Saturday, July 16, 2011


Sodom and Gomorrah are cities of "sin and unspeakable vice," ruled by a wicked Queen (Anouk Aimee) who seems to have a love/hate relationship with her brother Astaroth (Stanley Baker, at right)—and that may be literal, as there seem to be sexual sparks between the two on occasion (that is, when she's not flirting with her handmaidens and he's not seducing visiting women). The cities also have a large slave population for working the salt mines. Lot (Stewart Granger) brings his wandering Hebrews to a river near Sodom, hoping to set up living quarters outside the city. When Lot agrees to help Sodom fight the warring Helamites, the Queen gives them some land and they are able to thrive there for a time, but there is tension because of anti-slavery feelings of the Hebrews. The Queen gives Lot, a recent widow with two young and comely daughters, a Sodomite slave girl named Ildith (Pier Angeli) who teaches the daughters to wear make-up (gasp!) but is otherwise a decent sort, and soon Lot marries her. The Hebrews help to drive back the Helamites, but their own land is destroyed and Lot reluctantly decides to move his people into Sodom, which of course, leads to their corruption, though Lot fails to notice because he’s soon living the high life after the Queen appoints him First Minister of Sodom. It isn’t until much later that Lot discovers that Astaroth has seduced both of his daughters. When Lot kills Astaroth in a knife fight during a banquet, the Queen says he's become a true Sodomite, finding it "delicious to cause death." After he sees the error of his ways, Lot has a visitation from two angels (two grumpy old men) telling him to take the Hebrews away, and ordering them not to look back as Jehovah destroys Sodom. The film ends with the city's destruction and the inevitable scene of Lot’s wife looking back anyway and being turned into a pillar of salt.

There is lots more plot to this overstuffed but slow-moving Biblical epic, but not all the narrative threads were clear to me. For example, early on Astaroth strikes a secret deal with the Helamites but I was never clear what this was about. There is a second-in-command Hebrew character named Ishamael (Giacomo Rossi Stuart) but he has little to do except stand around, look handsome, and occasionally act as Lot’s conscience. This isn’t exactly a B-film (though since most of the cast is Italian, the post-dubbed dialogue gives the film the feel of a cheapie Hercules movie), but the effects budget should have been higher. There are two well-done action sequences: the first is the battle with the Helamites, which plays out like the Red Sea story in reverse as the Hebrews flood their land to kill the attackers; the second is the destruction of the cities with lightning, earthquakes, and fire. Though the use of miniature sets is fairly obvious, the scene is still impressive here and there. The best actor is Stanley Baker, who almost makes you cheer for his slimy, treacherous Sodomite character, who, after he's been kissing on one of Lot's daughters, says to her, "Do I remind you of your father?" and then tries to arrange a three-way with a soldier. Granger (pictured behind Baker) tires hard but is rather colorless. At 2-1/2 hours, this is definitely too long, but if you stick with it through the slow first hour, things do pick up. If nothing else, there are lots of attractive men and skimpily-clad women to watch. My favorite line: "Be careful of Sodomite patrols!" [FMC]

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