Watch It: Salome (1923)
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!