Salomé (1923)

Image Source: MovieGoods

Synopsis: Young Salomé (Alla Nazimova) lives the pampered life of a princess under the rule of her uncle and stepfather Herod (Mitchell Lewis), who has killed his own brother to usurp his thrown and marry his wife Herodias (Rose Dione). However, Herod makes no effort to hide his lust for the lithe and youthful Salomé, who repeatedly rejects the king’s invitations to dance. Instead she longs for the love and affection of the mysterious prisoner Jokaanan (Nigel De Brulier), an ascetic prophet of God who spurns the princess’ advances and denounces her wicked family, screaming epithets from his underground cell. Salomé, not used to not getting what she wants, finally agrees to dance for Herod – but only if, in exchange, he agrees to carry out her revenge against Jokaanan.

Here on Garbo Laughs, I’m dedicating the entire month of June to the topic of Queer Cinema (LGBTQs, and depictions thereof, in classic film). This includes reviewing one relevant film from each decade from the 1910s to the 1990s. This is all leading up to my Queer Film Blogathon on June 27th. Won’t you join me in celebrating LGBTQ Pride Month by contributing a post or two (or three)?

No discussion of the history of LGBTQs in Hollywood would be complete without some acknowledgment of Alla Nazimova. Born in Russia in 1879, Nazimova was already a hugely successful Broadway star by the time she made her film debut in 1916’s War Brides. By 1917 she was earning an incredible $13,000 a week through her contract with Metro Pictures. In 1918 she made the big move to Hollywood, where the star was truly allowed to blossom. Her sprawling 3.5-acre estate, the Garden of Alla, included a swimming pool shaped like the Black Sea surrounded by twenty-five chic bungalows, where Hollywood’s finest, of all sexual persuasions and proclivities, came to enjoy and indulge themselves away from the prying eyes of the public and studio executives. Nazimova herself was a huge proponent of free (and frequent) love; her paramours included actress Eva Le Gallienne, director Dorothy Arzner, anarchist Emma Goldman, and writer and Garbo girlfriend Mercedes de Acosta. Not only did Nazimova coin the phrase “sewing circles” to describe the underground social and romantic network of lesbian and bisexual actresses in early Hollywood – she practically invented the practice. (more…)