Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.
USA, 1953. Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. Screenplay by Albert Maltz, Philip Dunne, adaptation by Gina Kaus, based on the novel by Lloyd C. Douglas. Cinematography by Leon Shamroy. Produced by Frank Ross. Music by Alfred Newman. Production Design by George W. Davis, Lyle R. Wheeler. Costume Design by Emile Santiago. Film Editing by Barbara McLean. Academy Awards 1953. Golden Globe Awards 1953.
A new era of Hollywood was ushered in with this first Cinemascope release (though How To Marry A Millionaire was actually shot earlier and distributed later), which also served as Richard Burton‘s first leading Hollywood role after his breakthrough the year before in My Cousin Rachel. It tells the story of a Roman tribune (Burton) who participates in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and is overcome emotionally by the experience, believing himself to be cursed by the messiah’s robe that he won in a game of dice at the foot of the cross. Catching up with his escaped slave (Victor Mature) who has converted to Christianity, Burton is eventually converted to the teachings of Christ and willing to go up against the power of Rome, and its emperor Caligula specifically, to prove his faith. Jean Simmons is wonderful in her few moments as the beautiful woman who is dodging the emperor’s attention in the hopes of consummating her love for Burton in a film that is not nearly the preachy or self-righteous chore to sit through that it might seem to be. Every shot is designed gorgeously, that wide rectangular frame invented to get people away from their televisions and into movie theatres filled with no end of lush sets and rich costumes that dazzle the eye (Cleopatra is the only film of its kind that would surpass this one’s beauty). Director Henry Koster directs a religious story with all the energy of an atheist, keeping everything moving at a steady clip without creating unnecessary emotional moments out of characters’ spiritual realizations, and directs with so little alarm over Burton’s bland performance that the audience won’t mind it either.