The film stars Rita Hayworth as Salome, as well as Stewart Granger, Charles Laughton and Judith Anderson, with Cedric Hardwicke, Alan Badel and Basil Sydney.
Although based on the New Testament story, the film does not follow the biblical text. In Galilee, during the rule of Rome's Tiberius Caesar (Cedric Hardwicke), King Herod (Charles Laughton) and Queen Herodias (Judith Anderson) sit on the throne and are condemned by a prophet known as John the Baptist (Alan Badel). Herodias resents John's denunciation of her marriage to the king, her former husband's brother, and the Baptist's claim that she is an adulteress. The king is not pleased with the Baptist condemning his rule, but fears a slow and agonizing death that his father, the elder Herod, suffered after ordering the murder of firstborn males when Jesus was born. The prophecy states that if Herod kills the Messiah, he will suffer and die. The king believes John the Baptist is the Messiah because of the mistaken belief of some peasants.
After petitioning Caesar to marry Salome, Marcellus- nephew of Caesar- receives a message stating that he is forbidden to marry a "barbarian." Salome is also sent a message that she is banished from Rome and will be escorted back to Galilee, despite having lived in Rome most of her life. When Marcellus does nothing to protest Caesar's decree, she declares that she shall never love another Roman.
On the boat escorting her home, Salome meets Claudius, a Roman soldier assigned to the palace of Herod. He is amused by her haughty behavior and thwarts her attempt to order him around when she demands to use drinking water instead of sea water for her bath aboard the ship. When he brings sea water instead, he interrupts her angry confrontation by stealing a long kiss, which earns him a slap across the face.
Queen Herodias greets her daughter warmly when she arrives at the palace, and becomes aware of the lecherous intentions of the king, who marvels at Princess Salome's beauty. The queen sends Salome away and consults with her advisor, who agrees that the queen can use the king's desire for Salome for her own benefit. It is revealed that the queen is trapped in a loveless and potentially deadly marriage to the king because she wishes to preserve the throne for her daughter. Meanwhile, Salome sneaks into the marketplace with several servants to hear John the Baptist speak. She reveals her identity by speaking out and is spared from the angry crowd by John the Baptist, who calms them and denounces violence. Salome returns, upset by what she has heard, and later beguiles Claudius with romantic kisses in an attempt to have him arrest John the Baptist to spare her mother's potential death as an adulteress. She exits the room angrily after he refuses her request.
Shortly after, the king decides to arrest John the Baptist, ostensibly for treason but in reality to protect him from the actions of his wife. The trial ends with the king locking up John the Baptist. Salome hears that the prophet has been arrested; she thinks that Claudius did it for her, and apologizes to him for her behavior the night before. After she leaves, he learns that the king has imprisoned the Baptist and pleads for his release, but is unable to persuade the king. Claudius rushes off to Jerusalem on horseback to seek his release.
The king visits Salome, who bids Claudius farewell from the balcony, and is irritated that she pays him attention. Herod suggests after giving the princess a necklace that she "find pleasure in the moment," which disgusts her, and she subsequently rejects his gift, reminding him that his queen is her mother. Claudius meets with Pontius Pilate in Jerusalem. Pilate refuses to release the Baptist because he preaches against Rome, then turns his attention to Claudius. He forbids Claudius from returning to Galilee, but does not arrest him because of their friendship. Outside, after the argument, Claudius hears about a miracle worker in Bethlehem and travels to see the prophet. He then returns to the palace, where Salome runs to greet him with a tearful embrace. She dreads dancing for the king to honor the queen's wishes for the Baptist's death, as it would mean surrendering her will to the king. Claudius leads Salome to John the Baptist's cell, where he tells the prisoner of the miracle worker in the presence of the princess. Salome is in love with the heroic Roman soldier Claudius (Granger) who converts to Christianity, and decides to help him.
Claudius and Salome both rush off to try to save the Baptist's life. Claudius forcefully removes the Baptist from his cell and clashes with the palace guards; Salome dances a wild, enchanting dance and removes layers of clothing, thinking this will please the king, then she will ask him to set John free. But as she dances Herod tells Herodias that he will do anything for her because he likes the dance so much. Herodias asks him to kill John and John is beheaded before Salome finishes her dance. Horrified, she renounces her mother Herodias, who planned and ordered the execution, and also becomes a Christian convert. The last scene shows Hayworth and Granger listening to Christ (whose face is not shown) delivering the Sermon on the Mount.
According to her biographers Hayworth's erotic dance routine was "the most demanding of her entire career", necessitating "endless takes and retakes".Rita Hayworth as Princess Salome
Stewart Granger as Commander Claudius
Charles Laughton as King Herod
Judith Anderson as Queen Herodias
Sir Cedric Hardwicke as Tiberius Caesar
Alan Badel as John the Baptist
Basil Sydney as Pontius Pilate
Maurice Schwartz as Ezra the King's Advisor
Arnold Moss as Micha the Queen's Advisor
Asoka as Asian Dancer
Sujata as Asian Dancer
The original title of the film was Salome - Dance of the Seven Veils. The film was based on the books The Good Tidings by William Sidney; Robert Ardrey wrote the first script. It was made for Hayworth's own company, Beckworth Productions, for Columbia Release.
Stewart Granger was borrowed from MGM for the male lead.
The film was a big hit in France, with admissions of 3,047,090.