Released – September, 1953
Directed By – Henry Koster
Starring – Richard Burton (Marcellus Gallio), Jean Simmons (Diana), Victor Mature (Demetrius), Michael Rennie (Peter).
Description – Marcellus Gallio is is Roman military tribune in charge of the unit assigned to crucify Jesus. Drinking and gambling after the crucifixion, Marcellus wins Jesus’ robe in a dice game.
The stage was set for this scenerio when Marcellus wins an auction against Emperor Tiberius’ heir Caligula for defiant slave Demetrius who is then released from slavery by Marcellus. In gratitude, Demetrius becomes a personal servant to Marcellus. Embarrassed by the slave suction loss, Caligula arranges for Marcellus transfer to Jerusalem.
Owning the robe proves to be a turning point in the life of Marcellus. Wearing the robe during a rain, Marcellus immediately begins feeling remorse for the crucifixion and experiences a painful seizure. He then orders Demetrius to remove the robe from him.
The Christian Demetrius, offended by Marcellus’ treatment of Jesus robe, curses him and the whole Roman Empire and runs away with the robe.
Marcellus continues to be tormented by nightmares and delusions regarding the crucifixion, and although still not believing in Jesus, is determined to find out more about the man he killed. He believes this is the only way to live with himself.
NOTABLE: The Robe won two Oscar’s: Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Color, and Best Costume Design, Color. The film was also nominated for Best Picture, Best Actor in a Leading Role (Richard Burton), and Best Cinematography, Color.
This motion picture was the first released in widescreen CinemaScope and required a curved screen for viewing. Not all theaters were equipped for this and a second was produced in the standard screen ratio.
The role of Marcellus was first offered to Tyrone Power, who chose instead to perform in the Broadway play “John Brown’s Body.” This proved to be a poor choice as the play was not a hit and closed after only 65 performances.
Although he was nominated for an Oscar, Richard Burton has said that this was his least favorite of all his films.
It has been rumored that actor Stewart Granger once threatened Richard Burton with a gun believing Burton to be having an affair with his wife Jean Simmons during filming.
Personal Note: The 1950’s produced a number of what were considered Biblical epics, or grand scale films about Jesus or other religious figures. They include Quo Vadis (1951), The Ten Commandments (1956, my personal favorite), and Ben Hur (1959).