cutting into scenes already part of the way through.

We open well with the aftermath of an orgy and a ride into the desert in the background of the lengthy opening titles, with some shots in coloured filters in a sequence that was directed by Maurice Binder.  He was not the only 007 alumnus to work on the film, because Ken Adam designed the sets, though they are not as unique as much of his Bond work and he seems to have gone for more realism, which jars somewhat with the film in general, which has in spades common flaws in films of this type such as unintentionally funny dialogue [probably unavoidable in a film featuring folk called the Sodomites] and women whose hair and make-up is definitely of the 60’s rather than ancient Biblical times.  The movie is blatantly inaccurate, such as a major part of its dramatic conflict being that the Sodomites have slaves and the Hebrews are totally against slavery, when in fact the Hebrews did have slaves.  It was definitely right though to not have homosexuality as the major ‘sin of the Sodomites, though Aldrich is still able to indulge his fetish for evil lesbians. The filmmakers were undoubtedly constrained by the times in depictions of ‘vice’, but there’s much blatant sleeping around, obvious sexual servitude, a Queen who gets very close to her handmaidens, and suggestions of incest such as a scene where Bera and her brother suck each other’s thumbs.  There’s also some vivid and inventive sadistic touches, most notably when a blind man who produces spikes from his armour when he breathes is forced ever closer to a prisoner, and a wheel of death where people are tied down, brushed with oil and lowered into fire repeatedly.

There’s as much romance and sexual intrigue as action and to be honest some of the minor skirmishes and duels are a little weak, but there is a lengthy battle sequence in the middle that is amongst the best of its kind, and was actually the main bit that was directed by Leone.   I recently watched The Lord Of The Rings movies and still found the battles scenes incredibly thrilling, but there was a time when there were no computers and sequences of major conflict had to be entirely done with real people.  The battle in Sodom and Gomorrah is quite a stunner.  As hundreds of real folk ride across the screen on horses, the filming alternates wide and aerial shots with close-ups of the resulting hacking and thrusting [quite a bit of blood here too],while the battle is shown in stages and shows various tactics rather than just being an incoherent mess.   At one point tons of oil is poured on people, while later people fight on a dam which is then broken.  The resultant flood has a couple of mediocre effects shots, but the climax where God’s Wrath is unleashed on Sodom still looks rather good, even when the city appears to actually blow up.

As with much De Mille, the film appears to be very moralistic and perhaps even hypocritical the way it shows the wages of sin in order to condemn it, but as it progresses it seems to show a moral uncertainty and a cynicism which is certainly in keeping with its director’s work.  The Hebrews come across as such a dull, humourless and self-righteous lot that it’s easy to understand how some of them seem to ‘defect’ to the delights of Sodom.  The films seems to be saying that it’s too easy to slide into evil, and certainly keeps to the original story’s idea that one should resist evil rather than temporise with it.  Lot realises too late that his collaboration with the Sodomite Queen has not persuaded the Sodomites to become more humane but has rather led to his own people becoming less so and to their becoming corrupted by the sexual temptations on offer.  However, it doesn’t really show the Hebrews in that good a light, and who can blame one of his daughters for wanting to wear some pretty clothes and make-up?

There’s a wide variety of accents in this film and Stewart Granger is as wooden as usual.  Performance-wise the movie belongs to its villains with Anouk Aimee a rather mesmerizing lesbian Queen and Stanley Baker enjoying himself hugely as her brother Astorath. Despite being given some of the worst dialogue to say, he revels in being as sleazy and slimy as possible, like the scene where he tells one of Lot’s daughters he has slept with her sister,then tries to organise a threesome with her, him and a guard. Miklos Rozsa [who replaced Dmitri Tiomkin who turned the film down calling it “trash”, obviously missing the point], provides a fabulous score, rich in themes and often evoking what might be the music of the time, which certainly bears comparison with his more celebrated epic scores.  From his thrilling battle scoring, to the two beautiful love themes, to the hymn depicting God’s messengers, it’s a great achievement and deserves a complete soundtrack release.  As for the film, it is easy to find on DVD if you look [my copy is Portuguese!] though it hasn’t yet had a proper restoration.  I think this generally badly treated film deserves one.   It’s silly and easy to laugh at, but is entertaining for fans of this genre and has some intriguing ingredients for those who aren’t.  They sure don’t make ‘em like this anymore, and it’s a damn shame if you asked me.

Rating: ★★★★★★½☆☆☆


About Dr Lenera 3109 Articles
I'm a huge film fan and will watch pretty much any type of film, from Martial Arts to Westerns, from Romances [though I don't really like Romcoms!]] to Historical Epics. Though I most certainly 'have a life', I tend to go to the cinema twice a week! However,ever since I was a kid, sneaking downstairs when my parents had gone to bed to watch old Universal and Hammer horror movies, I've always been especially fascinated by horror, and though I enjoy all types of horror films, those Golden Oldies with people like Boris Karloff and Christopher Lee probably remain my favourites. That's not to say I don't enjoy a bit of blood and gore every now and again though, and am also a huge fan of Italian horror, I just love the style.

1 Comment

  1. Hammer films! YES!

    I’m a Gen-Xer from the American Hinterland. As a kid, we lived in a major metropolitan area (which is still home) in the era before most everyone had cable. At the time, cable served rural folks who got one or none, channel-wise.

    Friday and Saturday nights, one of the local stations would run the old American International Pictures and Hammer movies! Or, they’d run my very favorite, the Hammer HOUSE OF HORROR! (Hope I remembered the title right. Anyway, it was Hammer’s 1-Hour shows. AWESOME!

    I have seen a few of those shows again thanks to a small Netflix collection. I still love that theme song! But, I loved all those shows. Remember the newer, 80s shows? “Tales of the Unexpected”? And, the greatest of the 80s, “The Hitchhiker” and “Tales from the Darkside”?

    Still, I have a special love for Hammer House! My GF just doesn’t understand as I explain to her how very special–and IMPORTANT–Hammer House was to the horror genre, in general, and to me, personally. Still.

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