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The film opens in Rome in the 18th year of the emperor Tiberius (Ernest
Thesiger). Rome's legions stand guard on the boundaries of civilization
from the foggy coasts of the northern seas to the ancient rivers of
Today the slave market is crowded because the emperor's heir and regent, the young Caligula (Jay Robinson) is coming to buy gladiators He probably will not be pleased to see Tribune Marcellus Gallio
Marcellus (Richard Burton) forgot the promise he made to Diana (Jean Simmons) to marry her when they grew up They were friends many years ago when they were children Now, since her father death, Diana has been the ward of the emperor and his wife Empress Julia (Rosalind Ivan) thinks she could be good for Caligula
At the auction, Caligula leaves the place very angry Marcellus buys a rebellious Greek with the name of Demetrius (Victor Mature) to be his personal attendant
Few hours later, Marcellus pays the consequences for humiliating Caligula, and is ordered to the garrison at Jerusalem, the worst pest-hole in the empire where the people are always on the verge of rebellion Caligula hoped by this order to give Marcellus his death sentence Senator Gallio (Torin Thatcher) asks his son Marcellus to be above all a Roman and a man of honor
On the deck before the galley set sail to Palestine, Diana appears to tell Marcellus that she's going back to Capri to ask the emperor to intercede for him Marcellus didn't believe that a girl of 11 could fall in love and stay in love all these years
All the spirit of the age is present in Koster's epic: The wilderness of the land of Galilee; the massage relaxing area; the terrifying meeting of Demetrius with one of Jesus' disciples; the Roman procurator of Judea asking to wash his hands more than once; the tribune's first battle trophy, for victory over the king of the Jews; the spectacular sword fight between two officers of the empire; and a lost robe in the hands of a runaway slave...
Richard Burton is the brave Tribune who renews his pledge of loyalty to his emperor and to Rome; Jean Simmons is lovely as the exquisite maiden who stands firmly besides her love; Victor Mature is brave and spirited as the Greek slave; Michael Rennie is serious and profound in thoughts and manners as Simon the Galilean; Jay Robinson is terrific as the vicious, treacherous young Caligula drunk with power; Dean Jagger is full of devotion and reverence as the humble and honest Justus; Ernest Thesiger is efficient enough as the austere Tiberius; Betta St. John is so sweet as the disabled believer Miriam; and Torin Thatcher is too helpless as the proud Senator
It is notable that Jesus of Nazareth is seen from far away riding a white donkey with all the people around carrying palms and as a tortured figure, impossible to discern lying beneath the heavy cross... Henry Koster restraints with dignity the recreation of the execution carried out at Calvary, outside Jerusalem...
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is my pick for Easter. Almost all the objections and criticisms to
this film can be waved away with the not so simple explanation that it
is, after all, only a Hollywood studio (1953) adaptation of a Lloyd C.
Douglas novel. So forgive the clichés and the big set piece sword-fight
and the chase scene and the goofy ending where the hero and his girl
literally walk up to heaven to the yodeling of a choir of angels.
Instead be thankful for wonderful sets --the very fine musical
score--the interesting characterizations and the solid photography and
direction. (This was the first Cinemascope movie released).
Marcellus Gallio (Richard Burton) is a swaggering, slightly debauched Roman Tribune from a good family who is exiled out to provincial garrison duty after insulting the future Emperor Caligula (Jay Robinson). He lands in the "sinkhole" of Jerusalem for what turns out to be a very short stay. But, before being recalled to Rome he is given orders from Pontius Pilate to carry out the execution of Jesus. Marcellus "loses his reason" after taking part in the crucifixion. The movie then follows his travails as he seeks to regain his sanity by finding and destroying Christ's robe - A relic that he feels is at the root of his affliction.
Richard Burton received an Oscar nomination for this role -though this is clearly not his best work. I like Burton -however he seems to have trouble in this picture in doing much more than projecting a rather sullen-if sometimes eloquent petulance. He doesn't stray very far from this grim pose whether he is the playboy in Rome or the slack and dissolute officer in Palestine or the tortured madman being interviewed by Emperor Tiberius (Ernest Theisger) in Capri. Even his later "rebirth" as a convert to Christianity doesn't serve to "perk" him up very much. Maybe the real problem with his performance is that he often has little to say ..... the best dialogue in the movie is given to some of the fine actors around him.
If you enjoy looking at beautiful young women who personify grace, dignity and intelligence---then watch Jean Simmons as the love interest (Diana). She has several nice speeches throughout the movie -my personal favorite being her sentiments of loyalty for the mad Marcellus as expressed to Tiberius ("When you won a battle Sire -you could expect to receive the admiration of your men...but when you lost...what would you have given then to have the eagles raised in your honor and your name on every man's lips?"). It's disappointing that she gets "preachy" at the end of the film and makes a clumsy conversion to Christianity that yields her only instant martyrdom.
Victor Mature is good as Marcellus' Greek slave (Demetrius). A single wordless glance from Jesus in an encounter on Palm Sunday is enough to set him on the path to Christianity. He attempts to warn Jesus of his impending arrest (stumbling on to the suicidal Judas in the effort) and even begs Marcellus to intercede for the condemned man. He later heaps justifiable abuse on his master and on all that Rome represents. He is afterwards rescued by the "reborn" Marcellus and lives to appear in the uninspired sequel to this movie.
Jeff Morrow (Paulus) is unheralded but great as the grizzled and cynical veteran officer subordinate to Marcellus. Morrow is often allowed expository observations about the passing scenes in Jerusalem -while all Burton can do is listen and frown. Paulus offers Marcellus some practical advice before they go to carry out the execution order against Jesus. He encourages Marcellus to drink his wine and when he hesitates Paulus chides him with "This is your first execution isn't it?--What? Never driven nails into a man's flesh before?" Paulus clashes with Marcellus much later - after the latter has converted --and they engage in a sword fight --but not before Paulus taunts his former superior with: "Make me obey Tribune --you outrank me but I earned my rank- every step of the way in Gaul, Iberia and Africa against the enemies of Rome--Make me obey Tribune. If you're fool enough to try. Oh! You are a fool! I've split more men from head to foot than you see in this square." Needless to say....our lusty Tribune does make him obey.
Thesiger as Tiberius and Robinson as Caligula are excellent. Thesiger dominates the screen with impressive theatrical flair and Robinson projects just the right amount of arrogance, instability and menace as Caligula. I have seen some reviewers complain that Robinson goes "over the top" as Caligulabut let's face it....Caligula did have some "issues" and you would have to scale Everest to go "over the top" on him.
A decent attempt is made in this movie to highlight the virtues of honesty and charity exhibited by the early Christians -- Betta St John is featured as the crippled Miriam- she sings a song of the resurrection.
One thing that I find interesting is the perspective that "The Robe" offers into the political atmosphere of 1950's America. This film was made right at the time of McCarthy. The Cold War was raging. You will notice that while few punches are pulled as to the corruption and brutality of Rome great care is taken not to turn the hero of the movie (Marcellus) into a direct enemy of the state itself. In fact -he denies the charges of treason against him at the end of the picture and even agrees to renew his allegiance to the monster, Caligula. He is only defiant when ordered to renounce Christ ---otherwise he would apparently be satisfied to submit. I believe that this presents to us a glimpse of the paranoia abroad in the land in the early Fifties--- when anything seen to undermined any established order of things--smacked of commie subversion and probably made the studio just a tad nervous.
There seems to be little interest in this movie today but when originally released in 1953, it created a sensation and threatened, for a while, to replace "Gone With the Wind" as the highest-grossing film in history. And it was the first movie in CinemaScope -- "The Modern Entertainment Miracle You See Without the Use of Glasses!" Its opening half still plays well, even some 50 years later, but the second half tries to convincingly present the religious conversion of Marcellus -- a tricky proposition since it deals with an internal process -- and the result plays like a well-intentioned but rather simplistic Sunday sermon. Richard Burton was Oscar-nominated for his work but is clearly outshone by, of all people, Victor Mature as the slave, Demetrius. The scene of a sweaty, nearly naked Demetrius groaning and writhing under torture in a Roman dungeon helped establish Mature as "the back that launched a thousand whips." (The book "Lash! The Hundred Great Scenes of Men Being Whipped in the Movies" is dedicated to him.) Mature played Demetrius again in one of the rare big-budget sequels of the 1950s, "Demetrius and the Gladiators," which wasn't very good but which was livelier and more "fun" than its pious predecessor.
I have probably seen this film over 100 times, and I never tire of it
nor does it fail to inspire my love of faith even more. Although the
focus is not on Jesus directly, it is through the great talents of the
actors, writers and director that the focus IS placed back on Jesus'
effect on the lives of the movie characters.
There is not a single performer in this film who is not brilliant. Richard Burton turns in a superb & convincing performance as Marcellus, the Roman tribune whose life is a meaningless series of women and wine until fate gives him faith. And there is no more beautiful actress ever than Jean Simmons as Diana. (I even named my only daughter Diana because of the effect that this character had on me as a child; Diana defined beauty to me.) But my favorite by far was Victor Mature's Demetrius, a role which was so beloved at the time, that the sequel of Demetrius and the Gladiators began filming soon after The Robe was released to critical and popular acclaim. Mr. Mature's portrayal of Demetrius, a Greek slave who would only see Jesus, yet be changed permanently by His glance, helped develop my faith in me as a child.
All of the other performances are excellent and uplifting. It is a great movie to watch with the family and explain all the different ways faith was given to each of the characters. It is a visually stunning film, with beautiful and haunting music (score by Hollywood musical genius Alfred Newman), and one that stands the test of time (I've been watching it for over 40 years.)
The Robe comes from a tradition of historical biblical fiction about a
peripheral incident and/or character. It is in the same vein as Ben-Hur
and Barabbas, films adapted from a similar source.
In this case it is Jesus's robe that he wore to the crucifixion. It is recorded that while He was on the cross waiting to die, Roman soldiers idled their time away by casting dice for the only possession He took to his death, his robe. The lucky winner turned out to be Richard Burton, a tribune recently sent on assignment because of a running feud with the Emperor to be.
The run in with Caligula was over a slave purchased by Burton, a Greek named Demetrius played by Victor Mature. Both Burton and Mature are exiled to Judea and they arrive just in time to see Jesus enter Jerusalem. Mature becomes converted to Jesus's teachings and Burton is driven mad by the enormity of what he has participated in.
The Robe was written by Lloyd C. Douglas who was an ordained Lutheran minister and who turned to writing at the age of 50 with his first best seller Magnificent Obsession. His writings were of the Christian inspirational variety and he was a very popular American writer right up to his death in 1951.
Richard Burton got one of his Academy Award nominations for his role. Jean Simmons as Diana who was the main source of his rivalry with Caligula gives a good understated performance of the woman who stood by the man she loved and his fate and passed up a chance to be an Empress.
Jay Robinson as Caligula got most of the notice. Although John Hurt in the I Claudius series is probably now the definitive Caligula, Robinson's performance holds up very well indeed. A substance abuse problem curtailed a promising career and though he did come back it was not the same.
The Robe was 20th Century Fox's first film in its new wide screen process of Cinemascope and really should be seen in a letter box version at home. Richard Burton is always good and elevates whatever film he's in.
Though in this case the subject matter is elevated just about as high as it can get.
I am a big fan of these types of movies. I love movies like Ben-Hur,
The Greatest Story Ever Told, Samson and Delilah, and Spartacus. The
movies that took place in ancient Rome had so much going for them. They
had great actors, directors, cinematography, and music. They also never
needed to use computer animation. I was always very pleased. Only I
can't say I was pleased with the Romans wearing purple and black in
Gladiator. But anyway, this movie has it all. There is nothing I can
say that's bad about it. It has a great story that pulls you in. When
you watch it you feel as if you are there. You feel everything that the
actors are feeling and the music helps to set the mood.
Jay Robinson is pretty good as Caligula, but sometimes he is way too over the top. His performance as Caligula was better in Demetrius and the Gladiators. Jean Simmons is a very good actress. I like her a lot in this movie and in Spartacus. I think she deserved some type of recognition. Victor Mature was very good too. Michael Rennie was another good actor in this movie. He seemed so perfect as Peter. The one that stood out was Richard Burton. He did a great job. I could go on and on because the whole cast was great. I read that Tyrone Power was originally approached for the lead. I think he could've pulled it off. He was a very underrated actor.
I have many favorite parts. I love the scene when Victor Mature is trying to find Jesus so he can warn him and he runs into to someone. I won't say who. I like the crucifixion scene. It was very well done and Victor Mature shows his great acting in the scene. I love the scene when Richard Burton finds the robe. He was afraid of it, but when he holds it close it has an effect on him. The ending is outstanding. It is well acted and ends happily. Burton without a doubt deserved his Academy Award nomination. Sometimes he overacts in scenes when he is yelling, but other times he really looks like he belongs in the role. This movie probably didn't win much because there was so much competition. Many other great movies were there. From Here To Eternity, a big favorite of mine, and Shane, another big favorite of mine, were nominated. The actors that were up for it were all favorites of mine too. I can't really decide who deserved it. Burt Lancaster and Montgomery Clift were both great in From Here to Eternity. It's tough for me to choose between those two and Richard Burton.
Everything about this movie is great so be sure to check it out. I can watch it over and over and never get sick of it. Check out this classic, this epic. It has it all. The Robe is a timeless classic. You will not be disappointed.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
POSSIBLE SPOILERS. This movie, based on the book of the same name, is a fictional account of what might have happened to one of the Roman soldiers who crucified Christ and gambled for his robe. Though yielding on occasion to the Hollywoodisms of the time (e.g., the crack of thunder when Judas reveals his name), it nevertheless still evokes a reverence surrounding the Crucifixion that's never been equaled in any other biblical film, aided in part by the majestic music. The next scene in which Victor Mature, as the slave Demetrius, stands in driving rain and curses Marcellus (Richard Burton) and the Roman Empire, is one of the most powerful scenes in film. The "robe," by the way, is not magical, as another user would tell us, but an ordinary garment that wields "power" only because it is too vivid a reminder of the horror and guilt Marcellus carries for crucifying an innocent man. It is his acknowledgement of this act, and the powerful words of forgiveness from the cross, that change his life. DVD widescreen is magnificent.
The Robe (1953) is interesting on at least two counts: (1) the film
takes its place as the first ever CinemaScope theatrical release and is
therefore worthy of close study by all motion picture students; and (2)
the film depicts the Passion of Christ, (as the inciting action that
triggers the subsequent plot development), and as such, threads that
part of the storyline with a genre stretching back over 1,000 years,
where we find the first extant Passion Play scripts (other than the
Gospel records themselves, of course). This again makes the film worthy
of study by film students and theologians alike.
The story of Christ on film is more important historically than may at first might appear. At either two or three reels, the first ever full "feature film" is arguably claimed to be the "The Passion Play" (1898), filmed in New York in 1897. The 'greatest story ever told' has hit the screen regularly thereafter, perhaps most famously in recent years with Mel Gibson's masterly personal tribute, "The Passion of the Christ" (2004).
I will now comment briefly on some of the technical and visual aspects of "The Robe". The camera work majors on long shots, and it is interesting to analyse how each shot is framed for all that width of screen. The camera is mostly static, and shots have longer than average duration; the compositions really are not designed for a lot of movement. This gives the film that famous "epic" style that goes for the grand sweep, both visually, musically and emotionally. There is not a lot of internalisation within the characterisation - it is the (literal) width and scope of the production that grabs attention. The filmic style is not very personal, however. It really is as if we have the best seats in an outdoor drama on a massive stage.
As you view, you may wish to make a note of the shots that seem to work best to the modern viewer. In the early part of the film, for instance, (just before the "Passion" sequence), Demetrius runs toward the camera in search of Jesus, after he's been beaten down by the Roman guards outside the gates of Jerusalem. An old lady sitting behind him on the cobbled pathway, has just finished tending his wounds. The shot is terrific, and works for modern audiences very well. Unlike a lot of the film, where much of the direction seems to be subjected to the demands of the CinemaScope process, this shot contains a dynamism that beguiles the film's age. Why? Because it uses the three dimensions of the set, along with arresting and dramatic movement, as Demetrius runs diagonally toward the camera and beyond us, toward the Crucifixion, which we see in the next sequence.
Another sequence that really works well is the chase in the second half. It is arguably the most dramatic sequence in the entire picture, and certainly uses CinemaScope to best effect, as the horses thunder toward the audience. Over fifty years later, and it would be hard to better.
By contrast, most of the film is played out in tableaux form, with action taking place across the width of the screen on lavish but shallow sets. The camera is a passive observer, unlike modern 'epics', which usually use very fluid camera set-ups along with computer-generated imagery (CGI). The actual crucifixion (masterful in what it does not show, by the way) is indeed an actual still life tableau, and could have easily been lifted straight out of the Oberammergau passion play. I do not say this to put the film down - this actually is a brilliant move, as it makes the action faithful to the genre of the passion play, which originally was played out exclusively through short tableaux.
In this writing, my aim has been simply to help you consider alternative ways of viewing this, and other, historic motion pictures. Particularly, you may wish to take note of the sometimes unusual way the film uses: (a) framing, (b) shot length, (c) staging, (d) camera movements, (e) the use (or rather, the almost total lack of use) of close ups and 'cut-away' shots, (f) lighting, and the (g) music score and dialogue. Of course, there is much more to note: the use of dissolves and fades, which helps underline the 'epic' grandeur of every sequence. And I've not even touched on the story line or the acting. (Question: how might it have played as a silent movie?)
In today's post-modernist society, the Passion play formula, with its emphasis on objective truth, may well gain renewed importance, since the narrative of Christ's passion may be in danger of becoming yet one more voice crying in a commercial wilderness devoid of ultimate human (and Godly) values of truth, goodness and conviction. The story of Jesus stands out as unique however it is viewed. The simple reason: the story of the Passion indeed IS unique! (Which is one reason why I consider it a 'genre' in its own right.) I contend, therefore, that "The Robe" is an important contribution to American cinema, both theologically and cinematographically; one among a select number of motion pictures, spanning over one hundred years of history, that every student should have opportunity to view and discuss at least once whilst still in full time education.
A sidebar: "The Robe" really needs to be watched in 'letterbox' (i.e. in the original format), which on a small display does not do the picture justice. With HDTV coming along, look out for a digital re-release that will restore the original to its pristine glory. (Also, a side-by-side comparison with the Academy format version - shot at the same time - would be beneficial.) Best of all, of course, arrange to get it screened in your local art house cinema, and see it as it is meant to be viewed: on the big screen.
This is a dignified portrayal about Ancient Rome from best-selling
novel by Lloyd C Douglas adapted by Philip Dunne and Albert Matz's
literate screenplay , it deals with dissolute Marcellus Gallio (Richard
Burton) , a tribune in the time of Christ and son of a notorious
senator (Torin Thacher) , as he's sent to Palestine . There he is in
charge of the group that is assigned to crucify Jesus . From his
official duties , drunken Marcellus wins Jesus' homespun robe in a
dice-game after the crucifixion . He is tormented by delusion and
nightmares after the tragic deeds . Hoping to find out a manner to live
with what he has done , and still not believing in Jesus, he goes back
to Palestine to learn what he can do of the mysterious man he murdered
. Later on , he returns Rome and frees the holy-robe-carrying slave
named Demetrius (Beefcake Victor Mature) . After that , Caligula (Jay
Robinson) takes him prisoner , but his sweetheart (Jean Simmons) takes
time out to visit in a dungeon .
This religious mammoth epic focuses a moving Roman pageant dealing with a sponger tribune , following his stirring career , spiritual awakening and reaches an exciting peak at the ending . It has marvelous images , spectacular scenes , enjoyable performances as well as the adequate cast of thousands . Richard Burton and Jean Simmons are both good , though Burton sometimes is a little wooden . Michael Rennie as Peter and Jeff Morrow as Paulus give sensible acting , though brief , which adds more to the reality than anything else . The best acting comes , indeed , from Jay Robinson , the best portrayal of his career , who gives a hammy acting as nasty Caligula . Colorful cinematography by Leon Shamroy and being the first film to be shot in glamorous CinemaScope . Sensitive and lyric musical score by the classic Alfred Newman . The film deservedly won 1953 Academy Award for Art Direction , Set Decoration, Color and Costume Design.
The motion picture is brilliantly directed by Henry Koster , an expert on super-productions and epic biographies , such as he proved in ¨Desiree¨, ¨The Virgin Queen¨, ¨A man called Peter¨, The story of Ruth¨ , ¨The Naked Maja¨ and of course ¨The Robe¨. It's followed by a sequel (1954) titled ¨Demetrius and the gladiators¨ by Delmer Daves with Debra Paget , William Marshall, Richard Egan , Susan Hayward as the trampy empress Messalina and in which the Marcellus's slave , Victor Mature , makes again a surprisingly good acting and reprised diverse characters as Jay Robinson as Caligula and Michael Wilding as apostle Peter.
I had mixed feelings watching the Robe. By all means it isn't a bad
film, but it isn't great either. While there are some good things,
there is a lot wrong with it as well.
PROS: The plot about a Roman officer winning Christ's robe in a game of dice during the Crucifixion is a nice idea to work with and comes off decently on screen. The film for its time has nice production values, with lovely costumes and sets. The Robe is best known for the first film to be shot in CinemaScope, which was put to effective use here. The music is very good, and the acting is decent. There have been times when I have found Richard Burton wooden, but there have also been films like Nineteen Eighty Four where he has been remarkably good. Here, he does look handsome in Roman garb. Jean Simmons, rest in peace, has been better, but she looks lovely as Diana and does a decent job acting. Torin Thatcher is a marvellous Senator Gallio, while Jay Robinson is unforgettably melodramatic as Caligula.
CONS: There are things wrong with this film, and unfortunately pacing comes at the top of this list. This is not the first film to suffer from this problem, but The Robe seems to move at only one speed which is slow and ponderous. The film is also very awkwardly directed by Henry Koster, and the dialogue ranges from adequate to laughable, as if the writer was being very careful in order not to offend. Victor Mature has a tendency to take it TOO seriously as Demetrius, and in a rather uneven performance it shows. There are also parts where the action and romantic subplot are a little unconvincing and where some scenes are overlong.
Overall, worth watching in general but I don't necessarily recommend it. 5/10 Bethany Cox
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