When my children were younger, I made an effort during Lent to program our movie watching accordingly. We had a list of movies which we watched every Lent. Some were blatantly “religious” films, like Ben Hur. Some just had a spiritual message or undercurrent. Today’s pic was in the former category.
The Robe (1953) is based on the bestseller by Lloyd C. Douglas. I have read the book and it is a good read. It posits the question and earnestly tries to answer what might have happened to the robe which belonged to Christ and over which lots were cast by the Roman soldiers who crucified him:
And they crucified him, and parted his garments, casting lots: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, They parted my garments among them, and upon my vesture did they cast lots. (Mathhew 27:35)
Oscar-nominated for Best Picture, the movie, which stars a young Richard Burton and Jean Simmons, is a very enjoyable adaption, mostly because it has such attractive stars. It won Oscars for set design and costumes and should have won for its lushly poignant score. It also features Victor Mature in his 2nd greatest role (his best performance being that of Doc Holliday in My Darling Clementine) as Demetrious, the Greek slave. There is a lot of scenery chewing in this movie, but no scene-stealing compares to Mature’s, especially when he accuses his master, the Roman tribune Marcellus (Burton), of being a “jungle animal” shortly after Jesus has been crucified. Richard Burton also has some great scenes, and it is early enough in his career and he is not yet so jaded that we believe him as he undergoes his spiritual transformation. I would be remiss if I did not also mention Jay Robinson as Caligula whose over-the-top depiction of the crazed emperor is truly wonderful.
The movie successfully conveys the idea that being a Christian under Caligula’s rule was seriously dangerous and there is enough daring-do and sword-fighting to keep the action moving. These early Christians are real action heroes–brave, faithful and, to use the current vernacular, extremely hot. No one looked better in a toga and armour than Richard Burton as Marcellus.
No one, that is, until Stephen Boyd.