17 May 2006 | bkoganbing
Another Biblical Tale Around a Peripheral Character
The Robe comes from a tradition of historical biblical fiction about a peripheral incident and/or character. It is in the same vein as Ben-Hur and Barabbas, films adapted from a similar source.
In this case it is Jesus's robe that he wore to the crucifixion. It is recorded that while He was on the cross waiting to die, Roman soldiers idled their time away by casting dice for the only possession He took to his death, his robe. The lucky winner turned out to be Richard Burton, a tribune recently sent on assignment because of a running feud with the Emperor to be.
The run in with Caligula was over a slave purchased by Burton, a Greek named Demetrius played by Victor Mature. Both Burton and Mature are exiled to Judea and they arrive just in time to see Jesus enter Jerusalem. Mature becomes converted to Jesus's teachings and Burton is driven mad by the enormity of what he has participated in.
The Robe was written by Lloyd C. Douglas who was an ordained Lutheran minister and who turned to writing at the age of 50 with his first best seller Magnificent Obsession. His writings were of the Christian inspirational variety and he was a very popular American writer right up to his death in 1951.
Richard Burton got one of his Academy Award nominations for his role. Jean Simmons as Diana who was the main source of his rivalry with Caligula gives a good understated performance of the woman who stood by the man she loved and his fate and passed up a chance to be an Empress.
Jay Robinson as Caligula got most of the notice. Although John Hurt in the I Claudius series is probably now the definitive Caligula, Robinson's performance holds up very well indeed. A substance abuse problem curtailed a promising career and though he did come back it was not the same.
The Robe was 20th Century Fox's first film in its new wide screen process of Cinemascope and really should be seen in a letter box version at home. Richard Burton is always good and elevates whatever film he's in.
Though in this case the subject matter is elevated just about as high as it can get.