I think we all know the story of Sodom and Gomorrah.
As told in the book of Genesis, Sodom and Gomorrah were two of the wickedest cities in what was then the civilized world. God grew so sick of their wickedness that he decided to wipe both of the cities and all of their inhabitants out of existence. However, because Abraham’s son, Lot, was living in Sodom with his family, God sent two angels to Sodom to warn Lot. Lot tried to argue that, if he could find 10 good people in the city, Sodom should be spared. However, then the people of Sodom showed up and demanded to “know” the angels and that pretty much sealed their fate. Lot and his family were told to leave the city and to not look back while it was being destroyed. Unfortunately, Lot’s wife just couldn’t resist the temptation and she ended up turning into a pillar of salt.
The 1962 film, Sodom and Gomorrah, recreates the Biblical story, though it takes a lot of liberties with the established narrative. Stewart Granger plays Lot. Anouk Aimee plays Bera, the decadent queen of Sodom who refuses to believe that the incoming destruction of her city is anything more than a dust storm. Pier Angeli plays Lot’s wife, who is imagined here as formerly being one of Bera’s slaves. Though she loves Lot, she loves her former life more and …. well, we all know the story. And then there’s several characters who were created specifically for the film. The most prominent of these is Astaroth (Stanley Baker), who is Bera’s scheming brother and who later is attracted to one of Lot’s daughters. The film was directed by Robert Aldrich. If you know anything about Aldrich’s filmography (Kiss Me Deadly, Twilight’s Last Gleaming, and Hustle among others), he’s not exactly the first name that comes to mind when you think of a director who you would expect to find directing a Biblical epic. And indeed, when compared to his other films, Aldrich often does seem to just be going through the motions when it comes to telling the film’s story.
Sodom and Gomorrah suffers from a problem that afflicted many Biblical epics. It takes forever to get to the good stuff. We’re all watching because we want to see the cities get destroyed and we want to watch Lot’s wife get transformed into a pillar of salt. However, this film — which has a running time of two and a half hours — takes forever to reach that point. First, we have to spend a lot of time listening to Astaroth plotting against his sister and scheming how to take over the Salt Trade, which is the source of the wealth of both of the cities. Then we spend an endless amount of time with Lot and his family wandering through the desert. There are a few good battle scenes but the film still feels dragged out. It takes forever to get to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and it’s a bit of a let down when it finally does happen. The ground shakes, Dust fills the sky. Buildings start falling on people. Throughout it all, the Sodomites continue to behave wickedly, which leads to a few odd moments. (A man and a woman stop fleeing for a few minutes to make out against a wall. Naturally, the wall is the next thing to collapse.) After all of that build-up, the destruction scenes are maddeningly pedestrian.
Lot is probably one of the most interesting characters in Genesis, an imperfect man who tried to do the right thing but who often seemed to have terrible luck. Unfortunately, Stewart Granger is a bit of a stiff in the lead role and he’s never convincing as someone who could lead his people through the desert. He doesn’t have the innate authority that Charlton Heston had in The Ten Commandments. Far more successful are the performances of Stanley Baker and Anouk Aimee. Aimee, in particular, seems to being having a blast being bad. Or at least, she is until the walls come tumbling down.