For, Friday, April 3, 2015

Just in time for Easter, here’s an opportunity to see a Bible story (albeit a fictional one) of the kind we don’t get anymore … and “Noah” and “Exodus: Gods and Kings” don’t count.

“The Robe” (1953) was the first epic widescreen biblical picture, thanks to 20th Century Fox’s new (in 1953) innovation in movie filming and projection — CinemaScope.

While not the first widescreen movie, “The Robe” was the first from a major studio in two decades, and was designed to get people out of their homes and into movie theaters again because that newfangled invention the television was gaining too much popularity as a stay-at-home entertainment device.

CinemaScope — and “The Robe” — set the standard for the widescreen formats that are in use today both in movie theaters and for television programs. And the film’s popularity also kicked off a new era of biblical epics.


Richard Burton, left, in a widescreen sword fight in 'The Robe'

As a film, “The Robe” is rather talky and slowly paced, not nearly as emotionally engaging as some of the better biblical epics, but it remains visually captivating with lavish production values and it offers sincere performances from several popular stars of the period.

After Tyrone Power turned down the lead role of Marcellus, a Roman tribune during the time of Christ, it was offered to Richard Burton and became his third Hollywood movie, earning him his second Oscar nomination as best actor.

Based on the Lloyd C. Douglas novel, the film introduces Marcellus as the womanizing son of a Roman senator — until he sets his sights on his childhood sweetheart (Jean Simmons). But she is pledged to Caligula, and when Marcellus bids against him in the slave market, Caligula has the tribune sent to Jerusalem. Marcellus’ newly purchased slave Demetrius (Victor Mature) goes with him.

Coincidentally, they arrive on the day Jesus enters the city. Later, after Jesus is condemned by Pilate (Richard Boone), Marcellus is assigned to lead the Roman soldiers that will crucify Jesus, and when he wins Jesus’ robe in a dice game, Marcellus has nightmares about the event. In the meantime, Demetrius has run off.


      Victor Mature, center, at the crucifixion in 'The Robe'

Eventually, Marcellus is assigned to find Jesus’ followers and he meets Justus (Dean Jagger), a Christian leader, and finds Demetrius there. A series of events leads Marcellus to conversion, and as he joins the other Christians in preaching the gospel he is declared a traitor to Rome.

An enormous success, “The Robe” was the second-biggest hit of 1953 (after Disney’s “Peter Pan”) and now stands at No. 45 on the list of all-time movie blockbusters (adjusted for inflation). It’s also the only biblical epic to spawn a sequel (“Demetrius and the Gladiators,” the next year).

“The Robe” will be shown on Friday, April 3, at 7 p.m., at Brigham Young University in Provo. Admission is free for anyone over the age of 8.