What happened to the Roman soldier who won Christ's robe at the Crucifixion?
That is the origin of the plot of the 1942 book by Lloyd C. Douglas and the 1953 movie based on it that starred Richard Burton, Victor Mature, Jean Simmons, Michael Rennie, and Jay Robinson. It was directed by Henry Koster. Alfred Newman composed the music.
Our Villain Protagonist Marcellus Gallio (Burton) is the soldier who crucified Jesus and won The Robe. Marcellus is driven mad from the touch of the robe, which is then taken away from him by his slave Demetrius (Mature) who has converted to Christianity. Marcellus soon embarks on a quest to recover The Robe and destroy it, believing this will restore his sanity. There's also the matter of his childhood sweetheart Diana (Simmons), who loves him and waits for him in Rome, even though Emperor Caligula himself (Robinson), has taken a fancy for her.
A year later, it received a sequel, Demetrius and the Gladiators (1954), in which both Mature and Robinson reprised their roles.
The movie has the following tropes:
- Artistic License History: Let's just say that this isn't the most rigorously researched dramatization of ancient Rome.
- The Romans certainly weren't arresting Christians during the reign of Caligula. There's no indication that the Romans even noticed the new cult until the expulsions of Claudius, but more securely the time of Nero a good quarter-century later.
- Caligula uses the Royal "We", is called emperor, etc. In actuality the Romans still paid lip service to the idea of a republic and the "emperor" would have been called princeps, which translates out to "first citizen"; that said, the title imperator (the root word for The Emperor) would have been used as a marker of martial prowess.
- Tiberius' wife Julia had died in exile over fifteen years earlier.
- Audible Sharpness: When Marcellus and Paulus the centurion are yanking out their gladii before having a duel.
- Bible Times
- The Caligula: the man himself (played by Jay Robinson).
- The Casanova: Marcellus is this at the beginning. In the first scene one of his girlfriends is upbraiding him for cheating on her.Diana: All your enemies seem to be women.
- Childhood Marriage Promise: Diana says that Marcellus made one when they were children. And she wants to hold him to it.
- Deadpan Snarker: Tiberius.
- Dramatic Thunder: If a sound effect can be a Large Ham, it is in this movie. Demetrius, desperate to save Jesus from arrest, finally runs into a man who tells him that it's too late. When the man says "My name is Judas", there's a sudden loud clap of thunder followed by a dramatic Scare Chord. There's more Dramatic Thunder later as Jesus dies on the cross.
- Epic Movie
- Even Evil Has Standards: Marcellus may have carried out the Crucifixion, but even he draws the line at joking about it.
- The Faceless: In a tradition that is as least as old as the Ben Hur stage plays, Jesus's face is never shown, not when he's riding into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and not when he's being crucified a week later.
- Happiness in Slavery: When introducing Demetrius to the Gallio household, Gallio's slave Marcipor says "To be a slave in this household is an honor." Demetrius is doubtful of this.
- HeelFaith Turn: Marcellus
- Heroic BSoD: Being witness to Jesus' crucifixion has caused Marcellus to come down with an epic case of constant nightmares and insanity. (Marcellus, for his part, blames the titular Robe for his madness.)
- Historical Hero Upgrade: Tiberius is portrayed as a Reasonable Authority Figure with a wry sense of humor, in real life he was a fairly gloomy man who abandoned the government of the Empire to indulge himself at Capri.
- I Have No Son!: Marcellus's father Gallio is definitely not on board the Jesus train. "You've chosen to make yourself an enemy of Rome. From this night on, I have no son."
- Kangaroo Court: Marcellus's treason trial as conducted by a smirking, slouching Caligula is not exactly a model of jurisprudence. Only a handful of people even call for Marcellus' death, and Caligula promptly abandons any pretense of fairness and orders him put to death.
- Jerkass Has a Point: Paulinus is hardly pleasant, but he's not wrong in pointing out that Marcellus owes his rank to nepotism over any military skill.
- Large Ham: Richard Burton's default setting was Large Ham, and he really goes to town in this one. Lots of glowering and bellowed lines. Jay Robinson as Caligula plays Caligula this way as well, although of course all actors playing Caligula are required by law to make him a Large Ham.
- My God, What Have I Done?: Judas is left broken by his betrayal of Jesus and is last seen headed toward a tree...Demetrius: Why?Judas: Because men are weak. Because they are cursed with envy and cowardice. Becauce they can dream of truth...but they cannot live with it. And so they doubt the fools! Why must men betray themselves with doubts?
- The Queen's Latin: Not always followed; many characters are played by Americans and sound American. Richard Burton, who was Welsh, sounds quite English. Most notably on display by Caligula, whose actor was American, but played the role sounding like Arnold Rimmer.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Diana ensures her execution along with Marcellus by giving Caligula one of these, describing him as "Vicious, treacherous, drunk with power, an evil, insane monster posing as emperor."
- Reassigned to Antarctica: Marcellus is sent to Judea, a backwater province on the Roman fringes, because he pissed Caligula off. One of Marcellus's colleagues describes Jerusalem as the "worst pesthole in the empire."
- Royal "We": Caligula, who is basically the crown prince, uses this.
- Slouch of Villainy: Caligula does some dramatic slouching on his throne while conducting Marcellus's trial.
- Sword & Sandal: Good old Ancient Rome, land of slave auctions and funny helmets.
- Throwing Your Sword Always Works: Naturally, when Marcellus flings away his gladius rather than kill Paulus, it sticks in a tree.
- Twin Threesome Fantasy: The clear implication behind the offering of two gorgeous young women slaves in harem outfits that are being sold at the slave auction. In fact they are the only slaves that draw Marcellus's interest, but he's outbid by Caligula.
- Subverted in that it is later revealed that his intention was to buy them as companions for his elderly mother.
- Wide Screen Shot: the first movie released using CinemaScope. Because of this, it's one of the few movies to feature two distinct cuts: one in widescreen, and the other in traditional Academy ratio, complete with scenes reblocked and formatted to suit the narrower viewing method.