The Robe was 10 years coming, first under RKO aegis when producer Frank Ross was there. It is a big picture in every sense of the word. One magnificent scene after another, under the [new] anamorphic CinemaScope technique, unveils the splendor that was Rome and the turbulence that was Jerusalem at the time of Christ on Calvary.
The homespun robe worn by Jesus is the symbol of Richard Burton’s conversion when the Roman tribune realizes he carried out the crucifixion of a holy man at Pontius Pilate’s orders. Victor Mature is the Greek slave for whom Burton outbid the corrupt Caligula (Jay Robinson), the Roman prince regent.
Lloyd C. Douglas’ original bestseller is a fictionized novel of Scriptural times, and thus Jean Simmons is cast as the love interest who, as the ward of the Emperor Tiberius (Ernest Thesiger), spurns her destiny as the betrothed of the Prince Regent for the love of Marcellus Gallio (Burton).
The performances are consistently good. Simmons, Burton and Mature are particularly effective, and Betta St John, Dean Jagger, Michael Rennie, Torin Thatcher and Ernest Thesiger likewise standout in the other more prominent roles. Jeff Morrow’s heavy is good, and the sword duel between him and Burton a highlight.
The slave market, the freeing of the Greek slave from the torture rack, the Christians in the catacombs, the dusty plains of Galilee, the Roman court splendor and that finale ‘chase’ (with the four charging white steeds head-on into the camera creating a most effective 3-D illusion) are standouts.
The Robe reportedly cost $4.5 million, of which close to $1 million may date back to producer Frank Ross’ investiture under the original RKO banner. With or without the hidden charges it looks almost all of it.
1953: Best Color Art Direction, Color Costume Design.
Nominations: Best Picture, Actor (Richard Burton), Color Cinematography