Story: Marcellus (Richard Burton) has already landed on Emperor Caligula’s bad side, thanks to a chilly rivalry that sees him outbid the ruler for a slave, a man named Demetrius (Victor Mature). Marcellus paid well over what was expected and in the process, fanned the flames of tension with Caligula, who was irate after the auction concluded. Soon enough, Marcellus and Demetrius are in Palestine, just in time to cross paths with Jesus Christ, which has a much different effect on both men. Demetrius is an instant convert, but Marcellus is compelled by his service to Rome, which leads to him being placed in charge of the crucifixion of the controversial Christ. This drives a wedge between he and Demetrius, but when he wins the robe of Jesus in a gambling effort, even Marcellus begins to feel some strange connections, but how will this recent turn of events change his life, if at all?
Entertaiment Value: This epic period piece remains an interesting watch, with all the dazzling sights and sounds you’d expect, as well as a talented ensemble cast. The Robe has a narrative anchored in religion, which should be no surprise, but there is more than enough here to appreciate, regardless of your personal beliefs on religion. Marcellus’ journey might be centered on his experiences with Jesus, but there are also some universal elements to his inner turmoil, so I think the storyline holds up. The focus is often on other aspects of the plot as well, so this never feels like preaching at all, especially with manic Caligula running around here. The costumes and set design are immense fun to soak in, giving the movie some nice scale, though not as grand as some of its peers. I appreciated the more action driven scenes, which were sparse, but fun and certain to delight sword & sandal devotees. The pace can be a little slow at times, but the story rarely takes a break, so despite a deliberate pace and a runtime over two hours, The Robe holds your attention. If you’re a fan of period pieces or big studio epics, The Robe has held up and earns a recommendation.
The Robe boasts an impressive cast, headed up by Richard Burton in an Academy Award nominated performance as Marcellus. Burton is good here and brings a controlled, but emotional turn to the film that hits just the right mark. Not a flashy role perhaps, but Burton is believable and he dials up the emotion when he needs to, though he never goes over the top into melodrama. He has a kind of quiet strength that suits the character well and he plays off his costars well, especially his banter with Jay Robinson’s Caligula. I appreciated how Burton evolved his performance as his character progresses in the narrative, not in large leaps of change, but enough to show the inner changes and how those changes manifest in Marcellus’ persona. Jay Robinson is also a lot of fun as Caligula and he, like many cast members here, would return for the sequel, Demetrius and the Gladiators. The cast also includes Victor Mature, Jean Simmons and Michael Rennie.
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