THE ROBE (1953)

Marcellus Gallio (Richard Burton) a self-centered and brazen centurion is the product of an affluent family in a conquering nation. Unconcerned for his father's reputation as a Roman senator, Marcellus fires quick words at a high ranking official and soon finds himself consigned to duty in the hot, dusty province of Jerusalem.

Back home, the lovelorn Diana (Jean Simmons) pleads the case of her errant soldier and begs for his return to Rome while evading the lusty advances of Caligula (Jay Robinson I), son of the reigning emperor. Her cries are successful and Marcellus is soon summoned back to the center of civilization, but not before completing his final assignment to oversee the crucifixion of Jesus. While playing games of chance at the foot of the cross, a drunken Marcellus wins the scarlet robe worn by Christ. Haunted by the touch of the homespun cloth, the returning centurion suffers fevered fits of sleep and wild delusions that convince him the mantle is bewitched. In order to regain his sanity he seeks to destroy the robe, along with the followers of the crucified teacher.

Richard Burton and Jean Simmons in fine form.

While mingling among the humble followers of Jesus, Marcellus discovers the robe in the possession of his former Greek slave, Demetrius (Victor Mature). Afraid to handle the garment but intrigued by the Christian believers, Marcellus begins a journey that brings him face to face with his role in history's most infamous crucifixion and ultimately pits his newfound convictions against the power of the Roman emperor.

The Robe claims a spot in cinematic history as one of the first motion pictures to be filmed in the wide screen format. Nominated for best picture in 1954, it was also one of the first epics of the 1950's and early 60's that include classics such as Ben Hur, Spartacus, and The Ten Commandments. The story of The Robe continues in the movie, Demetrius And The Gladiators.

Darryl F. Zanuck originally offered the role of Marcellus to Tyrone Power in a bid to get him to renew his contract with Fox. Power instead opted to star in "John Brown's Body" on stage.

Director Henry Koster chose his second assistant director Donald Klune to play the role of Jesus in the film. Klute would thus sign all the extras' vouchers and finish the paperwork while still in costume. He also had to eat lunch in his dressing room, as the studio thought it would be inappropriate for "Jesus" to eat in the commissary at Fox.

A special notice and kind word must be said of Jay Robinson. His commanding performance as the evil emperor Caligula who is obsessed with Jesus robe is spell binding. To me his has by far the best part and best lines in the whole film.

The brutality of ancient Rome is unsuitable for young families but the loyal love story between Diana and Marcellus, his metamorphic change and commitment, are reasons to pick up this title if you're roamin' around the video store.

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