The Robe (1953)

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Historically important as the first CinemaScope feature film, 20th Century-Fox's The Robe is fine dramatic entertainment in its own right. Based on the best-selling novel by Lloyd C. Douglas, the film stars Richard Burton as the wastrelly Roman tribune who is assigned by a weary Pontius Pilate (Richard Boone, who spends the whole of his single scene washing his hands) to supervise the crucifixion of Christ. After the Seven Last Words, the jaded Burton wins Christ's robe in a dice game. Gradually, the mystical influence of the holy garment transforms Burton from a roistering cynic into a True Believer--at the cost of his own life, which he willingly gives up in the service of his Lord. Also starring in The Robe are Jean Simmons as Burton's pious childhood sweetheart, Victor Mature as his Christian-convert slave Demetrius (an excellent performance--in fact, Mature is more believable than Burton!), Michael Rennie as the disciple Peter, and Jay Robinson as the raving Emperor Caligula. Mature, Rennie and Robinson would appear in the 1954 sequel to The Robe, the hurriedly assembled Demetrius and the Gladiators. Watch and listen for the unbilled contributions of Michael Ansara as Judas and Cameron Mitchell as the voice of Jesus. The film won three Academy Awards, and a special Oscar bestowed upon Fox for the development of CinemaScope. For many years, the TV prints of the Robe were struck from the "flat," standard-ratio version shot simultaneously with the widescreen version. Only recently has the CinemaScope The Robe been made available to cable TV (shown in "letterbox" format to allow home viewers the full picture). ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi
Rating:
G
Genre:
Classics , Drama , Faith & Spirituality
Directed By:
Written By:
In Theaters:
 wide
On DVD:
Runtime:
Studio:
20th Century Fox

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Cast

Richard Burton
as Marcellus Gallio
Richard Boone
as Pilate
Ernest Thesiger
as Emperor Tiberius
Torin Thatcher
as Sen. Gallio
Victor Mature
as Demetrius
Mae Marsh
as Woman
Dean Jagger
as Justus
Jay Robinson
as Caligula
Jeff Morrow
as Paulus
Betta St John
as Miriam
Dawn Addams
as Junia
Nicholas Koster
as Jonathan
Leon Askin
as Abidor
Ford Rainey
as Ship's Captain
Roy Gordon
as Chamberlain
John Doucette
as Ship's Mate
David Leonard
as Marcipor
George E. Stone
as Gracchus
Emmett Lynn
as Nathan
Anthony Eustrel
as Sarpedon
Sally Corner
as Cornelia
Sam Gilman
as Ship's Captain
Virginia Lee
as Specialty Dancer
Gloria Saunders
as Slave Girl
Helen Beverly
as Rebecca
Francis Pierlot
as Dodinius
A. Ben Astar
as Cleander
Marc Snow
as Auctioneer
Ernst Thesiger
as Tiberius
Jean Corbett
as Slave Girl
Frank Pulaski
as Quintus
Leo Curley
as Shalum
Joan Corbett
as Slave Girl
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News & Interviews for The Robe

Critic Reviews for The Robe

All Critics (18) | Top Critics (4)

The performances are consistently good.

Full Review… | January 11, 2008
Variety
Top Critic

Pious claptrap.

Full Review… | January 11, 2008
Chicago Reader
Top Critic

Tthe mightiness of masses and the forms of heroes have never loomed so large as they do in this studied demonstration, projected by CinemaScope. But an unwavering force of personal drama is missed in the size and the length of the show.

Full Review… | March 24, 2006
New York Times
Top Critic

Turgid direction, probably not helped by a necessarily cautious approach to framing, is married to creaky dialogue and stiff performances to render this of purely historical interest.

Full Review… | February 8, 2006
Time Out
Top Critic

It's hard to actively hate anything as deeply earnest as The Robe, but it is a long, tough sit.

Full Review… | July 4, 2014
Antagony & Ecstasy

Overblown melodramatic biblical nonsense.

Full Review… | January 30, 2012
Empire Magazine

Audience Reviews for The Robe

A stunning visual spectacle that should only be remembered for being the first CinemaScope film ever released, since the direction is clunky, the plot overlong and terribly contrived (the character's conversion is never convincing) and the dialogue so full of highs and lows.

Carlos Magalhães
Carlos Magalhães

Super Reviewer

Behold, people, a film so epic in scale that it introduced CinemaScope, which would be awesome, you know, if this film actually won Best Cinematography, probably because the Academy Awards didn't think that such a process fit for a film like this. I can't believe that, because when I think of an exciting, sweeping epic, I think of it being about some kind of a robe. I joke, but this biblical epic is just about the dude who has Jesus crucified, and Mel Gibson managed to get out the full story of Jesus' torture under the two-hour mark that this film passed by a quarter of an hour. This may be much, much older than "The Passion of the Christ", but this is still that to the extreme, even when it comes to demonizing the Jews, because the Roman military tribune who had his men bump off Christ was hanging out with everyone's favorite Jewish demon. Man, I shouldn't even think about cracking that kind of cheesy, Gene or Jean Simmons joke, because this "Jean" Simmons was beautiful, kind of in an Elizabeth Taylor fashion, which I suppose means that Richard Burton had a particular, solid taste well before he score Cleopatra. Speaking of Burton, forget the Jews, because this film really looks bad for atheists, as I can see some Bible thumper saying that the most inaccurate thing in this (Snicker, snicker) Biblical drama is Burton's character feeling guilty about killing Christ. I'm not even slightly close to being a Christian in Alabama, so maybe I'm not the person you should be listening to, but I thought that this movie was good, although it stands to be tighter, or at least fresher. One has to question just how formulaic this epic Roman drama is, because the formula was still fresh by the time this film came along, establishing certain tropes that would be shamelessly slammed into by future epics of this type time and again, and yet, outside of what would go on to become conventions, this film does most of what you'd expect, with a predictable narrative, storytelling style, dialogue, and, for that matter, portrayal of Ancient Rome. This film, like others of its nature and era, gets a little bit carried away with its contrived, simplified portrayal of Ancient Rome, with sophisticated, but near-cheesily overblown dialogue, and character types. I don't know how thin these characters are, as they are rich historical figures and are very often very well-portrayed, but there is something lacking about the expository aspects of Philip Dunne's, Gina Kaus' and Albert Maltz's script, which pays little mind to secondary characters, and isn't even all that layered with the leads, who, to a lesser extent, join most all other characters in supplementing a sense of melodrama. The film even gets manipulative with its portrayal of history and historical figures, so it should come as no surprise that nearly all dramatic elements of this epic, while generally well-portrayed through solid direction and acting, are riddled with cloying histrionics, which are at their worst during the flat romantic segments headed by Richard Burton and the lovely Jean Simmons, but found to some extreme throughout the final product, trying too hard to salvage a resonance that would be better off if the writing conformed to the subtlety of Henry Koster's direction. Well, Koster's direction is far from consistently subtle, or at least graceful in its subtlety, for there are times in which thoughtfulness leads to a blandness that is among the last things a film this problematically written needs, but cannot avoid, due to limp touches to the - you guessed it - writing, which I was expecting to be tighter in this ambitious epic of only about 135 minutes. Momentum is sound more often than not, but when it drags, it limps, and not just under the weight of questionable pacing, for one's investment faces other challenges through all of the conventions and cheesiness which threaten the final product. It does come down to the script, which is so flawed, and fitting for a lesser film, one that isn't rewarding inspired in most every other department, including the musical one. The awards made some questionable decisions when it came to recognizing this film, and among the most questionable, in my opinion, was a lack of recognition for the score by the great Alfred Newman, who hit some conventions and contrivances, but did what he did best by breaking down a lot of barriers for epic scoring sensibilities at the time to come up with refreshing and stellar compositions whose symphonic beauty is remarkable by its own right, and important in the selling of the sweep of this film. More important in that department is the debut of a CinemaScope visual style, which cinematographer Leon Shamroy anchors through often hauntingly precise coloration and lighting, in addition to a tight scope which is intimate and grand enough to immerse you into George Davis' and Lyle R. Wheeler's Oscar-winning art direction, which is immersive enough by its own right, utilizing Paul S. Fox's and Walter M. Scott's impeccable set decoration and Charles LeMaire's and Emile Santiago's costume designs to restore the look of Ancient Rome - from its high society to simple villages - lavishly. When it comes to aesthetic and production value, this film is a triumph, almost a masterpiece, at least for its time, remaining, to this day, a marvel whose style and technical proficiency compliment entertainment value and immerse you into a distinguished world and story. It may not be especially unique, even in concept, and its scripted interpretation may be a mess of contrivances and fat around the edges, but this story is a thoroughly intriguing one, which juggles epic sweep with rich intimacy as a study on the man behind Christ's crucifixion's coming to embrace the sacred man he killed through a guilt which drives him into dangerous circumstances, thus, there is a rewarding potential that would have been lost if it wasn't for Henry Koster. Koster's efforts are themselves contrived and superficial in a lot of places, and when they're not, their subtlety is somewhat blanding, although that reflects a delicacy that isn't in the overblown script, and is focused enough to orchestrate style into frequent entertainment value, and to draw biting dramatic tension and resonance through taste and a celebration of onscreen talent. Now, a lot of the performances don't help a sense of melodrama, for a number of supporting performances fall flat, but the leads nevertheless deliver as best they can, whether it be Victor Mature as a struggling, but wise slave who holds passion and fury over the demise of a great man, or leading man Richard Burton as a militant man of admiration, love, and guilt, which Burton sells through an impassioned and layered performance. By no means can I promise that everyone will embrace this film, as its script is so problematic, and its strengths aren't particularly upstanding, but their subtle impact goes a long way in overcoming shortcomings through quality aesthetic and dramatic value which make this a worthy epic. All in all, the film is plenty conventional, even in a portrayal of Ancient Rome that is about as thin as a lot of the characterization, and as contrived as the melodramatics which slow down the impact of momentum almost as much as dull and draggy spells, thus making for a script whose shortcomings are challenged well enough by a powerful score, immersively beautiful visual style, solid direction, and strong lead acting for Henry Koster's "The Robe" to stand as an adequately rewarding and very intriguing study on the impact Christ had even on those who brought about his demise. 3/5 - Good

Cameron Johnson
Cameron Johnson

Super Reviewer

The often forgotten Biblical tale, The Robe is a "sequel" to the Passion and Richard Burton proves that he can easily out-Heston Heston in the story of a redeemed man.

John Ballantine
John Ballantine

Super Reviewer

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