“Why must men betray themselves with doubts?”
A Roman tribune (Richard Burton) in love with a childhood sweetheart (Jean Simmons) promised in marriage to Emperor Caligula (Jay Robinson) finds his life changed forever when his slave (Victor Mature) runs away after Burton assists in crucifying Jesus, and Jesus’s robe seems to cast a spell on him.
Best known as the first film released in CinemaScope, this adaption of Lloyd Douglas’s best-selling historical novel about the crucifixion of Jesus Christ looks impressive in widescreen, and makes fine use of vivid Technicolor. Indeed, it won Oscars for art direction and costume design (in color), and was nominated for best cinematography. As biblical epics go, it’s refreshingly focused on a journey of personal faith; one gets a strong sense of how persecuted early Christians were for their loyalty to Christ’s teachings, and why they were willing to sacrifice everything for their religion. Less convincing is Robinson as a snivelling, child-like Caligula; he opts for over-the-top theatrics when much less would serve equally well. Burton’s Oscar-nominated, impassioned performance is impressive, however, and his on-screen chemistry with Simmons (borne out in real life) is potent. Ultimately, however, this one is only must-see viewing for fans of the genre or those who like to watch all Oscar winners.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Fine use of Technicolor CinemaScope
No, though it’s certainly worth a look for its historical relevance.