Watch It: Salome (1923)

Posted by Brandy Dean February 3, 2013 2 Comments 5946 views

Salome (1923), directed by Charles Bryant and starring Alla Nazimova, is the third film adaptation of  the Oscar Wilde play of the same name., after a short Salome (1910) and the Theda Bara version of Salome (1918, lost). The play itself is a loose retelling of the biblical story of King Herod and his execution of John the Baptist at the request of his stepdaughter, Salome, and this film is looser still, with a focus on atmosphere and visual spectacle rather than story.

Salome is oft cited as the first U.S. “art-house” film. It has all the hallmarks – the costumes are stylized, the acting is exaggerated, the sets are minimal, and all but the most essential props remain absent from screen. It all bears the art-house hallmark of being a financial failure. It was a bold project for 1923, but it didn’t pay off. Despite the short length and lack of action, the budget was astronomical for the time – over $350,000. Studios wouldn’t touch it with a 10-foot pole and it languished for years before it was released by an independent distributor.

As an interesting side note, thanks to the gossip hound Kenneth Anger, there’s been a long standing rumor that the entire cast and crew of Salome were homosexual or bisexual, a requirement demanded by Alla Nazimova. Others have reported that there were tons of gay people on set, but not more than usual. Who knows?

The real question is – Is the most interesting thing about Salome the rumor that it was a gay bacchanal or does the movie have its own merit? Take a look at the movie that destroyed Alla Nazimova’s career and tell us what you think in the comments!


About Brandy Dean

Social media consultant, blogger for hire, and lover of classic movies and silent films.

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There are 2 Comments

  1. - February 4, 2013
      -   Reply

    I’ve never seen Nazimova’s Salome, so I’m glad you posted this. (Warning: History Lesson follows!) Nazimova is often cited as one of the great dramatic actors of the 20th century. She was a star in Europe prior to coming to the US around 1905 where she had her first American successes in productions of Ibsen (“Hedda Gabler” and “A Dolls House”) She toured incessantly in various stage productions until the mid-1910s when she formed her own film production company. Her best known film (with co-star Valentino) is probably “Camille” . “Salome” may have ended her career as a film producer, but she continued to act in film and (mostly) on stage almost until her death in the mid 1940s. David Thomson in his essay on Nazimova for “The New Biographical Dictionary of Film” reports that both Tennessee Williams and Eugene O’Neill “had one experience in common — they had been transfixed by seeing Nazimova play Ibsen, so much so that they reckoned they had never quite confronted the reality of theatre before.” I wouldn’t put much stock in what Kenneth Anger had to say about anything.

    • Brandy Dean
      - February 4, 2013
        -   Reply

      Gene reappears! Thanks for the lesson. I put little stock in Anger, but he’s well suited for social media (wink wink).

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