Directed by Henry Koster
Written by Philip Dunne, Gina Kaus and Albert Malz (uncredited) from a novel by Lloyd C. Douglas
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
First viewing/Netflix rental
The restored version of this, the first Cinemascope film, looks stunning. Other than the visuals though, everything about its erzatz Christianity left me cold.
Marcellus (Richard Burton) is a tribune in ancient Rome. He gets on the wrong side of Caligula, the heir to the throne, when he gets in a bidding war with him for a couple of hot twin slaves. Following his defeat, he purchases the defiant Greek slave Demetrius (Victor Mature), who had been slated for gladiatorial combat. On the same occasion, he becomes reacquainted with childhood sweetheart Diana (Jean Simmons), who is the ward of the Emperor Tiberius.
Tiberius orders Marcelllus to serve in the hell-hole of Palestine as punishment for fighting with his son. Demetrius becomes fascinated with the preacher Jesus Christ early on. Marcellus redeems himself and is eventually ordered back to Rome, but not before one final duty. Marcellus is assigned to the crucifixion of Christ and becomes the soldier that wins Christ’s robe in a gambling game.
There is a terrible storm after Christ dies and Marcellus orders Demetrius to cover him with the robe. Mere skin contact drives Marcellus insane. When he gets back to Rome, the Emperor decides that the way to restore his sanity is to destroy the robe. So he sends Marcellus back to Palestine with that order along with instructions to wipe out as many of Christ’s followers as he can lay his hands on.
To find the robe he disguises himself as a wine merchant and ends up in the village of Cana. There, he eventually meets up with the apostle Peter (Michael Rennie) and Demetrius, who is now a devout Christian. Marcellus converts and all the predictable consequences ensue.
I suspected I would dislike this film, as with all sword and sandal films, going in but I wanted to see it because it was a Best Picture nominee. I was not wrong. The acting is wooden and the script is hackneyed. However, I was very pleased with the visual aspects of the production. Many of the scenes look like Renaissance paintings. The music is suitably grand as well.
The Robe won Academy Awards for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Color and Best Costume Design, Color. It was nominated in the categories of Best Picture; Best Actor (Burton); and Best Cinematography, Color.