DENNIS SCHWARTZ 
IS THERE ANY GOOD 
IN SAYING 
EVERYTHING ABOUT A MOVIE?

 
SODOM AND GOMORRAH (director: Robert Aldrich; screenwriters: Giorgio Prosperi/Hugo Butler; cinematographers: Alfio Contini/Silvano Ippoliti/Cyril J. Knowles/Mario Montuori; editors: Mario Serandrei/Peter Tanner; music: Miklós Rózsa; cast: Stewart Granger (Lot), Pier Angeli (Ildith), Stanley Baker (Astaroth), Rosanna Podesta (Shuah), Giacomo Rossi Stuart (Ishmael), Anouk Aimée (Queen Bera), Claude Mori (Maleb), Aldo Silvani (Nacor), Feodor Chaliapin (Alabias); Runtime: 153; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Goffredo Lombardo; Fox Video; 1962-France/Italy-in English)

 
"It has all the disadvantages of the Sword and Sandal epics without too many of the advantages."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Robert Aldrich ("The Big Knife"/"Kiss Me Deadly"/"The Flight of the Phoenix") shot this biblical epic in Rome and Morocco, over an eleven month period, using a bevy of gorgeous Italian extras to play both the Hebrews and heathens. It has a terrible rep (deservedly so), but is not a complete bomb--there are several good scenes and you do get a little feel for the early Hebrews and what passed for sin back in the day. But it's tacky (catch God's final destruction of the cities), and it has all the disadvantages of the Sword and Sandal epics without too many of the advantages. The characterizations are all stilted and the mix of salt and sin still doesn't make for a spicy tale. It was scripted by the blacklisted Hugo Butler, who leaves some of the Bible telling behind as he tries to turn it into a Marxist parable (Lot going in one direction, while his brother Abraham takes the rest of the Hebrew tribe to Canaan--giving him the chance to have his alter ego, Alabias, voice the writer's sentiments as a reformer who is punished after denouncing the salt trade in the twin cities as the basis of Sodom's wealth and that it's criminal that slaves were used to keep it going). Stewart Granger tries hard but is never believable as Lot, though he waves a big staff. The Hebrews are portrayed as virtuous bores, tediously carrying on about making the land fertile. While the Sodomites, under their beautiful but evil Queen Bera (Anouk Aimée), hang around the palace stylishly dressed in '60s evening gowns and ooze sin by their indolence, sexy appearances and pursuit of S&M and orgies (these sinful characters look more interesting than the Hebrew dullards, even though they're not God's chosen people). Stanley Baker plays the Queen's sneaky brother Astraroth, who schemes behind her back to gain control of the twin cities whenever he's not leering at some chick. These hepcats greet each other by saying "Welcome Sodomites," which made me think that maybe they could have come up with a better greeting.

The overlong film, at 153 minutes, tells the simple tale of how Lot leads the nomadic Hebrews into the evil twin cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Lot makes a pact with the Queen whereby the Hebrews can stay in the fertile Valley of Jordan as long as they defend it against her rival neighbors, the warlike Helamites. The Helamites have a secret pact with her brother to capture her kingdom. But after Lot repels their attack, with the help of nature, he leads his people out of the cesspool of sin when the slave labor conditions in the salt mines become too unbearable for them, his people start adapting to the carnal life of the Sodomites and God gives him word to make tracks because he's set on destroying the city. After his arrest by the Queen, Lot escapes from his dungeon and gets all the Hebrews he can to follow him on his trek to salvation--including his wife Ildith (Pier Angeli), a former slave given to him by the Queen. It follows the Bible's telling: Lot's wife ignores his warning of not to look back, and when she does she sees the city destroyed by an earthquake and she's transformed into a pillar of salt.

Too much of the pic was dreary and left openings for unintentional chuckles, like over its presentation of the all-knowing God providing Lot with Divine visions. It's the kind of God depicted that might satisfy someone of unquestionable belief and limited curiosity, but might leave less gullible souls pinching themselves at what's going down.

REVIEWED ON 6/29/2007        GRADE: C

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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