It turns out the movie that marked the beginning of widescreen for Hollywood, the first CinemaScope film which literally changed the shape of the average movie forever, is a mess. 1953's The Robe, a biblical tangent epic about the Roman tribune who crucified Jesus, veers wildly from one tone to the next and all but obliterates character development with broad, rigid plot paths.
Of the film's three overqualified leads, perhaps the most overqualified is Richard Burton as that Roman tribune, Marcellus Gallio, who begins the film as a practical and devoted officer of Rome, starts to lose his mind after winning Jesus' robe gambling for it next to the cross, and then joins the ranks of some of the most obnoxious, self-righteous Christians in cinema's long history of obnoxious, self-righteous Christians.
Here a young woman blissfully explains to Marcellus how great it is Jesus didn't heal her legs so she could walk again. The man who crucified the messiah is maddened and then humbled by the forgiveness and generosity of the Christians in the little town who form no worldly attachments to things like donkeys and their own lives. Then Marcellus wins their trust by defeating another Roman officer in a protracted and exciting duel to show off how well such things come off in widescreen.
Marcellus' slave, Demetrius (Victor Mature), converts to Christianity before his master and so becomes Marcellus' guide into this new world. This movie about the repentance and soul searching of the man who killed Christ then features a long scene of Marcellus rescuing Demetrius from a prison in Rome that feels as though the studio told director Henry Koster, "Just recreate the 1938 Robin Hood in widescreen." So we have Burton duelling soldiers up a staircase as Alfred Newman's score unabashedly mimics Eric Wolfgang Korngold's score from the Errol Flynn movie.
A snarling two dimensional villain in a portrayal of Caligula (Jay Robinson), played so broadly that he makes Shredder from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles look like Macbeth, all but says, "Curses!" when he learns of Demetrius' rescue. He puts Marcellus on trial and standing with Marcellus as his wife, Diana, rivalling Burton's over-qualification, is Jean Simmons. Standing next to each other and smiling in their newfound faith in God, one can almost sense Simmons whispering through her teeth to him, "We just . . . have . . . to put up with this . . . a little longer."
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