A shocking 90% of American films made before 1929 have been lost forever. Why? There seem to be two main reasons: A huge number of films were destroyed intentionally, especially silent movies as they were perceived to have no value once talkies became popular. As well as this frustrating destruction many movies were filmed on nitrate film which was highly flammable and could spontaneously combust if not stored in the right conditions. This has caused huge losses including the Fox Pictures fire which destroyed all their pre-1935 films, and as a fire in the MGM vault in 1967 which destroyed hundreds of movies.
One of these lost movies which caused quite a stir was the 1918 film Salome, starring Theda Bara. It was a follow-up film to Cleopatra, released the previous year (and sadly also lost) which was a huge box-office success and which caused a scandal because of Bara’s very risque costumes.
Salome was one of the first ‘Super-Productions’, a new breed of big-budget feature-length movies in contrast to the shorter films usually made during the silent-movie era. Other super-productions were Cleopatra, Quo Vadis and The Birth of a Nation which all heralded big profits for both the studios and picture-houses.
Salome was created to capitalize on this market, and to emulate Cleopatra‘s success. Church groups protested against the film because of the poetic license used in adapting the original bible story of Salome and John the Baptist, whereas the outcry against Bara’s seductive dance of the 7 veils and her scandalous costumes probably just boosted audience numbers further.
Some two thousand actors were used in the filming of Salome along with around 800 craftsmen employed to build a reproduction of Jerusalem for the set.
Here is a synopsis of the plot:
Herod, the tyrannical king of Judea and usurper of the Hycranian dynasty, marries Miriam, the sister of the rightful heir to the throne, Prince David. Herod’s beautiful but treacherous cousin Salome convinces him to bestow the powerful office of high priest on David in order to placate the Judeans, but later she secretly commissions Sejanus, who is in love with her, to drown the prince. After Salome persuades Herod that Miriam is trying to kill him, the queen, too, loses her life. John the Baptist enters Judea and publicly denounces Herod’s court, whereupon Salome, her curiosity aroused, visits him in the desert and unsuccessfully attempts to seduce him. During his imprisonment, the holy man again rejects her advances, and she vows to destroy him. At Herod’s birthday feast, Salome performs a sensuous dance and asks for John the Baptist’s head as a reward. As she kisses his lifeless lips, a fierce storm arises, and Herod, terrified, orders Salome’s immediate execution.