Alla Nazimova's Salome, Claudette Colbert's Cleopatra, Hedy Lamarr's Delilah, and Greta Garbo's Mata Hari are the four temptresses featured in the “Ornament and the Enchantress” film series presented by Los Angeles' J. Paul Getty Museum.
Charles Bryant's Salome (1923); Cecil B. DeMille's Cleopatra (1934), co-starring Warren William and Henry Wilcoxon; DeMille's Samson and Delilah (1949), co-starring Victor Mature; and George Fitzmaurice's Mata Hari (1931), co-starring Ramon Novarro, will be screened at the Harold M. Williams Auditorium at the Getty Center June 26-27.
“Ornament and the Enchantress” will serve as a complement to the exhibition “The Spectacular Art of Jean-Léon Gérôme,” on view at the J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center from June 15 to September 12, 2010.
All four movies are well worth watching. Salome is slow-moving and has been badly chopped up, but Alla Nazimova was one of a kind and her Salome is one of her more unusual creations – Katy Perry would kill to wear Salome's wig.
Greta Garbo shines in Mata Hari, but Ramon Novarro – a huge star in his day – is basically an appendage to the story. Hedy Lamarr is excellent as Delilah, one of DeMille's funniest (unintentionally so) Biblical epics. Claudette Colbert is a hoot as Cleopatra, much sexier and alluring than Elizabeth Taylor in the 1963 version.
According to the Getty's press release, “Ornament and the Enchantress” was inspired by “the sensual, implicitly eroticized women in Gérôme's work, in which luxuriant odalisques are placed in opulently decorated interiors.” The release adds that Gérôme's paintings “inspired Hollywood directors from D.W. Griffith to Steven Spielberg.”
Admission is free for the “Ornament and the Enchantress,” but reservations for each film are required. To make reservations, call (310) 440-7300 or visit www.getty.edu/visit.
Schedule and synopses from the Getty press release:
June 26, 3pm
(1922) Directed by Charles Bryant
Prod.: Nazimova. Scr.: Peter Winters. Based on Oscar Wilde's play. Cinematographer: Charles Van Enger. Art Dir.: Natacha Rambova. With: Nazimova, Rose Dione, Mitchell Lewis, Nigel de Brulier. 35mm, tinted, silent, 75 min. Live piano accompaniment by Michael Mortilla. Preservation funded by George Eastman House.
A fascinating early art film, SALOME is part Aubrey Beardsley's Art Nouveau illustrations and part narcotic-induced, decadent '20s Hollywood.
Stage actress and screen star Alla Nazimova is Salome, the biblical seductress who, bored by her uncle Herod's lewd attraction to her, turns her interest to the jailed John the Baptist who, of course, only has eyes for God. Played here as the ultimate femme fatale, Salome agrees to dance for Herod under one condition: that he bring her the head of the pious prisoner.
June 26, 7pm
(1934) Directed by Cecil B. DeMille
Prod.: C.B. DeMille. With: Claudette Colbert, Warren William, Henry Wilcoxon, Gertrude Michael. 35mm, 102 min. Preserved by the UCLA Film & Television Archive.
Laying the groundwork for the epic opulence and style of the type of film that would be categorized simply as DeMillion, the great producer/director here forgoes Shakespearian inclination for his preferred flavor of history: sin and sex with a moral chaser.
Cleopatra (Colbert) is seen kidnapped by her brother Ptolemy's minions and dumped in the desert warned never to return to Alexandria. Cleo has other ideas and knowing that Julius Caesar is to arrive to annex Egypt, she has herself transported home to be thrown at his feet. Caesar falls hard and fast and takes her back to Rome with the intent to wed. His speech doesn't go over well however, and now it's Antony who Cleopatra must seduce and does so in the film's greatest set piece: The Royal Barge. Here art direction, costuming and spectacle converge in an intoxicating cabaret. Cue the chiseled oarsmen, the garlanded ox, the slave girls, some dressed in leopard, some clad only in seaweed as they wriggle on the deck to offer seashells full of jewels. Antony is hooked (who wouldn't be?) and remains with Cleopatra until fate intervenes.
June 27, Noon
SAMSON AND DELILAH
(1949) Directed by Cecil B. DeMille
Prod.: Cecil B. DeMille. Scr.: Jesse L. Lasky Jr., Frederic M. Franc. Cinematographer: George Barnes. Editor: Anne Bauchens. With: Hedy Lamarr, Victor Mature, George Sanders, Angela Lansbury, Olive Dearing. 35mm, 120 min.
Long before there were STAR WARS, E.T, or IRON MAN, before there was the “wide release” in the 16-theater Multiplex, there was Cecil B. DeMille and in every major city there was the grand movie palace. DeMille's films were cinematic events, the original blockbusters. He has been heralded as the first filmmaker to “give the public what it wanted,” and what it wanted was over-the-top costumes and sets, and epic storylines of love and vengeance, wrapped in a neat package of forbidden sins and piety. Muscular biblical kitsch, they don't make 'em like they used to.
June 27, 3pm
(1932) Directed by George Fitzmaurice
Prod.: Irving Thalberg (uncredited). Scr.: Benjamin Glazer, Leo Birinski. Cinematographer: William Daniels. Editor: Frank Sullivan. With: Greta Garbo, Ramon Novarro, Lionel Barrymore, Lewis Stone, C. Henry Gordon. 35mm, 90 min.
As a young woman, Dutch-born Margaretha Gertrud Zelle studied dance in Indonesia while stationed there with her husband in the late 1800s. At 27 she left her family, took the stage name of Mata Hari, and scandalized polite Parisian society with her semi-erotic dance shows. Her act was very popular, but even more were her provocative photos wherein she wore nothing but a bejeweled bra and headdress. By the time World War I hit, she was close to 40 and less in demand as a dancer. She was, however, a popular courtesan with high-ranking officers and politicians. Her promiscuity and lifestyle gave rise to the notion that she was a spy, potentially a double agent, and she was eventually put on trial and executed.
Here Mata is a dedicated German spy with her eye on both an elder Russian General (Barrymore) and the young, goo-goo-eyed Russian flyer Rosanoff (Novarro). Shown to have all Paris at her fingertips, she hastens her decline in falling for Rosanoff. Blinded (literally) by love, Rosanoff visits the jailed Mata who is doomed, as a classic femme fatale, to a short but glamorous life.
Photo: Mata Hari (Matias Bombal Collection); Cleopatra, Samson and Delilah (Getty Museum / Paramount Pictures / Photofest)