Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Henry Koster|
|Produced by||Frank Ross|
|Based on||The Robe|
by Lloyd C. Douglas
|Music by||Alfred Newman|
|Edited by||Barbara McLean|
|Distributed by||20th Century Fox|
|Budget||$4.1 million or $4.6 million|
|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 is responsible for the Crucifixion of Jesus. The film was released by 20th Century Fox and was 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 film was directed by Henry Koster and produced by Frank Ross. The screenplay was adapted by Gina Kaus, Albert Maltz, and Philip Dunne — although Maltz's place among the blacklisted Hollywood 10 led to his being denied his writing credit for many years — from Lloyd C. Douglas' eponymous 1942 novel. The score was composed by Alfred Newman, and the cinematography was by Leon Shamroy.
The film stars Richard Burton, Jean Simmons, Victor Mature, and Michael Rennie and co-stars Dean Jagger, Jay Robinson, Richard Boone, and Jeff Morrow. The 1954 sequel, Demetrius and the Gladiators, picks up exactly where The Robe ends.
In Ancient Rome, Judaea, Capri, and Galilee (in the time period stretching from 32 to 38 AD.), Diana (Jean Simmons) tells Emperor Caligula that she has not heard from Marcellus Gallio (Richard Burton) for almost a year, when Marcellus was in Cana of Galilee. At that time, Marcellus was told by Paulus that Caligula had become the emperor.
Marcellus Gallio, son of an important Roman senator (Torin Thatcher), and himself a military tribune, introduces through flashback narration, the might and scope of the Roman empire. Marcellus is notoriously known as a ladies' man, but is captivated by the reappearance of his childhood sweetheart, Diana, ward of the Emperor Tiberius. Diana is unofficially pledged in marriage to Tiberius's regent, Caligula.
In a slave market Marcellus bids against Caligula for a defiant Greek slave, Demetrius (Victor Mature), and wins. Angrily, Caligula issues orders for Marcellus to receive a military transfer to Jerusalem in Judea.
Marcellus has Demetrius released and orders him to go on his own to the Gallio home. Marcellus is surprised to find Demetrius waiting for him when he arrives. Unofficially, Marcellus had freed Demetrius, but Demetrius feels honor bound to compensate Marcellus by being his servant. Demetrius accompanies Marcellus to Judea 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.
Jesus is arrested and condemned by Pontius Pilate (Richard Boone), the procurator. Marcellus reports to Pilate, who informs him that the emperor has sent for him. Before Marcellus departs, he is ordered to take charge of the detail of Roman soldiers assigned to crucify Jesus. Marcellus wins the robe worn by Jesus in a dice game and is told it will be a reminder of Marcellus's first crucifixion.
Returning from the crucifixion with Demetrius, Marcellus uses the robe in an attempt to shield himself from a rain squall, but feels a sudden crushing guilt for crucifying Jesus and tears the robe off. In a fit of rage, Demetrius curses Marcellus and the Roman Empire and runs away, taking the robe with him. Marcellus now behaves like a madman haunted by nightmares of the crucifixion. He reports to Emperor Tiberius 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, though Tiberius believes Marcellus is mad.
Marcellus travels to Palestine, seeking to ingratiate himself with Justus (Dean Jagger), a weaver in Cana, and the Christian community that he leads. He sees examples of Christian life in Justus's miraculously healed grandson and in the paralytic Miriam.
Marcellus finds Demetrius alone in an inn and demands that he destroy the robe, believing it has cursed him into madness. Demetrius tells him the robe has no real power, that it only reminds Marcellus of what he did, and it is his guilt over the killing of an innocent man that has caused him to become so troubled.
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 burden 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; Tiberius is dead, and Caligula is emperor. Marcellus informs Paulus that an imperial commission is valid until specifically countermanded by the new emperor. 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 Demetrius and him 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 them to Rome, where they must proceed "under cover" as Caligula has proscribed them.
From Rome, Caligula summons Diana from her retreat at the Gallio home, to tell her that Marcellus has become a traitor to Rome by becoming 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 secretly Christian. Diana guesses that he is a Christian and has seen Marcellus, and so she gets Marcipor to take her to see him.
Marcellus and Diana are reunited, and Marcellus tells her the story of the robe and his Christian conversion. Diana helps Marcellus rescue Demetrius.
Peter comes to Gallio, 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's 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 have heard. Diana then accepts Christ and seeks to join Marcellus, the man she considers to be her husband, in His Kingdom (Heaven). She also denounces Caligula as an insane, tyrannical monster.
Caligula condemns Diana to die alongside Marcellus. As they depart the audience hall for their execution, Marcellus is acknowledged by his repentant father, and Diana gives the robe to Marcipor.
As Diana and Marcellus climb the staircase, with Caligula ranting behind them, the scene behind them changes: The hall full of people disappears and is replaced by a background of shining gold (in some prints the background changes to a soft blue, cloud-filled sky) and the music includes the sounds of a celestial choir singing "Alleluia." As they continue to climb, they look at each other and, smiling, turn their eyes back up towards what awaits them.
Despite the careful attention to Roman history and culture displayed in the film, some inaccuracies are included: in reality, 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.
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. Ross received $40,000 plus 20% of the profits. RKO received $300,000 plus $650,000 from future profits.
Jeff Chandler was originally announced for the role of Demetrius. Victor Mature signed in December 1952 to make both The Robe and a sequel about Demetrius.John Buckmaster tested for the role of Caligula.
Filming finished on 30 April 1953, two weeks ahead of schedule.
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.
Critical reaction of the film and CinemaScope following the premiere in New York was generally favourable. Frank Quinn of the New York Daily Mirror called it "a new realistic and phenomenal concept of the art of motion picture production." Kate Cameron at the 'New York Daily News gave it eight stars (four for the film and four for CinemaScope) and claimed that "any picture projected on a flat screen...is going to seem dull" after The Robe. The only criticism came from Bosley Crowther of The New York Times who wrote, "The human drama of this story of Christian conversion occurs amid sumptuous and scenic surroundings and are mighty impressive to see. But the mightiness of surroundings--the spectacle of settings and costumes--is meaningful only in relation to the story that is being told. And the story in this instance is not spectacular, so that the amplitude of its surroundings does not enhance its scope."Variety wrote, "It is a 'big' picture in every sense of the word. One magnificent scene after another, under the anamorphic technique, unveils the splendor that was Rome and the turbulence that was Jerusalem at the time of Christ on Calvary."
Edwin Schallert of the Los Angeles Times stated that the film was in "a class that is unique, deeply spiritual and even awe-inspiring."Richard L. Coe of The Washington Post wrote, "Partly through the writing, partly through the variety of acting styles, this reverence does not stir the emotions. It is very hard to take seriously a film which presents so petulantly obvious a performance as Jay Robinson's sophomoric Caligula or a script which early observes: 'You have made me the laughing stock of Rome.' These and matters like them are not aspects of fine motion picture making."Harrison's Reports declared, "Excellent! Even if it had been produced in the conventional 2-D form, Lloyd C. Douglas' powerful novel of the birth of Christianity in the days of ancient Rome would have made a great picture, but having been produced in the revolutionary CinemaScope process, it emerges as not only a superior dramatic achievement but also as a spectacle that will electrify audiences with its overpowering scope and magnitude."The Monthly Film Bulletin called it "a routine addition to the numerous Hollywood Biblical films", presenting "a characteristically distorted and simplified view of Imperial Rome, with a ranting Caligula, a doddering Tiberius, and the customary scenes of 'spectacle' in the palace, the market-place and the torture chamber. The performances lack enthusiasm, and Richard Burton in particular seems ill at ease as the morose Marcellus."Basil Wright wrote in Sight & Sound, "As a film on a religious subject, Henry Koster's The Robe has rather fewer lapses in taste than most of its predecessors. If the actual speaking of Christ's cry from the Cross is a major error, it is not multiplied. In general, the subject is treated with reasonable reverence and is a deal better than Quo Vadis, which was a perfect illustration of Aristotle's remark about the ludicrous being merely a sub-division of the ugly."
The film premiered at the Roxy Theatre in New York City on September 16, 1953. On its public release the following day it set a record one-day gross (for a single theatre) of $36,000. It set a one-week record gross (for a single theatre) of $264,427.
The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:
ABC paid a record $2 million for the television rights, sponsored by Ford, for four screenings in the United States. The film was first telecast on Easter weekend on Sunday 26, March 1967, at the relatively early hour of 7:00 P.M., EST, 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. The film received a Nielsen rating of 31.0 and an audience share of 53%, with the second largest TV audience for a film, behind The Bridge on the River Kwai, with 60 million viewers.
The film was released on VHS and DVD on October 16, 2001.
The elaborate poster for the film has one glaring flaw. The woman's face is not Jean Simmons. Originally, Jean Peters had been cast as Diana, but became pregnant. Simmons was hired to replace her. But the poster was not changed, and shows the wrong Jean.
The film's successful and highly praised sequel, Demetrius and the Gladiators (1954), featured Victor Mature in the title role. Demetrius and the Gladiators begins with Caligula's challenge to Marcellus and Diana as they climb the stairs to their execution. Filming was completed before The Robe was released.