The picture was directed by Henry Koster and produced by Frank Ross. The screenplay was adapted by Gina Kaus, Albert Maltz, and Philip Dunne from Lloyd C. Douglas' eponymous 1942 novel. The music score was composed by Alfred Newman, and the cinematography was by Leon Shamroy.
This first widescreen movie in more than two decades stars Richard Burton, Jean Simmons, Victor Mature, and Michael Rennie, with Dean Jagger, Jay Robinson, Richard Boone, and Jeff Morrow. The Robe had one sequel, Demetrius and the Gladiators (1954).
The action takes place in Ancient Rome, Judaea, Capri, and Galilee in a time period stretching from A.D. 32 to A.D. 38.
Marcellus Gallio, son of an important Roman senator (Torin Thatcher) and himself a military tribune, begins the film in a prologue that introduces the viewer to the might and scope of the Roman empire. He is notoriously known as a ladies’ man but is captivated by the reappearance of a childhood sweetheart, Diana, ward of the Emperor Tiberius. Diana is unofficially pledged in marriage to Tiberius's regent, Caligula.
In a slave market, Marcellus bids against Caligula for a defiant Greek slave Demetrius (Victor Mature) and wins. Angrily, Caligula issues orders for Marcellus to receive a military transfer to Jerusalem, in Palestine.
Marcellus has Demetrius released and orders him to go on his own to the Gallio home. Marcellus is surprised to find Demetrius waiting for him when he gets home. Unofficially, Marcellus had freed Demetrius, but Demetrius feels honor bound to compensate Marcellus by being his servant. Demetrius accompanies Marcellus to Palestine, but before the galley sails, Diana comes to see Marcellus, pledging her love for him and her intention to intercede on his behalf with Tiberius. Marcellus declares his love for Diana and asks her to make the emperor promise not to give her in marriage to Caligula.
Marcellus rides into Jerusalem with the centurion Paulus (Jeff Morrow) on the same day as Jesus's triumphal entry on Palm Sunday. Demetrius locks gazes with Jesus and feels compelled to follow him.
Jesus is arrested and condemned by Pontius Pilate (Richard Boone), the procurator. Marcellus reports to Pilate, who informs him that the emperor has sent for him. Before Marcellus departs, he is ordered to take charge of the detail of Roman soldiers assigned to crucify Jesus. Marcellus wins the robe worn by Jesus in a dice game and is told it will be a reminder of Marcellus's first crucifixion.
Returning from the crucifixion with Demetrius, Marcellus uses the robe in an attempt to shield himself from a rain squall but feels a sudden crushing guilt for crucifying Jesus and tears the robe off. Demetrius has had enough: he curses Marcellus and the Roman Empire and runs away, taking the robe with him. Marcellus now behaves like a madman haunted by nightmares of the crucifixion. He reports to Emperor Tiberius at Capri, who gives him an imperial commission to find and destroy the robe while gathering a list of names of Jesus' followers. At Diana's request, Tiberius leaves her free to marry Marcellus, even though Tiberius believes Marcellus is mad.
Marcellus travels to Palestine and seeks to ingratiate himself with Justus (Dean Jagger), a weaver in Cana, and the Christian community that he leads. He sees examples of Christian life in Justus's miraculously healed grandson and in the paralytic Miriam.
Marcellus finds Demetrius alone in an inn and demands that he destroy the robe, believing it has cursed him into madness. Demetrius tells him the robe has no real power; it only reminds Marcellus of what he did, and it is guilt over killing an innocent man that has caused him to become so troubled.
Demetrius gives the robe to Marcellus, who refuses to touch it. He is terrified, but as the robe touches him, he is relieved from the burden and becomes a Christian.
Justus calls the villagers together and begins to introduce Peter, when he is killed by an arrow from a detachment of Roman soldiers. Marcellus intervenes, and Paulus informs him that his orders are no longer valid; Tiberius is dead, and Caligula is emperor. Marcellus informs Paulus that an imperial commission is valid until specifically countermanded by the new emperor. Paulus tells Marcellus to make him obey via a sword duel. After a prolonged struggle Marcellus prevails. Rather than killing Paulus, Marcellus hurls his sword into a tree. Paulus, humiliated by his defeat, orders the soldiers to leave.
Peter invites Marcellus to join him and Demetrius as missionaries. Marcellus hesitates, out of guilt, but when Peter tells him of his own denial of Jesus, Marcellus confesses his role in Jesus' death. Peter points out to him that Jesus forgave him from the cross, and Marcellus pledges his life to Jesus and agrees to go with them. Their missionary journey takes them, eventually, to Rome, where they must proceed "undercover" as Caligula has proscribed them.
In Rome, Caligula summons Diana from her retreat at the Gallio home to tell her Marcellus has become a traitor to Rome by becoming a Christian. He takes her to the guard room where a captured Demetrius is being tortured. Diana runs out of the palace to Marcipor (David Leonard), the Gallio family slave, who is a secret Christian. Diana guesses that Marcipor is a Christian and has seen Marcellus, and she gets him to take her to Marcellus.
Marcellus and Diana are reunited, and Marcellus tells her the story of the robe and his own conversion. Diana helps Marcellus rescue Demetrius.
Peter comes to the Gallio home where Demetrius has been taken and heals him. Caligula issues orders to bring Marcellus to him alive to stand trial by the end of the day.
After witnessing Peter's healing of Demetrius, the physician attending Demetrius goes to denounce them to the authorities. Marcellus' father disowns him as an enemy of Rome. Marcellus flees with Demetrius but, when Marcellus gives himself up so that Demetrius can escape, he is captured and put on trial.
Caligula makes Diana sit next to him for Marcellus's trial. Marcellus admits to being a Christian; however, he denies the charge that Christians are plotting against the state. Marcellus tries to show Caligula his opportunity to accept Christ as he tries to hand the robe to Caligula, but Caligula refuses to touch it, as he considers it to be "bewitched".
Caligula condemns Marcellus to death by the wish of the members of the audience, based on what they've heard. Diana then accepts Christ and seeks to join Marcellus, the man she considers to be her husband, in His Kingdom (Heaven). She also denounces Caligula as an insane, tyrannical monster.
Caligula condemns Diana to die alongside Marcellus. As they depart the audience hall for their execution, Marcellus is acknowledged by his repentant father, and Diana gives the robe to Marcipor.
Despite the careful attention to Roman history and culture displayed in the film, there are some inaccuracies: in reality, the Emperor Tiberius' wife Julia, who had been banished from Rome by her father Augustus years before Tiberius acceded to the imperial throne, was already dead. Throughout the film, the region encompassing Jerusalem is said to be "Palestine". In reality, it was still being called "Judea"; the name would not be changed to Syria Palestina until the year 135 A.D., 102 years after these events.
The Robe was originally announced for filming by RKO in the 1940s and was set to be directed by Mervyn LeRoy, but the rights were eventually sold to Twentieth Century Fox for $100,000.
Jeff Chandler was originally announced for the role of Demetrius. Victor Mature signed in December 1952 to make both The Robe and a sequel about Demetrius. John Buckmaster tested for the role of Caligula.
Filming finished on 30 April 1953, two weeks ahead of schedule.
The film was advertised as "the modern miracle you see without glasses", a dig at the 3D movies of the day. Since many theaters of the day were not equipped to show a CinemaScope film, two versions of The Robe were made: one in the standard screen ratio of the day, the other in the widescreen process. Setups and some dialogue differ between the versions. The film was usually shown on television using the standard 1.33:1 aspect ratio version that fills a standard television screen rather than the CinemaScope version. American Movie Classics may have been the first to offer telecasts of the widescreen version. Recent DVDs and Blu-ray Discs of the film, however, present the film in the original widescreen format, as well as the multitrack stereophonic soundtrack.When the original soundtrack album was issued on LP by Decca Records, it used a remix for only monaural sound rather than the stereo sound that was originally recorded.
MCA, which acquired the rights to the American Decca recordings, issued an electronic stereo version of the mono tape.
RCA Victor included a suite from the film, recorded in Dolby surround sound, in its album Captain from Castile, which honored longtime Fox musical director Alfred Newman (composer ofThe Robe's musical score.
Charles Gerhardt conducted London's National Philharmonic Chorus.
In 2003, Varèse Sarabande released a two-CD set of the original stereophonic recording on their club label.
The elaborate poster for the film has one glaring flaw. The woman's face is not Jean Simmons. Originally, Jean Peters had been cast as Diana, but became pregnant. Simmons was hired to replace her. But the poster was not changed, and shows the wrong Jean.
The film earned an estimated $17.5 million in North America during its initial theatrical release. Its worldwide rentals were estimated at $32 million.
The film had one sequel, Demetrius and the Gladiators (1954), which featured Victor Mature in the title role.
The Academy Film Archive preserved The Robe in 2008.
26th Academy Awards:Wins
Best Art Direction (Color): Art Direction: Lyle Wheeler, George Davis; Set Decoration: Walter M. Scott, Paul S. Fox
Best Costume Design (Color): Charles LeMaire, Emile Santiago
Best Motion Picture: Frank Ross, Producer
Best Actor: Richard Burton
Best Cinematography (Color): Leon Shamroy
11th Golden Globe Awards:Wins
Best Motion Picture - Drama
The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:2005: AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores – Nominated
2006: AFI's 100 Years...100 Cheers – Nominated
2008: AFI's 10 Top 10:
Nominated Epic Film
The film was first telecast by America's ABC-TV on Easter weekend in 1967, at the relatively early hour of 7:00 P.M., E.S.T, to allow for family viewing. In a highly unusual move, the film was shown with only one commercial break – a luxury not even granted to the then-annual telecasts of The Wizard of Oz.