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The Robe Movie Review

marcellus richard film burton

1953 – Henry Koster –

The film rendition of the once-popular novel by Lloyd C. Douglas is a classic morality story. It holds the distinction of being the first widescreen film Hollywood produced as a way of addressing the fears raised in the industry by the popularity of television. It is also among the first uses of stereo in a film. In the Cinemascope widescreen video format, these features work together nicely with a separation of audio channels that is unusually distinct and enjoyable. The story, however, is another story.

The Robe first establishes both its epic setting and some important personality traits of Marcellus (Richard Burton), the young Roman tribune whose experiences organize the story. His reunion with Diana (Jean Simmons), a childhood playmate, hints at a life of both drinking and womanizing (her joking attempt to remind him of his childhood promise to marry her brings a genuinely puzzled frown and the question of whether he was drunk at the time). Posted to Jerusalem, Marcellus wins Christ's robe in a dice game. After touching the robe of Jesus, however, Marcellus is bewitched and almost loses his sanity from guilt. He believes that the cure lies in destroying the robe, but nonetheless begins a spiritual journey in which he learns about himself and eventually finds a new faith.

A representative sample of the film's merits and drawbacks may be found in the short scene when Marcellus questions a stranger in the street during the trial of Jesus. The stranger reports that the prisoner was betrayed by one of his own disciples; he walks off and tells Marcellus his name in parting—Judas Iscariot—as a crash of thunder disturbs the night and a smashing crescendo follows on the soundtrack. The scene makes for effective enough melodrama in its dialogue, but the two sound effects risk ruining the moment through their clumsy excess.

The second half of the film after the crucifixion inevitably loses some interest (though an impressively surreal dream sequence conveys Marcellus' deep guilt over his involvement in the death of Christ). Richard Burton is enjoyable, his youthful energy suggesting the brash foolishness of Marcellus, but his performance often veers into bombast. The movie did, however, make him a star.

Victor Mature is surprisingly effective as Marcellus' slave Demetrius, who leads his master to a change of heart. (This character was used as the basis for the sequel Demetrius and the Gladiators in which Mature also appeared.)

Cast: Richard Burton (Marcellus Gallio), Jean Simmons (Diana), Victor Mature (Demetrius), Michael Rennie (Peter), Jay Robinson (Caligula), Dean Jagger (Justus), Torin Thatcher (Senator Gallio), Richard Boone (Pilate), Cameron Mitchell (voice of Christ), Michael Ansara (Judas), Betta St. John (Miriam), Jeff Morrow (Paulus), Ernest Thesiger (Emperor Tiberias), Dawn Addams (Junia), David Leonard (Marcipor) Screenwriter: Gina Kaus, Phillip Dunne Cinematographer: Leon Shamroy Composer: Alfred Newman Producer: Frank Ross for Twentieth Century Fox Running Time: 135 minutes Format: VHS, LV Awards: Academy Awards, 1953: Art Direction/Set Decoration (Color), Costume Design (Color); Nominations: Actor (Richard Burton), Color Cinematography, Picture; Golden Globe Awards, 1954: Film—Drama; National Board of Review Awards, 1953: 10 Best Films of the Year, Actress (Jean Simmons) Budget: $5M Box Office: $17.5M.

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