The Robe Review

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Banished from Rome, Roman officer Marcellus is put in charge of crucifying Jesus. Afterwards, he wins Christ’s robe in a dice-game and comes to believe that the executed rabble-rouser was the messiah.


Pompous schlock in CinemaScope, from the Lloyd C. Douglas novel few will have read these days, The Robe typifies the worst aspects of the Hollywood Christian epic: performances which are either stiff or demented, enormous pageantry and spectacle just stuck unmoving on the screen, appalling dialogue delivered by actors who know they’re onto a loser (‘renounce your misguided allegiance to this dead Jew who dared to call himself a king!’) and, worst of all, a stultifying religiosity that deadens even the camp enjoyment factor.

Richard Burton, looking handsome in a breastplate, is the noble Roman who bickers with heir-to-the-throne Caligula (Jay Robinson, dreadful but nearly fun) and is sent to the dead-end gig of Jerusalem just in time for Jesus to pass through the back of the wide frame on a donkey. The one tiny job Burton has to do before his pull with an old girlfriend who is pals with Emperor Tiberius (Ernest Thesiger) gets him a transfer is to supervise the Crucifixion. His Greek slave Demetrius (Victor Mature, en route to his own sequel – Demetrius and the Gladiators) has turned Christian after a midnight chat with a tormented Judas (an uncredited Michael Ansara), and knows no good will come of this – which turns out to be the case as the Roman is tormented by bad dreams and thunderstorms that, along with a sermon from Peter, convince him to convert to the new faith.

It has some minor swordfights, but little action – the ridiculous climax has Rich and Jean walking meekly away to be martyred by arrows as the music swells into huge hallelujahs.

Overblown melodramatic biblical nonsense.