The Guillotine: Twentieth-Century Classics That Won't Last No 26: Ceci L B DeMille

Article excerpt

I'm ready for my close-up now, Mr DeMille!" So spoke Norma Desmond, the demented diva played by Gloria Swanson, in what was to be the actress's own glorious swan song, Billy Wilder's Sunset Boulevard.

For Wilder's audiences, Cecil B DeMille, one of the extremely rare Hollywood directors of the period (one might also cite Alfred Hitchcock and Frank Capra) to have enjoyed the same personal prestige as the stars they directed, was a household name. In those days one went to see a "DeMille movie" in exactly the way, today, one might go to a "Spielberg movie", except that then it was the exception instead of, as now, increasingly the rule.

Although a glance at his lengthy filmography reveals that he made far fewer than his current reputation would suggest, it's fair to say that DeMille's fame, or what remains of it, rests on his biblical or pseudo- biblical romances: the best-known were Samson and Delilah (in which Victor Mature brought down the temple walls with the sweaty, vein-popping energy of a circus strong-man ripping a telephone directory in half) and his twinned versions, one silent, the other sound, of The Ten Commandments. …