The Robe (film)
Original CinemaScope poster
|Directed by||Henry Koster|
|Produced by||Frank Ross|
|Based on||The Robe
by Lloyd C. Douglas
|Music by||Alfred Newman|
|Editing by||Barbara McLean|
|Distributed by||20th Century Fox|
|Running time||135 minutes|
|Box office||$36 million (United States)|
The Robe is a 1953 American Biblical epic film that tells the story of a Roman military tribune who commands the unit that crucifies Jesus. The film was made by 20th Century Fox and is notable for being the first film released in the widescreen process CinemaScope. Like other early CinemaScope films, The Robe was shot with Henri Chrétien's original Hypergonar Anamorphic lenses.
The picture was directed by Henry Koster and produced by Frank Ross. The screenplay was adapted by Gina Kaus, Albert Maltz, and Philip Dunne from the Lloyd C. Douglas novel of the same name. The music score was composed by Alfred Newman and the cinematography was by Leon Shamroy.
The first widescreen movie in more than two decades stars Richard Burton, Jean Simmons, Victor Mature and Michael Rennie, with Dean Jagger, Jay Robinson, Richard Boone, and Jeff Morrow. The Robe had one sequel, Demetrius and the Gladiators.
The reason Lloyd Douglas wrote the novel The Robe was to answer a fictional question: what happened to the Roman soldier who won Jesus' robe through a dice game?
Marcellus Gallio (Richard Burton), son of an important Roman senator (Torin Thatcher) and himself a military tribune begins the film in a prologue that introduces the viewer to the might and scope of the Roman empire. He is notorious as a ladies’ man, but he is captivated by the reappearance of a childhood sweetheart Diana (Jean Simmons), ward of the Emperor Tiberius (Ernest Thesiger). Diana is unofficially pledged in marriage to Tiberius' regent, Caligula (Jay Robinson).
In a slave market, Marcellus makes the mistake of bidding against Caligula for a defiant Greek slave Demetrius (Victor Mature) and winning. Angrily Caligula issues orders for Marcellus to receive a military transfer to Jerusalem in Palestine.
Marcellus has Demetrius released, and he orders him to go on his own to the Gallio home. Marcellus is surprised to find Demetrius waiting for him when he gets home. Unofficially Marcellus had freed Demetrius, but Demetrius feels honor bound to compensate Marcellus by being his servant.
Demetrius accompanies Marcellus to Palestine, but before the galley sails, Diana comes to see Marcellus, pledging her love for him and her intention to intercede on his behalf with Tiberius. Marcellus declares his love for Diana and asks her to make the emperor promise not to give her in marriage to Caligula.
Marcellus rides into Jerusalem with the centurion Paulus (Jeff Morrow) on the same day as Jesus' triumphal entry on Palm Sunday. Demetrius locks gazes with Jesus, and feels compelled to follow him. Jesus is arrested and condemned by Pontius Pilate (Richard Boone), the procurator, who sends for Marcellus to take charge of the detail of Roman soldiers assigned to crucify him. Marcellus wins the robe worn by Jesus in a dice game and is told it will be a reminder of his first crucifixion.
Marcellus begins to feel remorse for the crucifixion of Jesus. Demetrius has had enough: he curses Marcellus and the Roman Empire and runs away. Marcellus now behaves like a madman haunted by nightmares of the crucifixion. He reports to the kindly Emperor Tiberias at Capri, who gives him an imperial commission to find and destroy the robe while gathering a list of names of Jesus' followers. At Diana's request, Tiberius leaves her free to marry Marcellus even though Tiberius believes him to be mad.
Marcellus travels to Palestine and seeks to ingratiate himself with Justus, a weaver in Cana (Dean Jagger) and the Christian community that he leads. He sees examples of Christian life in Justus' miraculously healed son and in the paralytic Miriam.
Marcellus finds Demetrius alone in an inn, and demands that he destroy the robe. Demetrius gives the robe to Marcellus, who refuses to touch it. He is terrified, but as the robe touches him, he is relieved from the madness of his guilt, and becomes a Christian.
Justus calls the villagers together and begins to introduce Peter when he is killed by an arrow from a detachment of Roman soldiers. Marcellus intervenes, and Paulus informs him that his orders are no longer valid; Tiberias is dead and Caligula is emperor. Marcellus informs Paulus that an imperial commission is valid even after a Roman emperor dies. Paulus tells Marcellus to make him obey via a sword duel. After a prolonged struggle Marcellus prevails. Rather than killing Paulus, Marcellus hurls his sword into a tree. Paulus, humiliated by his defeat, orders the soldiers to leave.
Peter invites Marcellus to join him and Demetrius as missionaries. Marcellus hesitates, out of guilt, but when Peter tells him of his own denial of Jesus, Marcellus confesses his role in Jesus' death. Peter points out to him that Jesus forgave him from the cross, and Marcellus pledges his life to Jesus and agrees to go with them. Their missionary journey takes eventually, to Rome, where they must proceed "undercover" as Caligula has proscribed them.
In Rome, Caligula summons Diana from her retreat at the Gallio home to tell her that Marcellus has become a traitor to Rome by being a Christian. He takes her to the guard room where a captured Demetrius is being tortured. Diana runs out of the palace to Marcipor (David Leonard), the Gallio family slave, who is a secret Christian. Diana guesses that Marcipor is a Christian and has seen Marcellus, and she gets him to take her to Marcellus.
Marcellus and Diana are reunited, and Marcellus tells her the story of the robe and his own conversion. Diana helps Marcellus rescue Demetrius. Peter comes to the Gallio home where Demetrius has been taken and heals him. Caligula issues orders to bring Marcellus to him alive to stand trial by the end of the day.
After witnessing Peter's healing of Demetrius, the physician attending Demetrius goes to denounce them to the authorities. Marcellus' father disowns him as an enemy of Rome. Marcellus flees with Demetrius but, when Marcellus gives himself up so that Demetrius can escape, he is captured and put on trial.
Caligula makes Diana sit next to him for Marcellus' trial. Marcellus admits to being a Christian; however, he denies the charge that Christians are plotting against the state. Marcellus tries to show Caligula his opportunity to accept Christ as he tries to hand the robe to Caligula but Caligula refuses to touch it as he considers it to be "bewitched".
Caligula condemns Marcellus to death by the wish of the members of the audience based on what they've heard. Diana then accepts Christ, and seeks to join Marcellus, the man she considers to be her husband, in His Kingdom. Caligula condemns Diana to die alongside Marcellus.
Despite the careful attention to Roman history and culture displayed in the film, there are some inaccuracies: the emperor Tiberius' wife Julia, who had been banished from Rome by her father Augustus years before Tiberius acceded to the imperial throne, was already dead.
- Richard Burton as Marcellus Gallio
- Jean Simmons as Diana
- Victor Mature as Demetrius
- Michael Rennie as Peter
- Jay Robinson as Caligula
- Dean Jagger as Justus
- Torin Thatcher as Sen. Gallio
- Sally Corner as Cornelia Gallio
- Pamela Robinson as Lucia Gallio
- Richard Boone as Pontius Pilate
- Betta St. John as Miriam
- Jeff Morrow as Paulus
- Ernest Thesiger as Tiberius
- Rosalind Ivan as Empress Julia the Elder
- Dawn Addams as Junia
- Leon Askin as Abidor
- Helen Beverley as Rebecca
- Frank Pulaski as Quintus
- David Leonard as Marcipor
- Michael Ansara as Judas
- Jay Novello as Tiro
- Donald C. Klune as Jesus of Nazareth
- Cameron Mitchell as the voice of Jesus
Background and production
The Robe was originally announced for filming by RKO in the 1940s, and was set to be directed by Mervyn LeRoy, but the rights were eventually sold to Twentieth Century Fox for a reported $100,000.
Jeff Chandler was originally announced for the role of Demetrius.
The film was advertised as "the modern miracle you see without glasses", a dig at the 3D movies of the day. Since many theaters of the day were not equipped to show a CinemaScope film, two versions of The Robe were made: one in the standard screen ratio of the day, the other in the widescreen process. Setups and some dialogue differ between the versions.
The film was usually shown on television using the standard 1.33:1 aspect ratio version that fills a standard television screen rather than the CinemaScope version. American Movie Classics may have been the first to offer telecasts of the widescreen version. Recent DVDs and Blu-ray Discs of the film, however, present the film in the original widescreen format, as well as the multitrack stereophonic soundtrack. The 2009 DVD and Blu-ray Disc releases contain a special feature that compares selected scenes between the Cinemascope version and the standard version.
When the original soundtrack album was issued on LP by Decca Records, it used a remix for only monaural sound rather than the stereo sound that was originally recorded. MCA, which acquired the rights to the American Decca recordings, issued an electronic stereo version of the mono tape. RCA Victor included a suite from the film, recorded in Dolby surround sound, in its album Captain from Castile, which honored longtime Fox musical director Alfred Newman (composer of the The Robe's musical score); Charles Gerhardt conducted London's National Philharmonic Chorus. In 2003, Varèse Sarabande released a two-CD set of the original stereophonic recording on their club label. The 2009 DVD and Blu-ray Disc releases contain isolated stereophonic score tracks.
The film earned an estimated $17.5 million in North America during its initial theatrical release.
Awards and nominations
- The film won Academy Awards for Best Art Direction – Set Decoration, Color (Lyle Wheeler, George Davis, Walter M. Scott, Paul S. Fox), and Best Costume Design, Color (Charles Le Maire). It was nominated for Best Actor in a Leading Role (Richard Burton), Best Cinematography, Color, and Best Picture.
- The film also won the Golden Globe Award for Best Picture.
The film was first telecast by ABC-TV on Easter weekend in 1967, at the relatively early hour of 7:00 P.M., E.S.T, to allow for family viewing. In a highly unusual move, the film was shown with only one commercial break – a luxury not even granted to the then-annual telecasts of The Wizard of Oz.
- Aubrey Solomon, Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History, Scarecrow Press, 1989 p248
- The Robe. Box Office Mojo. Retrieved January 20, 2010.
- Chrissochoidis, Ilias (ed.). CinemaScope: Selected Documents from the Spyros P. Skouras Archive. Stanford, 2013.
- The beginning date is given as the 18th year of Tiberius, and the ending date is a year after the historical year of the accession of Caligula (Jay Robinson) as Roman emperor. Diana tells Caligula that she had not heard from Marcellus for almost a year when Marcellus was in Cana of Galilee. At that time Marcellus was told by Paulus that Caligula was then the emperor.
- "Religion: Celluloid Revival". Time. April 24, 1944. Retrieved May 25, 2010.
- "STAGE AND SCREEN.". The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1931 - 1954) (Adelaide, SA: National Library of Australia). 1 August 1953. p. 7. Retrieved 12 July 2012.
- Jeff Chandler Likely for Demetrius; 'Highest Mountain' New Purchase Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 01 Aug 1952: B7.
- "All Time Domestic Champs", Variety, 6 January 1960 p 34
- "NY Times: The Robe". NY Times. Retrieved 2008-12-21.
- "Television: Mar. 24, 1967". Time. March 24, 1967. Retrieved May 25, 2010.
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