[box cover]

The Robe

Like a bad dream Charlton Heston might have, The Robe (1953) is a plodding sandal-and-toga epic starring Richard Burton, Jean Simmons, and Victor Mature. Directed by Henry Koster (Harvey), the film is based on the extraordinarily popular (in its time) novel of the same name by Lloyd G. Douglas, telling the story of Roman centurion Marcellus (Burton), who is chosen by Pontius Pilate to crucify Jesus. Marcellus wins Christ's robe in a game of dice and becomes possessed by the power of God when he touches the garment. After Marcellus's Greek slave Demetrius (Mature) takes the robe and runs off to become a Christian, Marcellus sets off to find the robe and destroy it in order to be free of his "illness." But as Demetrius tells him, "It is not the robe that makes you ill, but your own conscience." Through his travels, Marcellus is soon convinced that the teachings and beliefs of Jesus are the True Word of God, and he becomes a Christian. But that doesn't sit well with Emperor Caligula (played by Jay Robinson, who might as well be Pee Wee Herman in a toga), so Marcellus is condemned by the Roman Senate and sent off to a martyr's death. Burton, really at his worst here, is stiff and completely detached throughout the film. Only when he is "possessed" does he show the slightest emotion, and during these scenes he acts more like he has a migraine. Mature — looking like someone out of a John Waters film with his muscular physique bursting out of a dress — atrociously overacts in every scene, perhaps to compensate for Burton's stilted performance. The Robe slowly builds in its tediousness, never surpassing the level of a bad high school play, and only the incessant, overbearing strains of the musical score by Alfred Newman keep the viewer from nodding off. The film's sole claim to fame (besides always turning up on TV around Easter) is that it was the first movie to be filmed in CinemaScope. Fox's DVD is presented in anamorphic widescreen (2.55:1) with audio in Dolby Digital 4.0 (the 70mm re-release included six-channel audio, which is not recreated here). Theatrical trailer, keep-case.
—Kerry Fall

Back to Quick Reviews Index: [A-F] [G-L] [M-R] [S-Z]

Back to Main Page