The Robe (1953 film)
The Robe, was nominated for five Academy Awards in 1953, including best picture and best actor. Burton stars as Marcellus Gallio, the Roman centurion charged with overseeing the crucifixion. But when he wins Christ’s robe in a gambling game at the foot of the cross, his life is forever changed. The movie is based on a novel (fiction) yet it is inspiring, in its depiction of Christ’s crucifixion and the power of His life and death, and the novel (written by Lloyd C. Douglas) has been read by tens of millions of readers.
Is a 1953 American Biblical epic film that tells the story of a Romanmilitary 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 the 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) to whom Diana is unofficially promised in marriage.
In a slave market, Marcellus makes the mistake of bidding against Caligula him 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. Jesus confronts Demetrius as he rides into Jerusalem, silently calling him with his eyes to be his follower. 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 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, 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