Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, April 28, 2016


The stunning scenic design of The Robe
THE ROBE (1953). Director: Henry Koster.

After angering Caligula (Jay Robinson), tribune Marcellus Gallio (Richard Burton), son of a senator (Torin Thatcher), is sent off to Jerusalem with his proud slave, Demetrius (Victor Mature). Marcellus is one of several men ordered to crucify Christ by Pontius Pilate (Richard Boone). Marcellus wins the robe of dead Christ in a game of dice but finds he is unable to wear it, then Demetrius runs off with it. Ordered to get it back by Emperor Tiberius (Ernest Thesiger), so the "bewitched" item can be destroyed, Marcellus encounters a group of devout Christians and begins to see things their way ... The Robe, the first film shot in CinemaScope, is often rather spectacular to look at, thanks to Leon Shamroy's superb cinematography and the splendid scenic design, but it can hardly be called a "great" movie. It's a given that the film's religiosity might seem oppressive to some viewers, but the film begins to lull about halfway through and never quite recovers -- it's when the quite pious Justus (Dean Jagger) shows up, along with the crippled and beatific singer Miriam (Betta St. John). However, the film does boast several good performances, especially Burton as Marcellus, with good (if unexceptional) turns from Jean Simmons as our hero's lady love, Diana; Thatcher as Marcellus' father; Robinson as a screechingly effective Caligula; Thesiger as the elderly emperor; and Michael Rennie as Peter. Three actors worthy of special mention are Victor Mature [Kiss of Death], who is excellent as Demetrius, even if his performance consists mostly of expressive pantomiming; Michael Ansara [Dear Dead Delilah] in a striking turn as Judas; and Jeff Morrow [The Giant Claw] who certainly scores as the centurion, Paulus, and who figures in an exciting sword fight with Marcellus. Jay Novello, Percy Helton and Thomas Browne Henry are also good in bits as a slave trader, wine merchant, and physician, respectively. Alfred Newman's score washes the whole movie in dramatic overtones. Followed by Demetrius and the Gladiators.

Verdict: Certainly well turned out for what it is. **1/2.


angelman66 said...

You're absolutely, this is not one of the top biblical epics...nowhere near Ten Commandments or Ben Hur, but it is indeed watchable. The Cinemascope photography and production design are wonderful, as is Richard Burton...not one of his most iconic roles but what star quality!
I will definitely watch this one again, next time I run across it.

William said...

It's worth a view every twenty years or so, ha! But absolutely great to look at, and Burton scores with his customary presence.

Cochrane0123 said...

I love old movies like this. Love your blog. Its so great to be able to go back to a simpler error. I just had all of my grandparents old tapes digitized by ScanDigital. So great to be able to go back and relive those memories with them.

William said...

Thank you.