Princess Salome returns to Galilee where her mother Herodias wants King Herod to kill John Baptist for criticizing her behavior; but Commander Claudius has been converted by John and falls in love with Salome.
John the Baptist (Alan Badel) preaches and criticizes Herod and Herodias. Micha (Arnold Moss) listens and reports to Queen Herodias (Judith Anderson) that his following is growing. She warns King Herod (Charles Laughton) that they must kill John. Herod consults with Ezra (Maurice Schwartz), who reminds him what happened to his father and advises him not to harm him.
Emperor Tiberius Caesar (Cedric Hardwicke) rules in Rome and appoints Pontius Pilate (Basil Sydney) to govern the east. Tiberius doubles taxes in Galilee.
Marcellus learns his petition to marry Salome (Rita Hayworth) was denied. She wants him to marry her anyway, but he refuses. Salome learns she has been banished from Rome.
Pilate boards the ship and talks with the commander Claudius (Stewart Granger), who served him in Britain. Salome arrives late in luxury and takes the Governor’s quarters. Pilate sends Claudius to eject her, and she says she wants to avoid Romans. Salome asks for a bath, and Claudius brings her ocean water. He kisses her before he goes.
On land Claudius puts Salome in a litter on a camel. They go by the Jordan River where John is baptizing. Pilate has them moved, and John castigates the Romans. Claudius keeps John from being killed, and he escapes. In the evening Salome hears the religious singing. Claudius goes to his friend John and warns him. In the camp Claudius protects Salome from a Gila monster, and she embraces him. She says why she was banished and says she will never love a Roman again.
They arrive at Herod’s palace. Herod welcomes Claudius, and Herodias welcomes Salome. Herod and his wife Herodias are estranged, and he wants to see Salome. Micha suggests that Herodias use the advantage of Salome’s beauty against her husband. Herod holds court and receives Pilate and Salome. They dine, and Herod gives Salome wine. Herod learns that the Baptist is speaking in the city. Herodias says he is a menace. Pilate says no one must speak against Rome, but Herod explains it is better not to offend against religion. Salome asks Claudius about the Baptist, and Claudius says he teaches a new religion about another world of justice and mercy.
Pilate and his soldiers depart. Salome goes to the marketplace veiled and hears John preach. Salome defends the Queen and argues with John, who realizes she is her daughter and protects her from the crowd. Salome goes home and tells Herodias she heard the Baptist. Herodias says Herod is afraid of a prophecy that if he harms the Messiah he will die in pain. Salome asks her mother to leave Galilee, but Herodias says she must guard her throne for Salome.
Salome apologizes to Claudius, and they kiss. He promises her anything, and she asks him to arrest the Baptist to save her mother. He says he does not have the authority. Micha tells Herodias that John will speak again that night. She asks Micha to silence him.
Claudius in a robe listens to John and stops a man from stabbing him. Herod questions the man and asks Herodias whom she suspects. Herod orders him tortured and blames Herodias. Herod tells her John must live. Ezra tells Herod to protect him, and Herod decides to summon John.
John is arrested and taken to the palace as people complain. Salome thanks Claudius. Herod tells John he is charged with treason. John says he does not call for violence. John would replace Herod and speaks of the king of kings. Micha questions him, and John says this king is the Messiah, not himself. Herod says the judges find him guilty, but Ezra disagrees. Herod clears the room and tells John he is protecting him. He asks John to leave the country, but he refuses because of his mission. John asks Herod to give up the throne. Herod says he will keep him under guard. Ezra tells people that John has been imprisoned. Claudius pleads with Herod to release John, or the people will rise. Claudius goes to Jerusalem. Herod tells Salome that Claudius wants John freed. Herod gives her a valuable necklace, but she says it should be for the Queen.
Claudius asks Pilate to release John and tells him of the new religion that will spread. Pilate tells him of a miracle worker and warns Claudius of treason. Pilate relieves his friend of his post. Claudius learns that the miracle man is in Bethany. Jesus heals a blind man as Claudius watches.
Herod celebrates his birthday extravagantly at a banquet. Outside people protest and ask for the Baptist’s release. Herodias is afraid and asks Micha to pacify them. Herodias tells Salome she must get the King to destroy the Baptist. She asks Salome to persuade the King by dancing for him. Salome runs to Claudius and asks him to take her away. He takes her down to see John. Claudius tells John about Jesus and how he saw him raise Lazarus from the dead. John confirms that Jesus is the Messiah. Claudius says he will free John. Salome confesses and says she sees good in the world for the first time. Salome tells Claudius that she will dance for the King; but he forbids her. Claudius says he will free John. The guards tell Claudius only the King can release John.
Covered in veils, Salome dances before Herod. She removes a black veil, a crown, a blue shawl, a purple scarf, and a red scarf. Herod says he would give half of his kingdom; but Herodias asks for the head of the Baptist, and Herod nods. Salome removes an orange skirt and a yellow skirt. She sees John’s head on a platter and screams. Then she rejects her mother. Claudius comes forward with a sword, and Salome runs to him. They leave together, and Herodias laughs. Herod goes to Ezra.
Jesus is preaching a sermon on a mountain to thousands; Claudius and Salome are listening.
This version extends the limited Biblical story by having a Roman help convert Salome. Otherwise the story is a fairly accurate account of John the Baptist’s history and martyrdom by Herodias and Herod the Tetrarch. Either way Salome is an innocent puppet in the murder plot. The dance of the seven veils can be traced back to a myth of the Sumerians in which the goddess Inanna strips off seven divine decrees from her body in the underworld. This story may inspire those who believe that the way of love is better than using violence.