Something something pillar of salt something.
Ahh, old-school Hollywood Bible epics. So big, so bombastic, so campy. 1962’s Sodom and Gomorrah occupies an odd space in this genre, often set apart as allegedly the trashy one. Whether that’s true is a matter of opinion, but what’s for sure is that the movie is making its first-ever appearance on DVD, courtesy of Fox’s Cinema Archives label.
Lot (Stewart Granger, Prisoner of Zenda) leads his people, the Hebrews, across the desert in search of a new home. They arrive at a river and set up camp, which happens to be next door to twin cities Sodom and Gomorrah, places of sin led by an evil queen (Anouk Aimee, La Dolce Vita).
An uneasy truce breaks out, with the queen offering slave girl Ildith (Pier Angeli, Battle of the Bulge) to serve the Hebrews. Lot, a widower, and Ildith fall in love. Some of the Hebrews, including Lot’s two virginal daughters, become tempted by the carnal pleasures of the two cities. This problem grows after an attack by savage Elamites drives the Hebrews inside the cities’ walls, and even Lot becomes tempted. As the wrath of God arrives to destroy the cities, will Lot and his people survive?
Reading reviews of this movie online shows all kinds of opinions. Some decry the movie for its ribald nature, while others decry it for not going far enough with the sleaze and debauchery. Some find it spiritually uplifting while others fret about the movie playing fast and loose with the subject matter. Tell you what—let’s take the Bible and all the world’s religions and set them to the side for a moment and just look at this thing as a movie. Don’t worry, the Bible and all the world’s religions will still be there when we’re done.
An Italian/French/American co-production filmed in Morocco, Sodom and Gomorrah has that Italian sword-and-sandal feel. Everybody’s all sweaty, a little bit too tan, and badly, badly dubbed into English. Still, if you can get into the ’60s Italian vibe, there’s a lot to enjoy here. Filming at actual historic sites in Morocco gives the whole thing huge production value, as does massive crowd scenes with hundreds of extras on screen at once. The Elamite attack is an eye-popping sequence, with an entire army of dudes riding on horseback into battle at full gallop. It’s a real David Lean/Akira Kurosawa moment, and is the movie’s highlight. The big finale, in which God destroys Sodom and Gomorrah (spoiler?) tries to be just as big, but can’t quite compete.
As Lot, actor Stewart Granger is a striking figure, with his white hair and suitcase-leather tan. You really believe he is this stalwart guy, committed to his beliefs, and one that hundreds of people would be willing to follow. Later in the film, when he starts to fall into Sodom’s ways, it’s powerful because here’s a good man falling down.
It’s a Bible epic, of course a lot of the performances are big and broad. Lot and Ildith’s romance is huge melodrama, in that they come from two different worlds. She changes her ways for him, but can’t quite let go of where she came from. Lot’s daughter has a similar forbidden romance with a hunky guy from Sodom, but it’s more or less forgotten about in the second half of the film. Anouk Aimee plays it big as the villainous queen, and she’s a riot, stealing every scene she’s in.
Sodom and Gomorrah’s reputation as the super-sleazy Bible epic seems unwarranted. There are a ton of scantily-clad dancing girls, but that’s pretty much it for all the sex we see on screen. Other sexy fun, including gay sex, is strongly hinted at, but left up to the viewers’ imaginations. If you’re looking for the messed-up version of the Bible, this isn’t it. For the most part, the script follows a similar playbook as The Ten Commandments with Lot freeing his people similarly to Moses.
As is the case with most of the Cinema Archive discs, the video and audio are really, really rough. Full frame, washed out colors, and distracting scratches and flecks all over the screen. Audio is clean, but flat and far from immersive. An appropriately hyperbolic trailer is the only extra. What we lose in the poor digital transfer we gain in merely having these film obscurities on disc to begin with.
Sodom and Gomorrah is a flawed movie, overly long and campy, but with a lot to enjoy. A few big set pieces and some likable performances set this one apart far more than any naked flesh.
Spared God’s wrath…this time.