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The Robe Historically important as the first CinemaScope feature film, 20th Century-Fox's The Robe is fine dramatic entertainment in its own right. Based on the best-selling novel by Lloyd C. Douglas, the film stars Richard Burton as the wastrelly Roman tribune who is assigned by a weary Pontius Pilate (Richard Boone, who spends the whole of his single scene washing his hands) to supervise the crucifixion of Christ. After the Seven Last Words, the jaded Burton wins Christ's robe in a dice game. Gradually, the mystical influence of the holy garment transforms Burton from a roistering cynic into a True Believer--at the cost of his own life, which he willingly gives up in the service of his Lord. Also starring in The Robe are Jean Simmons as Burton's pious childhood sweetheart, Victor Mature as his Christian-convert slave Demetrius (an excellent performance--in fact, Mature is more believable than Burton!), Michael Rennie as the disciple Peter, and Jay Robinson as the raving Emperor Caligula. Mature, Rennie and Robinson would appear in the 1954 sequel to The Robe, the hurriedly assembled Demetrius and the Gladiators. Watch and listen for the unbilled contributions of Michael Ansara as Judas and Cameron Mitchell as the voice of Jesus. The film won three Academy Awards, and a special Oscar bestowed upon Fox for the development of CinemaScope. For many years, the TV prints of the Robe were struck from the "flat," standard-ratio version shot simultaneously with the widescreen version. Only recently has the CinemaScope The Robe been made available to cable TV (shown in "letterbox" format to allow home viewers the full picture). ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi, Rovi
Demetrius and the Gladiators Demetrius and the Gladiators was the sequel to The Robe, and though they were released several months apart, the films were shot at the same time. Based on characters originally conceived by Lloyd C. Douglas, the film stars Victor Mature as the title character, an ex-slave who embraced Christianity after being present at the Crucifixion. Thrown in jail for defending an elderly merchant from a sadistic Roman legionnaire, Demetrius is forced to attend gladiator school and fight in the arena for the amusement of the mad, debauched emperor Caligula (Jay Robinson, likewise repeating his performance in The Robe). The well-proportioned Demetrius attracts the attention of Messalina (Susan Hayward), the nymphomaniac wife of Caligula's would-be successor Claudius (Barry Jones). Briefly losing faith in Christ, Demetrius is saved from himself by the apostle Peter (Michael Rennie). Because of contractual complications, Demetrius and the Gladiators was released to television seven years before The Robe. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi, Rovi
The Greatest Story Ever Told Filmmaker George Stevens chose Monument Valley, Utah for his exterior sequences in The Greatest Story Ever Told, this ($20 million) adaptation of Fulton Oursler's best-selling book. The "Greatest Story" is, of course, the life of Jesus Christ, played herein by Max Von Sydow. The large supporting cast includes Dorothy McGuire as Mary, Claude Rains as Herod the Great, Jose Ferrer as Herod Antipas, Charlton Heston as John the Baptist, Donald Pleasence as Satan (identified only as "The Dark Hermit"), David McCallum as Judas Iscariot, Sidney Poitier as Simon of Cyrene, Telly Savalas as Pontius Pilate and Martin Landau as Caiaphas. Even Robert Blake as Simon the Zealot, Jamie Farr as Thaddaeus, and motorcyle-flick veteran Richard Bakalyan as Dismas, the repentant thief, are well-suited to their roles. Originally roadshown at 260 minutes, Greatest Story Ever Told was later available in a 195-minute version. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi, Rovi
The Bible: In the Beginning The Bible was intended by producer Dino De Laurentiis as the first in a series of films which would eventually cover the Old and New Testament in their entireties. The many directors engaged for this project dropped out one by one, leaving only the adventurous John Huston. As a result, this film was the first and last in the series; its subtitle In the Beginning refers to the fact that only the first 22 chapters of Genesis ended up on film. After creation, we are introduced to the buff-naked Adam and Eve (Michael Parks and Ulla Bergyd), whose fall from grace segues into the Cain and Abel story. Next on the docket is the story of Noah, played by director Huston, who'd originally wanted Charlie Chaplin for the role. Abraham's sacrifice is then dramatized, with George C. Scott as the beleaguered protagonist. In quick succession, we are offered the Tower of Babel, the defiance of Nimrod, and Sodom and Gomorroh. Tying together these Old Testament episodes is Peter O'Toole as three angels; Ava Gardner also shows up in the role of Sarah. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi, Rovi
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