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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.