Cast & Crew
In ancient Rome, during the eighteenth year of the reign of Tiberius, military tribune Marcellus Gallio goes to the slave market to purchase a pair of Macedonian twins. In the market, Marcellus witnesses the attempted escape of an educated Greek, Demetrius, and helps the slavemaster capture him. While waiting for the market to open, the womanizing, cynical Marcellus is delighted to be approached by Diana, a former childhood playmate who, since being orphaned, has been Tiberius' ward. Diana, now a self-assured young woman, reminds Marcellus of his long-ago promise to marry her, and Marcellus jests about honoring his pledge. Marcellus is less amused by Tiberius' intention to marry Diana to his nephew and heir, the corrupt Caligula, whom Marcellus detests. When Caligula arrives, he is angered to see Marcellus, and slyly expresses his ire by having his henchman, Tribune Quintus, outbid Marcellus for the twins. Infuriated, Marcellus then outbids Caligula for Demetrius. After Caligula storms off, Marcellus has Demetrius' chains removed and orders him to report to his steward, Marcipor. When he returns home, Marcellus is upbraided by his father, Senator Gallio, who is trying to reinstate the Republic in Rome and worries that Marcellus' feud with Caligula is undermining his efforts. Marcellus shrugs off his concerns, as well as those of his mother Cornelia and sister Lucia, but Caligula's power is soon felt when Marcellus receives a notice that he is to leave immediately for the dangerous garrison at Jerusalem, in Palestine. Before Marcellus' ship sails, Diana comes to pledge her love and state that she will intercede on his behalf with Tiberius. Much to his surprise, Marcellus returns her feelings and asks her to wait for him. While riding to Jerusalem, Marcellus is told by Centurion Paulus that it is Passover, a Jewish holiday, and also that the Jews are awaiting the arrival of their Messiah. They spot a group of people surrounding a man riding a white donkey, and when Demetrius joins them and exchanges gazes with the man, named Jesus, he is deeply moved and believes that Jesus wants him to become his follower. As time passes, Marcellus spends his days and nights in drunken revelries, ignoring his duties. One day, however, Paulus informs him that the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, has ordered Jesus' arrest. Because Jesus has so many followers, the arrest must be made quietly, so Marcellus gives Paulus money with which to bribe someone to betray him. Having overheard the conversation, Demetrius spends the night searching Jerusalem, hoping to warn Jesus, but no one will believe him because he is a Roman slave. Finally, Demetrius comes across one man who painfully informs him that Jesus has already been betrayed by someone too weak to believe in him. As the man walks away, his shoulders slumped as if bearing a heavy burden, he tells Demetrius that his name is Judas. After Jesus is sentenced to be crucified, Demetrius pleads with Marcellus to speak on Jesus' behalf, but Marcellus insists that Roman law must be upheld without question. Soon after, Pilate tells Marcellus that he has been summoned to Capri. The troubled Pilate orders him to crucify Jesus before he leaves, and Paulus taunts him about driving nails into a man's flesh. As Jesus is carrying his cross on the road to Cavalry, Demetrius attempts to stop a soldier from beating Jesus when he falls. Demetrius himself is knocked unconscious, and when he awakens, he runs to the site of the crucifixion and, grief-stricken, stares up at Jesus. Demetrius is then ordered to bring Jesus' robe of simple, homespun cloth to the soldiers, who are playing dice behind the cross. After Marcellus wins the robe, a great storm of thunder, lightning and dust begins, and Marcellus approaches the cross. He is horrified to get some of Jesus' blood on his hands, and becomes even more frightened when the dying man whispers, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." In town, a rainstorm begins and Marcellus orders Demetrius to cover him with the robe, but as soon as the cloth touches him, Marcellus cries in agony that it is burning him. Taking back the robe, Demetrius calls Marcellus a murderer and curses him, then runs away. Soon after, on the boat journey to Capri, Marcellus irritates the crew with his constant nightmares about nails being driven into Jesus' hands. Upon his arrival, Marcellus warns Diana that he has been driven mad by his experiences. When Marcellus appears before Tiberius, the soothsayer Dodinius theorizes that Marcellus has been bewitched by the robe, and that only by destroying it will he be freed. Moved by his affection for Diana, Tiberius gives Marcellus an imperial commission to find the robe, and so Marcellus returns to Palestine. There, Marcellus, traveling as a Roman merchant in search of homespun cloth, journeys through the countryside. At the village of Cana, Marcellus is surprised when village elder Justus shames his compatriots into returning a portion of the overly generous sum with which Marcellus bought their cloth. Marcellus is intrigued by Justus' quiet authority and learns that he was a friend of Jesus, as were many in the village. Justus describes some of the miracles peformed by Jesus and that evening, Marcellus meets Miriam, a crippled woman whose embittered heart was transformed by Jesus. Marcellus angrily rejects the villagers' statement that Jesus arose from the dead, and confesses to Justus that it was he who crucified Jesus. Justus reveals that he was already aware of Marcellus' identity, and informs him that they have all forgiven him, just as Jesus has forgiven him. Soon after, while trying to convince Marcellus of Jesus' love and power, Miriam tells him that one of his disciples, Simon, known as Peter, "The Big Fisherman," has arrived, along with his Greek companion. Marcellus confronts Demetrius, who attempts to persuade Marcellus that his guilty conscience, rather than the robe, has caused his madness. When Marcellus accidentally touches the robe, which had been kept by Demetrius, he impulsively clutches it to him, and overcome, realizes that he is no longer afraid. Soon after, Marcellus meets Peter, and during a gathering at the square, Justus begins to preach. Just then, a battalion of Roman soldiers, led by Paulus, attacks, and Justus is felled by an arrow. Marcellus commands them to stop, citing his imperial commission, but Paulus informs him that Tiberius has died and that Caligula is now emperor. Desperate to help his new friends, Marcellus accepts a challenge from Paulus and bests him in a swordfight. The Romans withdraw, and later, when Peter invites Marcellus to join him and Demetrius in spreading Jesus' teachings, Marcellus pledges to serve Jesus. Back in Rome, Diana appears before Caligula, who reprimands her for living with the Gallios and not visiting him in the year since Marcellus disappeared from Cana. Much to Diana's horror, Caligula informs her that Marcellus is now a Christian, which makes him a traitor to the Roman empire. Diana refuses to believe him, and so Caligula takes her to see Demetrius, who has been captured and is being tortured in the palace dungeon. After Diana flees and tells Marcipor about Demetrius, she realizes that Marcipor is also a Christian and begs him to take her to Marcellus. Marcipor then takes Diana to the catacombs in which Marcellus and his fellow Christians are hiding, and the couple joyfully reunites. Marcellus shows Diana the robe and tries to tell her about Jesus' teachings, but she remains skeptical. She is upset that Marcellus insists upon rescuing Demetrius, but he assures her that he owes his friend far more than just his life. Marcellus and his companions succeed in rescuing the badly injured Demetrius and take him to the Gallio home. There, physician Marius can do nothing to help Demetrius and warns Marcellus that he will soon die. Peter arrives, however, and through the strength of his prayer is able to revive Demetrius. Although Gallio is glad that Marcellus is alive, he is deeply hurt by his conversion to Christianity and renounces him. While Marcellus is taking Demetrius back to the catacombs, they are pursued by a group of soldiers, and Marcellus confronts them alone so that Demetrius can escape. After Marcellus is captured, Diana visits him in his cell and pleads with him to deny Jesus in order to save himself, but Marcellus tells her about the people of Cana, who never denied Jesus, despite the grave danger of being his followers. Marcellus is then put on trial for treason before Caligula and the senators, and admits to being a Christian. Caligula scoffs at Marcellus' assertions that his king is the King of Heaven, who believes in love, mercy and charity above all else. Angered that Diana still prefers Marcellus to himself, Caligula has his minions call out for Marcellus' death, but Marcellus refuses to renounce his allegiance to Jesus. Diana, moved by Marcellus' passionate beliefs and disgusted by Caligula's tyranny, choses to die with Marcellus. As they walk together, Marcellus is acknowledged by his repentent father, and Diana gives the robe to Marcipor for safekeeping. Serene in their convictions, Marcellus and Diana then go hand-in-hand toward their fate.
Betta St. John
Thomas Browne Henry
Van Des Autels
George E. Stone
Frank De Kova
Tom Connors Jr.
George W. Davis
Paul S. Fox
Dorothy Lou Macready
Edward B. Powell
James E. Ruman
Walter M. Scott
Best Art Direction
Best Costume Design
The Robe (1953) - The Robe
The director was Henry Koster, whose long filmography reads like a protracted exercise in efficient anonymity, from Deanna Durbin musicals to historical pageants to forgettable comedies. The Robe is not an auteurist experience - watching, you could get the sense of a movie made by an entire industry city, not a passionate team of artisans, and CinemaScope has a lot to do with it - the demands of the anamorphic process all but elided the possibility of close-ups. (The same distorting effect that stretched the 35mm image into a monstrous rectangle the shape of a car windshield also stretched actors' features if the camera got too close.) Just as the theatricality of early talkies is a by-product of the then-primitive sound recording technology, The Robe's pioneering 'Scope-itude keeps every scene at a broad and medium distance. The effect is of seeing entire scenes play out in real time, the busy peripheral and background diverting our attention in errant moments, and our position becomes framed as a kind of voyeurism, as though we were across the room, unnoticed, amid the larger drama and unable to get closer.
Of course The Robe is a Biblical epic, the most popular genre of American film in the mid-century and the one we've long since given up making or even trying to completely understand. Douglas's tale famously speculates on the life of the Roman guard who gambled for Jesus's discarded robe on Calvary and won - who was he, and what happened to him? The taciturn Richard Burton is Marcellus, a self-indulgent wine-&-women libertine who, as a tribune, irks soon-to-be emperor Caligula and is sent to Jerusalem - the empire's outskirts. He leaves behind Jean Simmons's doe-eyed sweetheart, and takes with him Mature's defiant Greek slave, but there he administers the crucifixion of Jesus, and thus haunted and guilt-ridden watches his spoiled life spiral out of control.
The redemption tale therein eventually has Marcellus join the Christian underground, led by Michael Rennie's Peter, in open rebellion against the ruling state, and for its third act The Robe becomes a swollen parable of resistance against imperialism that echoes, perhaps uncomfortably for some, entire swatches of 20th-century post-colonialist struggle, from Havana to Phnom Penh. (The interrogation-torture scene centered on Mature's converted rebel has particular resonance today.) The same could be said for Cecil B. DeMille's still-entertaining The Ten Commandments (1956), after a fashion, but unfortunately Koster's film doesn't deliver the payload of overripe melodrama and ludicrous stunt-casting set-pieces that has made DeMille's movie such a delicious camp favorite in the last few decades. (It is the only movie to choose for Passover viewing - there is no substitute.) The Robe is in fact a very reserved film, with Burton and Mature trying to outdo each others' macho implacability, and the supporting roles going to actors who though perfectly capable of putting on a show (Richard Boone as Pilate, Michael Ansara as Judas) are discouraged from doing so. (It's incidental, but fans of genre pulp will be distracted by the matinee vibe brought on by the presence of The Day the Earth Stood Still's  Rennie, The Bride of Frankenstein's  Ernest Thesiger, This Island Earth's  Jeff Morrow, and The 7th Voyage of Sinbad's  Torin Thatcher.) Actually, the largest dose of performance energy comes straight from Jay Robinson as Caligula, who falls dutifully into a long line of Roman emperor-portrayals by preening, whining and shrieking like a developmentally arrested prom queen. If you happen to conjure the image of Martin Short while you're watching, there's no turning back.
The naive, rampaging piety of New Testament epics, resplendent with angel choruses and magical lighting whenever Jesus is near or even thought about, is a difficult dynamic to parse nowadays, until you consider them as only a subgenre of ancient-history epics in general (Samson and Delilah , The Egyptian , David and Bathsheba , Quo Vadis , Ivanhoe , and The Vikings  were all top-ten moneymakers in the '50s). The past is a big country, and so to do battle, market-wise, with the rise of television, movies not only became larger in every dimension, but reveled in the scope and scale of history, the older the better. There was little point, after all, in filling a breathtaking CinemaScope screen with lavish matte-painting vistas unless those landscapes were imagined visions of antiquities we cannot see any other way.
The Robe was nominated for a slew of Oscars®, including Best Picture, mostly out of respect for its size and cost and popularity, and today the film stands, in all of its extra-wide tableaux, mostly as a big picture window opening on the experience of the 1950s. You cannot be blamed, watching it on the largest screen available to you, for getting a more potent dose of America during the Eisenhower administration than you might of ancient Rome and Judea. Movies are history, after all, and here the mysterious mid-century hearts and minds of our parents and grandparents in their postwar idyll are trapped in amber.
Producer: Frank Ross
Director: Henry Koster
Screenplay: Philip Dunne, Albert Maltz (screenplay); Lloyd C. Douglas (novel)
Cinematography: Leon Shamroy
Art Direction: George W. Davis, Lyle Wheeler
Music: Alfred Newman
Film Editing: Barbara McLean
Cast: Richard Burton (Marcellus Gallio), Jean Simmons (Diana), Victor Mature (Demetrius), Michael Rennie (Peter), Jay Robinson (Caligula), Dean Jagger (Justus), Torin Thatcher (Sen. Gallio), Richard Boone (Pontius Pilate), Betta St. John (Miriam), Jeff Morrow (Paulus), Ernest Thesiger (Emperor Tiberius).
by Michael Atkinson
The Robe (1953) - The Robe
Leon Askin (1907-2005)
Born in Vienna, Austria as Leo Aschkenasy on September 18, 1907, Askin developed a taste for theater through his mother's love of cabaret, and as a youngster, often accompanied his mother to weekend productions.
He made a go of acting as a profession in 1925, when he took drama classes from Hans Thimig, a noted Austrian stage actor at the time. The following year, he made his Vienna stage debut in Rolf Lauckner's "Schrei aus der Strasse."
For the next six year (1927-33), he was a popular stage actor in both Vienna and Berlin before he was prevented to work on the stage by Hitler's SA for being a Jew. He left for Paris in 1935 to escape anti-semetic persecution, but returned to Vienna in 1935, to find work (albeit a much lower profile to escape scrutiny), but after a few years, the writing was on the wall, and he escaped to New York City in 1939, just at the outbreak of World War II. His luck in the Big Apple wasn't really happening, and in 1941, he relocated to Washington D.C. and briefly held the position of managing director of the Civic Theatre, a popular city venue of the day. Unfortunately, after the tragic events of Pearl Harbor in December of that year, the United States became involved in the war that had already engulfed Europe for two years, and seeing a possibility to expediate his application for American citizenship, he enlisted in the U.S. Army.
After the war, Leon indeed became a U.S. citizen and changed his name from Leon Aschkenasy to Leon Askin. He returned to New York and found work as a drama teacher, and more importantly, landed his first gig on Broadway, as director and actor in Goethe's Faust in 1947, which starred Askin in the title character opposite the legendary Albert Bassermann who played Mephisto. The production was a huge success. Askin followed this up with another director/actor stint with Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice and co-starred with Jose Ferrer in Ben Hecht's 20th Century. They were all Broadway hits, and Askin had finally achieved the success he had worked so hard to seek and merit.
It wasn't long before Hollywood came calling, and soon Askin, with his rich German accent and massive physical presence, made a very effective villian in a number of Hollywood films: the Hope-Crosby comedy Road to Bali (1952); Richard Burton's first hit film The Robe; and the Danny Kaye vehicle Knock on Wood (1954).
Askin's roles throughout the 50's were pretty much in this "menacing figure" vein, so little did anyone suspect that around the corner, Billy Wilder would be offering him his most memorable screen role - that of the Russian commissar Peripetschikof who gleefully embraces Amercian Capitalism in the scintillating politcal satire, One, Two, Three (1961). Who can forget this wonderfully exchange between Peripetschikof and Coca Cola executive C.R. MacNamara (James Cagney):
Peripetschikof: I have a great idea to make money. I have a storage full of saurkraut and I'll sell it as Christmas tree tinsil!
MacNamara: You're a cinch!
His performance for Wilder was wonderfully comedic and wholly memorable, and after One, Two, Three the film roles for Askin got noticable better, especially in Lulu and The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (both 1962); but he began to find prominent guest shots on hit television shows too: My Favorite Martian and The Outer Limits to name a few; yet his big break came in 1965, when for six seasons he played General Albert Burkhalter, the Nazi general who was forever taking Col. Kilink's ineptitude to task in Hogan's Heroes (1965-71).
Roles dried up for Askin after the run of Hogan's Heroes, save for the occassional guest spot on television: Diff'rent Strokes, Three's Company, Happy Days; and parts in forgettable comedies: Going Ape! (1981), Airplane II: The Sequel (1982). After years of seclusion, Askin relocated to his birthplace of Vienna in 1994, and he began taking parts in numerous stage productions almost to his death. In 2002, he received the highest national award for an Austrian citizen when he was bestowed with the Austrian Cross of Honor, First Class, for Science and Art. He is survived by his third wife of three years, Anita Wicher.
by Michael T. Toole
Leon Askin (1907-2005)
Darryl F. Zanuck originally offered the role of Marcellus to 'Power, Tyrone' in a bid to get him to renew his contract with Fox. Power instead opted to star in "John Brown's Body" on stage.
Director Henry Koster chose his second assistant director Donald Klune to play the role of Jesus in the film. Klute would thus sign all the extras' vouchers and finish the paperwork while still in costume. He also had to eat lunch in his dressing room, as the studio thought it would be inappropriate for "Jesus" to eat in the commissary at Fox.
The second movie made in Cinemascope, but the first to be released.
The film rights to had originally been bought by RKO Pictures in the 1940s. The studio never filmed it, eventually selling the rights to Twentieth-Century Fox.
The opening shot after the title credits (and the background 'red robe' curtain parts) is actually a scene lifted from it's sequel, 'Demetrius and the Gladiators'. That's Jay Robinson as Caligula presiding over the ceremony preceding the gladitorial games; William Marshall as Glycon in the front row of gladiators, far right; and Victor Mature as Demetrius standing directly behind him.
The film begins with voice-over narration by Richard Burton, as "Marcellus Gallio," describing the time period, setting and dissipation of the Roman Empire. According to contemporary news items, producer Frank Ross first purchased the screen rights to Lloyd C. Douglas' best-selling novel for $100,000 in 1942, before Douglas had even completed writing it. A November 19, 1944 Los Angeles Times article reported that Ross included postcards in copies of Douglas' novel, asking readers to respond and tell him what parts of the book made the greatest impression, in order to "keep faith" with the book's legions of fans when interpreting it for the screen. Douglas (1877-1951) was one of the most popular novelists in the United States in the 1930s and several of his books, such as Magnificent Obsession, Green Light and White Manners, were also turned into films. Although The Robe, both as a novel and film, contains many fictional characters, characters such as "Peter, The Big Fisherman" and "Miriam," and incidents such as Christ's robe being gambled for by Roman soldiers are taken from passages in the New Testament of the Bible or Christian religious tradition.
On September 10, 1944, New York Times reported that when Ross purchased the rights to The Robe, he entered into a joint financing and distribution deal with RKO. The article noted that Mervyn LeRoy was to direct the picture, which was to begin production early in 1945 and cost approximately $4,000,000. New York Times also stated that problems encountered during pre-production included the large cast requirements and difficulties in obtaining enough costumes due to wartime shortages of materials and dyes. Los Angeles Times also noted that at the point, Ross had been offered up to $1,000,000 by various production companies for the rights to the book but declined to sell.
By July 1945, Motion Picture Herald announced that Ross was hoping for a January 1946 start date, with the picture to be released in the fall of 1947. The article noted that writers Ernest Vadja and Albert Maltz had worked with Ross on the screenplay, and were attempting to whittle it down from a six-hour running time to three-and-a-half hours. It is unlikely that Vadja contributed to the completed picture, but according to a April 3, 1997 Daily Variety news item, Maltz, who was blacklisted in the 1950s, did contribute to the finished film, and the credits were restored by the Writers Guild of America and corrected to reflect that he and Philip Dunne co-wrote the screenplay, with the adaptation written by Gina Kaus. [Upon restoring the film itself in 2003, Twentieth Century-Fox digitally created a new onscreen title card listing Maltz as one of the writers.] The 1945 Motion Picture Herald item stated that the delay in production had been caused by difficulties in writing the script and by "wartime shortages and latterly by strike conditions affecting all production impartially." At that point, it was estimated that the picture would cost $5,000,000 to produce and take six to eight months to shoot, with another four to six months required for editing.
On April 29, 1948, Hollywood Reporter's "Rambing Reporter" column announced that Victor Fleming would direct the picture, with Gregory Peck set to star, and on June 8, 1948, Hollywood Reporter noted that writer Maxwell Anderson had met with Ross on "production preparations" for the film. [In a 1953 Los Angeles Times article, Ross stated that he paid for Anderson's work on the screenplay himself, and also that Herb Meadow had worked on the script.] On June 12, 1948, Motion Picture Herald announced that Andrew Solt would be writing the screenplay with Anderson, and that the picture might be shot on location in Italy. The extent of the contributions of Anderson, Meadow and Solt to the completed film, if any, has not been determined. By early July 1948, Daily Variety announced that RKO had cancelled plans to produce the film because it would be too expensive. It was estimated that RKO had already spent more than $750,000 in pre-production costs, and that Ross and Fleming were going to produce the picture independently if they could not interest another studio in the project.
In August 1948, Hollywood Reporter noted that Ross and Anderson were attempted to rewrite the script to lower budget costs, thereby enabling RKO to shoot the picture completely at the Cinecittà Studios in Italy, which would also lower production expenses. At that point, it was reported that Floyd Odlum and N. Peter Rathvon would be co-producing the picture with Ross, and that it would begin filming in early 1949. In December 1948, Hollywood Reporter stated that another hitch in production had arisen due to the National Catholic Legion of Decency, which proclaimed that it would give the film a "B" classification after it was produced, and was urging church members not to read the book or see the film when it was released. [After the film was released in 1953, the Legion gave it an "A-1" classification.] Hollywood Reporter also stated that RKO owner Howard Hughes was insisting that Ross repay the money RKO had invested in the property before he be allowed to take it to another studio for production.
In December 1951, RKO filed for a foreclosure of its mortgage of $960,000, according to a Hollywood Reporter news item, which stated that the sum included costs of three scripts, sixty miniatures, costumes and the building of sets. The estate of Lloyd Douglas, who died in February 1951, also entered the suit, claiming that it had the option to repurchase the rights to The Robe if Ross did not produce it. In early April 1952, ^HR reported that after two weeks of negotiations, it was anticipated that a settlement would be reached whereby RKO would retain the property, but on April 11, 1952, Ross counter-sued RKO for one million dollars and the rights to The Robe. Ross claimed that Hughes had made it clear that he was not interested in producing films with religious themes and had made it impossible for him to make the picture "by continued threats, intimidations and insistence upon alleged technical and ambiguous provisions [of their contract]."
In May 1952, numerous contemporary news items announced that Darryl F. Zanuck, the head of production at Twentieth Century-Fox, had negotiated the purchase of the rights to The Robe. [In an August 1953 Los Angeles Times article, Zanuck revealed that he was interested in The Robe due to the high grosses from the company's 1951 production of the biblical story David and Bathsheba, see entry above.] Ross was still slated to produce the picture, in which Tyrone Power would star. According to an May 8, 1952 Daily Variety news item, the buyout from RKO involved the payment of "an unspecified sum" to Hughes by both Ross and Fox. A September 1953 Daily Variety news item reported that RKO would eventually receive $950,000 from the profits of the film, and that in addition to a $40,000 up-front fee, Ross had a "20% participation in the picture's profits."
1952-1955 Hollywood Reporter, Daily Variety, Harrrison's Reports and Los Angeles Times news items contribute the following information: Spencer Tracy, Laurence Olivier, Gary Cooper and Robert Tayler were at various times considered for the role of Marcellus. Many actors and actresses were tested for various roles, including British actor John Buckmaster, who tested for the role of "Caligula," and New York stage actor Otis Garth. According to an August 1953Los Angeles Times article, "five hundred actors tested for the film grew too old before their assignments began." Laurence Harvey was to have been loaned by Romulus Films for the production, but he does not appear in the final picture. The following actors are included in the cast by contemporary news items, but their appearance in the released film has not been confirmed: John Downey, Harry Baum, George Cernak, Jerry Lucas, Sally Yarnell, Eleanor Vogel, Jane Crowley, Larry Chance, Lee Graham, Hernando Belmonte, Flo Vinson, Orie Robertson, Cleo Ridge, Snub Pollard, Michael Tellegan, Mischka Egan, Harry Gillette, Wanda Perry, Eve Conrad, Nestor Eristoff, Ted Doner, Edward Peil, Myna Cunard, Marguerite Campbell, Fred Fisher, Harry Thompson, Robert Foulk, Edwana Spence, Stephen Popich and Frances Grant.
According to a April 2, 1953 Hollywood Reporter news item and a September 25, 1953 Los Angeles Times review, Fox assistant director Don Klune portrayed Christ, whose face is never seen in the film. Modern sources state that Cameron Mitchell supplied Christ's voice, although his voice was not recognized in the viewed print. On March 17, 1953, a Hollywood Citizen-News columnist visited the set during the filming of the crucifixion scene and was told by Ross that he specifically chose not to show Christ's face in the film because "everyone has his own idea of what Jesus looked like." Ross added that if his face were shown, the scene would have to be cut for exhibition in England, "which permits no impersonation of Christ on its screens." The Robe marked the screen debuts of Jay Robinson and Jeff Morrow. A modern source notes that Richard Talmadge served as a stuntman on the picture.
Ross considered using the remaining colonnade from the 1915 World's Fair on San Francisco's Treasure Island as the "background for Roman Temple location shots," and footage of the Big Sur coastline to represent the coast of Capri. It is unlikely, however, that filming actually took place at either location. On January 14, 1953, Hollywood Reporter and Los Angeles Times reported that construction on the sets had begun the day before, and that nearly $500,000 would be spent on thirty-one interior sets and ten exteriors. Eight of the studio's fifteen sound stages and sixty percent of its 360-acre backlot were scheduled to be used for the production. On February 11, 1953, Hollywood Reporter reported the completion of "what is believed to be the largest panoramic background in movie history," that of the giant Jerusalem backdrop for the crucifixion set. The chase sequence was shot on location at Calabasas, CA.
The picture's start date had been delayed several times, with Fox reporting that it was having difficulties in casting of the female lead, building the sets and deciding in what process the picture should be filmed. In January 1953, Fox announced that studio president Spyros Skouras had negotiated the purchase of the rights to a "new French large-screen process which projects a picture two and a half times the size of today's normal screen image and uses only one strip of 35mm." At first called Anamorphoscope, the process, eventually named CinemaScope, was invented by Henri Chretien in 1927, and promised a three-dimensional effect due to its wide field of vision. [Chretien's process came after the three-screen process used for Abel Gance's 1927 film Napoléon.] According to a September 15, 1953 Hollywood Reporter article, Chretien initially attempted to interest Hollywood movie producers in his invention in 1928, but they were distracted by the advent of sound. Chretien also revealed that J. Arthur Rank once held an option on his lenses and that several other countries had expressed interest in the process. Rank's option lapsed, however, and on February 6, 1953, Fox reported in Hollywood Reporter that it had signed a ten-year exclusive contract to manufacture and distribute all CinemaScope lenses in countries except France and its colonies.
Fox decided to shoot The Robe in CinemaScope, with full tests in the process beginning on February 28, 1953. A August 12, 1953 Hollywood Reporter news item revealed that Chretien was to receive one dollar for "each lens [made for CinemaScope] throughout the world, plus a small annual fee for ten years. In addition, he has been given a contract to produce 250,000 lenses." The September 15, 1953 Hollywood Reporter news item also noted that as a part of his contract with Fox, Chretien's lab, which had been destroyed by the Nazis during World War II, would be rebuilt by the studio.
Unlike other widescreen processes, such as Cinerama, to which it was frequently compared, CinemaScope required only one camera and one projector (for more information on Cinerama, see the entry below for This Is Cinerama). Using a special, anamorphic lens mounted over the camera's normal lens, CinemaScope was able to capture a wide-angle image that was "squeezed" onto a regular strip of 35mm film stock. The image was then "unsqueezed" during projection through the use of another special lens attached to the projector, so that the resulting image was at a ratio of 2.55:1 instead of the then-standard 1.33:1.
The film was projected onto a slightly concave "Miracle Mirror" screen, which was much wider than an ordinary screen, although the exact size depended on the theater in which it was installed. [The screen installed in the Roxy Theatre in New York was 68 feet wide by 24 feet tall. Contemporary news items variously reported the size of the screen at Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles as either 63 feet wide by 23 feet tall, or 65 feet by 29 feet.] The Miracle Mirror screens on which CinemaScope films were projected were specially designed "to reflect and distribute the light evenly over the large surface required...thus making every seat a good seat," according to a August 20, 1953 ad placed by the studio in Hollywood Reporter. The screens, which had a metallic surface, were also capable of being used for 3-D or standard format pictures. The only other screen authorized by Fox for use with its CinemaScope productions was the Magniglow Astrolite Screen, produced by the Radiant Manufacturing Corporation of Chicago. Unlike 3-D films, CinemaScope productions did not require special glasses for viewing.
The Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE) met on February 5, 1953 to explore possibilities in standardizing the widescreen processes under experimentation, such as various 3-D methods, Cinerama and CinemaScope, in order to promote "savings for producers, distributors and exhibitors," as well as "the best technical quality for moviegoers." In order to solidify CinemaScope as the industry's new standard, Fox offered it to other studios rather than retaining it for its own exclusive use. The first major demonstration of CinemaScope for exhibitors, other movie studios and reviewers was held in Los Angeles on March 18, 1953, with footage of the New York harbor, a sequence from The Robe, clips from How to Marry a Millionaire and a musical number from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes being shown. The demonstration was a success, with Hollywood Reporter publisher W. R. Wilkerson declaring that CinemaScope, stereophonic sound and the new Eastman color film stock were "the answer to every exhibitor's prayer." Approximately 1,000 exhibitors attended demonstrations of the new process in Los Angeles on 20 March and March 21, 1953, and many reportedly saw it as an answer to the weakening of movie box-office receipts due to television.
More than 10,000 spectators were drawn to the first exhibition of CinemaScope held in New York in late April 1953. Demonstrations of the new process continued to be held throughout the U.S. and Europe during 1953, and on August 12, 1953, Hollywood Reporter noted that several major studios were interested in or had committed to CinemaScope, and that numerous films using the process were in the planning stages. The lenses necessary to shoot the pictures had to be licensed from Fox, and prices varied depending on the amount of equipment required and the number of pictures for which it would be used. On October 24, 1953, Harrrison's Reports reported that Warner Bros. had abandoned plans to continue developing its own WarnerScope in favor of adopting CinemaScope "in an effort to clarify and standardize for the exhibitors and the public a single process, thus eliminating any possibility of confusion." M-G-M also adopted CinemaScope. Paramount, one of the few studios not using CinemaScope, promoted its own process, VistaVision, which employed a ratio of 1.85:1 and was not an anamorphic process. Eventually other processes such as MetroScope and SuperScope were tested in 1954.
In a modern interview, Koster described how frustrating using CinemaScope was during production of The Robe, as the lenses had to be focused separately, and frequently were not in focus at the same time, necessitating retakes. Eventually a system to mechanically and automatically focus the lenses was perfected. Additional problems that had to be surmounted to accommodate CinemaScope were drastic changes in lighting, placement of actors within a scene and the type of film stock used. According to an August 1953 Variety article, The Robe and a few subsequent Fox CinemaScope productions were shot on a type of Eastman negative stock that proved unsatisfactory. Later films used a new Eastman "tungsten balanced stock," which was easier to light during production and to use to print multiple positive copies. News items noted that, even though The Robe's onscreen credits state "Color by Technicolor," the Technicolor plant only processed the Eastman Color film, and that technically, the color was by Eastman.
Stereophonic sound, which had been experimented with as early as 1916, was used in conjunction with CinemaScope. Prior to the mainstream use of stereophonic sound, primarily with CinemaScope, theaters were normally equipped with only one or two speakers to project sound. [A notable exception to the usual sound system was the Fantasound system developed by the Walt Disney Co. for its release of Fantasia. Fantasound also featured a series of speakers placed around the theater for maximum exploitation of dialogue, music and sound effects; for more information, see the entry for Fantasia in AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1941-50].
For Fox's stereophonic sound, at least three microphones were used to record sound during production instead of one, and the resulting four tracks (one was a control track) were placed on the single strip of standard 35mm film on which the picture itself was printed. [The Cinerama sound system employed six to seven tracks.] A May 1953 New York Times article described how the four tracks were fit onto the one strip of film: "In order to accommodate the quartet of sound tracks on the standard 35mm film [Fox engineers] narrowed the film sprocket holes. Two tracks are placed on each side of the film. Other changes required are a slight reduction in the width of the teeth of the projector's sprockets and the addition of a multiple driven sound head between the upper film magazine and the head of the projector."
The special sound heads that had to be installed on projection equipment were magnetic, but according to an August 1953 advertisement for the system, after the sound heads were installed, they would eliminate errors in synchronizing sound and film and could be used with regularly formatted films. The May 1953 New York Times article noted that the sound heads were being manufactured by R.C.A., General Precision and Altec and Westrec companies. While the picture was playing in a theater, several strategically placed speakers allowed sound to emanate from the area of the screen where the action took place, or even offscreen if appropriate.
In order to protect its huge investment and to insure its further use, Fox offered loans to many exhibitors throughout the United States and the world to install the necessary projection and sound equipment. On April 17, 1953, Hollywood Reporter noted that at that time, more than 1,500 theaters had already placed orders for the equipment, and that it would cost between $8,000 to $22,000 to re-furbish theaters for CinemaScope and stereophonic sound, depending on the size of the establishment. By mid-July 1953, Fox had invested $10,000,000 "in the development of CinemaScope and in advances to manufacturers throughout the United States and Europe to insure speedy delivery of CinemaScope lenses, Miracle Mirror screens and stereophonic sound." The studio also underwrote the retooling of manufacturing plants in an attempt to insure a steady production of lenses, screens and sound equipment.
By the end of production on The Robe, various sources estimated its cost at $4,500,000. Several large New York theaters, including the Astor, Rivoli and Roxy, bid to see which would be allowed to exhibit the picture in New York City, with the Roxy winning. The gala New York premiere was held on September 16, 1953 and received much acclaim. On September 23, 1953, Los Angeles Times reported that the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce was celebrating the film's West Coast premiere at Grauman's Chinese Theatre the following day by declaring a four-day festival. To publicize the picture, Jean Simmons imprinted her hand-and footprints in the famed Grauman's forecourt, and a special plaque commemorating The Robe as the first CinemaScope picture was placed next to her signature in the cement. In order to secure the picture's only Southern California run during 1953, Grauman's had extensive refurbishments of not only its equipment but also seats and lobby area.
After the first week of the film's record-breaking run at the Roxy, Variety estimated that Fox would recoup up to 25% of its investment in the picture solely from its exhibition in New York. According to an November 18, 1953 Variety, article, Fox received seventy percent of the Roxy's box-office, an unusually large percentage for that time. Harrrison's Reports noted that The Robe was "sold seventy-thirty [in the studio's favor] with a guarantee of 10% of the gross as profit to each exhibitor." On January 10, 1954, New York Times reported that by December 31, 1953, the film had already grossed $16,500,000 domestically in only 400 theaters, which represented about a quarter of the U.S. theaters then equipped for CinemaScope.
Harrrison's Reports reported in late December 1953 that in another effort to support the new process, Fox would provide exhibitors with "a complete CinemaScope program which, in addition to the main feature, will include short subjects made in that process, as well as a special newsreel clip to be inserted at the end of the newsreel." The program would be designed so that the audience would "be made to feel that it is getting something extra special," and help to attract the public back to regular movie-going. Fox's first CinemaScope short was a sixteen-minute travelogue filmed in Italy and entitled Vesuvius Express. It played in conjunction with the December 1953 Fox release Beneath the 12-Mile Reef.
Critical reaction to CinemaScope was mixed at first, with many critics commenting on the focus problems that were soon eliminated due to better film stock and lenses. The New Yorker critic complained: "[CinemaScope] works out fine horizontally, but the peculiar shape of the screen occasionally gives the impression that you're viewing the action through a mail slot. Another disadvantage is that the actors in closeups look as if they belonged on Mount Rushmore." Hollywood Citizen-News, however, termed CinemaScope "a motion picture achievement of which the entire industry can be extremely proud." The Robe itself also garnered mixed reviews, although the acting was generally lauded.
In February 1953, Fox promoted its investment in the new process by announcing that all of its future productions would be made in CinemaScope, with the exception of films already in production or advanced planning stages. [Not all of Fox's future releases were in CinemaScope, however; due to the costliness of the large productions, Fox continued to make "B" pictures and also release smaller films made by other companies to fill out its release roster.] September and October 1953 Hollywood Reporter news items reported that numerous Fox studio personnel were laid off or took vacations during an 8-week hiatus, during which projects for CinemaScope were developed and the necessary equipment was prepared.
According to Hollywood Reporter news items, The Robe was also shot in regular 35mm, but only so that it could be reduced to 16mm for release to churches and schools. During its general theatrical release, The Robe was available only in CinemaScope. By early August 1955, the film was released to special theaters, such as those at veteran's hospitals and on military bases, in 16mm, with special lenses to project it in an approximation of Cinemascope, according to a Daily Variety article noting how lucrative the 16mm market was. At that time, the worldwide gross of the picture was approximately $25,000,000.
Fox's demand that theaters install CinemaScope projection lenses and screens and stereophonic sound in order to play The Robe and subsequent CinemaScope pictures resulted in many protests from exhibitors, both in the United States and abroad. In early October 1953, Skouras assured exhibitors that they would be allowed to exhibit Fox CinemaScope pictures using equipment other than Miracle Mirror or Astrolite screens, or approved projection lenses, if they matched the performance of the equipment endorsed by the studio. In November 1953, the studio asserted that it had no intention of releasing its CinemaScope pictures with standard sound tracks, however, necessitating the use of stereophonic sound projection and exhibition equipment.
Theater owners were suspicious and angry about the requirements, with one theater owner union representative stating that as of November 1953, only Miracle Mirror screens, which were manufactured by Fox, and Astrolites, which were "being produced with capital advanced by that company and in the marketing of which it is financially interested," had been approved, and that it would be too expensive for the average exhibitor to arrange for an alternative. In mid-December 1953, Skouras announced that "exhibitors who operate medium-sized and small theatres will be permitted in the future to install screens of whatever make or type they desire" in the presentation of Fox CinemaScope pictures, according to the December 19, 1953 issue of Harrrison's Reports. Larger, first-run houses would still be required to use Miracle Mirror or Astrolite screens, however, in order to receive bookings from Fox. The requirement for stereophonic sound equipment continued to be a hotly contested issue, with many protests from regular and drive-in theater organizations. Some exhibitors even began boycotting Fox releases in order to attract attention to their demands.
In early May 1954, Fox finally relented and announced that it would give exhibitors the option of playing its CinemaScope films with four-track magnetic stereophonic sound, one-track magnetic sound or standard one-track optical sound. According to Harrrison's Reports, Fox planned to make The Robe available in the optional sound tracks on June 19, 1954. In addition, in mid-May 1954, Fox announced its decision to begin releasing standard format versions of its CinemaScope pictures to exhibitors not equipped for the new process.
In order to distance itself from recriminations about its connection with selling Cinemascope equipment, Fox decided in early April 1953 to withdraw from marketing of CinemaScope lenses, according to Harrrison's Reports, and the market would then be taken over completely by Baush & Lomb and other lens manufacturers, such as Bell & Howell. Fox and its partners in CinemaScope continued to improve the photography process, and in June 1954, it was announced that Bausch & Lomb had recently perfected new lenses that would allow for more precise focusing and greater depth of field. A June 28, 1954 Hollywood Reporter article praised the innovations and asserted that they would help create improvements in acting and writing, as scenes could be written longer and acted in their entirety without as many cuts.
In late May 1955, Hollywood Reporter noted that the government of South Africa had banned the importation of CinemaScope equipment on the basis that "the government is prepared to permit expenditures for the upkeep on theatre motion picture equipment but will not permit improvement in theatre equipment at a cost of much money." According to a January 19, 1955 Daily Variety item, The Robe had been banned in Israel on religious grounds, but the ban was reversed after the personal intervention of Skouras. On October 26, 1958, New York Times reported that when the picture was screened in Israel, scenes were cut that "showed the glories of Christ at the expense of Judaism."
In November 1954, Louis H. Lowe, the developer of a kinescope process that he called CinemaScope sued Fox and the TV station for which he had worked, seeking an accounting of the profits from the use of the word. Lowe claimed that the television station had sold the trademark for the word CinemaScope to Fox for $50,000 and demanded a share of the profits, as well as a share of Fox's profits from the use of the word. The outcome of the suit has not been confirmed. On September 1, 1955, Ross filed suit against Fox, seeking damages of $470,000. Ross claimed that more than $600,000 of the film's profits had been improperly accounted for and reduced his own percentage of the profits. The disposition of the suit has not been determined.
One of the largest problems Fox encountered in regard to CinemaScope was the exhibition of its pictures in Great Britian. Prior to the new process, Fox had largely exhibited through the chain of theaters belonging to the J. Arthur Rank Organisation. Even though Rank began equipping its theaters with CinemaScope projection lenses and screens, it objected to Fox's requirement for full stereophonic sound, as well as Fox's demand for longer playing times for its films. Eventually Fox withdrew all of its product from Rank. Fox then established a network of theaters among smaller, independent exhibitors, helping them to equip their establishments to show the new films. The rift was not resolved until early 1958, when Rank agreed to give Fox pictures more extensive playing time rather than changing programs on a weekly basis. A February 1958 Hollywood Reporter column noted that Fox would continue to support the independent theaters it had earlier built up, by allowing them to exhibit half of its output, while half of its productions would go into Rank theaters.
The Robe received Academy Awards for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration (Color) and Best Costume Design (Color) and was nominated for Best Picture and Best Cinematography (Color). Richard Burton was nominated for Best Actor. The studio received an honorary Academy Award "in recognition of their imagination, showmanship and foresight in introducing the revolutionary process known as CinemaScope." Chretien, Sponable, Sol Halprin, Lorin Grignon, Herbert Cragg and Carl Faulkner received a technical award for "creating, developing and engineering the equipment, processes and techniques known as CinemaScope." In addition to receiving a Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture-Drama, the film received a Christopher Award, given by Catholic organizations, as one of the best films of 1953. Jean Simmons was named Best Actress of 1953 by the National Board of Review for her work in The Robe, The Actress and Young Bess (see below).
Immediately after production finished on The Robe, Victor Mature began work on its sequel, Demetrius and the Gladiators. Jay Robinson reprised his role as "Caligula" and Michael Rennie again played "Peter." Directed by Delmer Daves, the film employed many of the same sets, costumes and crew. The sequence from The Robe in which "Demetrius" witnesses the crucifixion of Christ and the ending in which "Diana" and Marcellus walk out of the palace are shown in Demetrius and the Gladiators. The Robe was re-released theatrically in February 1963, and in 1966, ABC paid $2,000,000 for the right to broadcast it twice on television. According to Daily Variety and Variety news items, when The Robe was broadcast in March 1967, it was the top-rated show of the week.