Based on the Oscar Wilde play of the same name, it's about the eponymous Judean princess who demands John the Baptist (called "Jokanaan" in both play and film) beheaded because he refused her sexual advances. Natacha Rambova designed the highly stylized costumes and sets, which were based on the illustrations Aubrey Beardsley created for the original play.
The film was a passion project for Nazimova, who, in addition to producing and playing Salome, put her own money into it. She was left financially ruined when it proved to be a Box Office Bomb. Critical reviews were mixed at the time, but it's since come to be regarded as a groundbreaking art film. It was added to the National Film Registry in the year 2000.
According to rumor, the film had an all-LGBTQ cast as a tribute to Wilde's sexuality. You can believe that if you want. It's true enough that Nazimova herself was either lesbian or bisexual. In any case, the film has often been shown at LGBTQ-oriented film festivals.
Not to be confused with the 1953 film of the same name, which was based on the same Biblical story, but unrelated to the Wilde play.
In addition to the tropes present in the original play, this film includes examples of:
- Adaptation Distillation: Wilde's dialogue is heavily pared down, which is perfectly understandable. This being a silent film, it can only express dialogue through intertitles.
- Adaptational Villainy: The details at the beginning claim Herod has murdered his brother in order to usurp the throne, a detail which was not in the original play. Historically it is unknown what happened to Herod II after his divorce.
- Art Deco: The film has this aesthetic all over it.
- Bible Times: The setting, at least ostensibly.
- Death by Adaptation: Wilde's play just says "exit the slave." In this version, he "exits" by jumping off the terrace to his death. The other characters hardly even notice.
- The Flapper: Nazimova pretty much plays Salome as a flapper. Certainly, her costumes are a lot more "flapper" than "first-century Judea."
- Hollywood Costuming: The stylized costumes make no pretense of historical accuracy.
- Imagine Spot: Used when Salome imagines herself with her father's alternative offers. She still turns them down in favor of the head of Jokanaan.
- Minimalism: The film has minimal costumes and sets.
- Moustache de Plume: The screenplay was written by Natacha Rambova, who was credited under the name "Peter M. Winters." Additionally, Nazimova's husband Charles Bryant is credited as director, but it's rumored that it was actually directed by Nazimova herself.
- War Was Beginning: The film adds a lengthy text prologue that explains the biblical and historical context of the story. It covers some of the exposition that was covered by dialogue in the original play.
- Xenafication: Slight example when Salome takes a sword, implicitly threatening to cut off Jokanaan's head herself if no one else will. It turns out to be unnecessary. Even so, this was not a step she took in the original play.