Cecil B. DeMille: Hollywood Macho Man and the Theme of Masculinity within His Biblical (and Other) Cinema

Article excerpt

Cecil B. DeMille, the legendary co-founder of Hollywood, progenitor of Paramount studios and unsung auteur was a macho man and master of the American cinema whose indelible biblical epics strongly exuded the resonance of masculinity. Not only were many of his sacred characters scripturally correct, but they frequently reflected DeMille's own virile persona-cum-ethos. Utilizing textually based, humanist film analysis as the guiding methodological lens, the critical film, religion and DeMille literature was reviewed and his biblical (and other) cinema selectively scanned to reveal the theme of masculinity engineered therein. It was concluded that DeMille's trademark aesthetic style and phenomenal box office successes were firmly rooted in his personal courage ethic, directorial control needs and manly idiosyncrasies. Further research into gender studies, masculinity studies, DeMille studies and the emerging interdisciplinary field of religion-and-film was warranted, highly recommended and is already long overdue.

Introduction: The Master of the American Biblical Epic

Producer-director (1) Cecil B. DeMille (2) (1881-1959), affectionately known as "C.B." (to close friends), "Generalissimo" (to commentators) and "Mr. DeMille" (to everyone else), was a seminal co-founder of Hollywood and a progenitor of Paramount studio who helped turn an obscure Californian orange grove into an international movie center that became the synonym for commercial filmmaking worldwide (Birchard, 2004; DeMille & Hayne, 1960; Edwards, 1988; Essoe & Lee, 1970; Higashi, 1985, 1994; Higham, 1973; Koury, 1959; Louvish, 2008; Noerdlinger, 1956; Orrison, 1999; Ringgold & Bodeen, 1969). Not only was DeMille a legitimate if frequently unsung auteur, but in Gore Vidal's (1995, p. 303) estimation, he was the "auteur of auteurs," and according to film historian Sumiko Higashi (1994, p. 5), he had "left enormous traces of his authorship long before Francois Truffaut and Andrew Sarris made the term auteur fashionable in cinema studies."

DeMille was a confirmed Episcopalian Christian (3) and a self-confessed pop culture professional (DeMille & Hayne, 1960, p. 195) who grew to become the undisputed master of the American biblical epic with such indelible classics as The Ten Commandments (1923), The King of Kings (1927), Samson and Delilah (1949) and The Ten Commandments (1956). As Jon Solomon (2001, p. 175) noted: "DeMille's parting of the Red Sea in 1956 and his Samsonian destruction of the temple of Dagon [in 1949] ... will be remembered as the most representative and iconographical Old Testament depictions of the twentieth century." Not surprisingly, DeMille was variously tagged "high priest of the religious genre" (Holloway, 1977, p. 26), a "prophet in celluloid" (Billy Graham quoted in Andersen, 1970, p. 279), and the "arch apostle of spectacle" (Clapham, 1974, p. 21), amongst many other honorific titles, artistic hosannas and industry accolades (see Essoe & Lee, 1970, pp. 245-247). Indeed, one Protestant church leader proudly proclaimed that: "The first century had its Apostle Paul, the thirteenth century had St. Francis, the sixteenth had Martin Luther and the twentieth has Cecil B. DeMille" (Manfull, 1970, p. 357).

Despite all this professional praise, and having successfully achieved one of his life's ambitions, namely: "my ministry was making religious movies and getting more people to read the Bible than anyone else ever has" (Orrison, 1999, p. 108), DeMille's accomplishments were frequently ignored, dismissed or disdained by academia, the cognoscenti, literati and aesthete. For example, film commentator Barry Norman (1985, p. 182) claimed that Samson and Delilah "was certainly the worst and most absurd of all his films in that genre," and that DeMille "was a man who thought big--not often deeply, but big" (p. 160). Biographer David Thomson (1995, p. 182) considered DeMille to be "silliest in his biblical and Roman films," auteur advocate Andrew Sarris (1968) had excluded DeMille from his list of pantheon directors whilst film historians Giannetti and Eyman (1996, p. …


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