The Robe in an epic set in ancientRomein the time of Christ. Marcellus Gallio (Richard Burton) is a Roman military tribune who is in charge of the men crucifying Jesus. While he and other Romans are gambling and drinking behind the cross, a red robe worn by Jesus is wagered and won by Marcellus. As Jesus is dying, a storm of biblical proportions rises up, frightening Marcellus and the other Romans. Afterward, the robe Marcellus won seems to burn him, so his slave Demetrius (Victor Mature) takes it away with him.
For weeks, Marcellus seems mad and has terrible dreams about that day at the cross. Leaders of Rome suggest he seek out the robe and destroy it, believing it has bewitched him. In search of the robe and answers, he travels toPalestineand learns about Christianity from the people who knew Jesus.
There are some developing subplots about Marcellus’s friendship to Demetrius and his romance with childhood sweetheart Dianna (Jean Simmons). These two characters are sprouted in the beginning, forgotten in the middle and seem to be suddenly important again near the end. Basically, Dianna is just there so Marcellus can have a girl and Demetrius brings cause for a daring rescue scene. Later, he spawns a the sequel: Demetrius and the Gladiators.
The Robe is famous for being the first film release in CinemaScope. This wasn’t planned, so production was shut down for a while, then all the scenes re-shot in the new format. Like Cinerama and 3D, CinemaScope was just a gimmick. Sadly, I think this gimmick is to blame for the films Best Picture nomination and Richard Burton’s acting nomination. He really was wooden.
At many points, this film reminded me of Quo Vadis. There is a lot of time devoted to driving home the simple message about Romans being brutal men drunk on power versus the more peaceful life of the early Christians. Unless you’re a small child, this message is almost annoyingly repetitive, but not as annoyingly as in Quo Vadis. Plus, they both turn the current Roman emperor into quite a character.
In the end, The Robe is more entertaining than Quo Vadis but nowhere near the epic caliber of Ben Hur or The Ten Commandments. That extra dramatic clap of thunder after meeting Judas goes a long way. Its safest audience would be within a Sunday school classroom, but could go over well elsewhere. I guess that would put it in the higher middle rank of the 1950’s biblical epics.
“You crucified him. You, my master. Yet you freed me. I’ll never serve you again, you Roman pig. Masters of the world, you call yourselves. Thieves! Murderers! Jungle animals! A curse on you! A curse on your empire!”