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The Robe (1953)

Unrated | | Drama, History | 4 December 1953 (France)
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In the Roman province of Judea during the 1st century, Roman tribune Marcellus Gallio is ordered to crucify Jesus of Nazareth but is tormented by his guilty conscience afterwards.

Director:

Henry Koster

Writers:

Philip Dunne (screenplay), Gina Kaus (adaptation) | 2 more credits »
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Won 2 Oscars. Another 3 wins & 4 nominations. See more awards »

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Cast

Complete credited cast:
Richard Burton ... Marcellus Gallio
Jean Simmons ... Diana
Victor Mature ... Demetrius
Michael Rennie ... Peter
Jay Robinson ... Caligula
Dean Jagger ... Justus
Torin Thatcher ... Sen. Gallio
Richard Boone ... Pontius Pilate
Betta St. John ... Miriam
Jeff Morrow ... Paulus
Ernest Thesiger ... Emperor Tiberius
Dawn Addams ... Junia
Leon Askin ... Abidor
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Storyline

Marcellus is a tribune in the time of Christ. He is in charge of the group that is assigned to crucify Jesus. Drunk, he wins Jesus' homespun robe after the crucifixion. He is tormented by nightmares and delusions after the event. Hoping to find a way to live with what he has done, and still not believing in Jesus, he returns to Palestine to try and learn what he can of the man he killed. Written by John Vogel <jlvogel@comcast.net>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Taglines:

No Special Glasses Needed ! See more »

Genres:

Drama | History

Certificate:

Unrated | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »
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Details

Country:

USA

Language:

English

Release Date:

4 December 1953 (France) See more »

Also Known As:

Das Gewand See more »

Filming Locations:

La Pedriza, Madrid, Spain See more »

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Box Office

Budget:

$5,000,000 (estimated)

Gross USA:

$36,000,000

Cumulative Worldwide Gross:

$36,000,000
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Twentieth Century Fox See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

4-Track Stereo (Western Electric Recording) (5.0) (L-R)

Color:

Color (Technicolor)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See full technical specs »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

At one point the producers considered making Marcellus older and casting Laurence Olivier. See more »

Goofs

The Emperor Tiberius' wife, Julia, puts in an appearance complaining about Diana being considered "too good for Caligula" and Tiberius mentions his "30 years with Julia". Actually, his wife, Julia, the daughter of his predecessor, the Emperor Augustus, had been permanently exiled by her father for lewd behavior long before Tiberius even became Emperor. By the time "The Robe" opens, in the last years of Tiberius' reign, Julia had been dead and forgotten for decades. See more »

Quotes

Emperor Tiberius: Tribune Gallio, you are a Roman officer. I command you to gain control over yourself.
See more »

Alternate Versions

In the two versions of the film, different takes of Richard Burton's off-screen narration are used. In the widescreen version, he delivers the last line of the narration (referring to Caligula) as "He probably will not be pleased to see me", and in the other, "standard" version, he delivers it as "He probably will not be pleased to see ME". See more »

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User Reviews

 
The Passion of the Robe
17 May 2006 | by john-ruffleSee all my reviews

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.


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