OP-ED: 60th Anniversary Premiere of 'The Robe'

By Calvin E. Johnson Jr.
OP-ED: 60th Anniversary Premiere of 'The Robe'

Do you remember when the South was called the “Bible Belt” and….

America’s motto was “in God we trust?” Among my fondest memories of growing up around Atlanta, Georgia is waking-up on Sunday mornings to the wonderful sound of Gospel music playing on the radio, the sweet aroma of coffee perking and bacon frying in the kitchen and attending Sunday school and church with my family.

Turkish archaeologists say they have found a stone chest in a 1,350-year-old church that appears to contain a relic venerated as a piece of Jesus' cross. Read complete story at:


It has been written that Lloyd Douglas may have written the novel “The Robe” in answer to a fictional question: what happened to the Roman soldier who won Jesus' robe through a dice game?

On Wednesday, September 16, 1953, “The Robe” premiered at the Roxy Theater in New York City to an enthusiastic audience. This epic motion picture produced by 20th Century-Fox is said to be the first motion picture to be filmed in “Cinemascope” that offered the audience an image that was twice as wide and much taller than they had been previously seen on the silver screen.

In 1953 America watched “I Love Lucy” on TV; Patti Page sang “How much is that doggie in the window” and….

People went to the movies to see “The Robe” an Biblical motion picture, filmed in beautiful Technicolor, that tells the story of a Roman military tribune Marcellus Gallio played by Richard Burton who commands a unit that crucifies Jesus Christ.

The movie was directed by Henry Koster, produced by Frank Ross and the music score is beautifully performed by Alfred Newman.

The opening scene is in a slave market, where Marcellus makes the mistake of bidding against Caligula played by Jay Robinson for a Greek slave Demetrius played by Victor Mature and winning. In anger Caligula issues orders for Marcellus to receive military transfer to Jerusalem in Palestine.

Demetrius accompanies Marcellus to Palestine, but before the galley sails, Diana played by Jean Simmons comes to see Marcellus, pledging her love for him and her intention to intercede on his behalf with Tiberius. Marcellus declares his love for Diana and asks her to make the emperor promise not to give her in marriage to Caligula.

The next scene takes place in Jerusalem with Marcellus riding into the city with centurion Paulus played by Jeff Morrow on the day that Jesus makes his grand entry on Palm Sunday. Demetrius looks upon Jesus and feels he must follow him. Jesus is arrested and condemned by Pontius Pilate played by Richard Boone who sends for Marcellus to take charge of the detail of Roman soldiers assigned to crucify him. Marcellus is given the robe worn by Jesus as a reminder of his first crucifixion.

The scene of the crucifixion of Jesus is one of the many moving scenes in the movie that might even bring a tear to the eye of a non-believer.

Jay Robinson is superb as Rome’s Emperor Caligula and the final scene of the movie is classic Hollywood. Marcellus is put on trial and admits to being a Christian; however he denies the charge that Christians are plotting against the state. Marcellus gives Caligula the opportunity to accept Christ and he tries to hand Christ’s Robe to Caligula but Caligula refuses to touch it as he considers it to be bewitched.

Caligula condemns Marcellus to death and Diana then accepts Christ and seeks to join her husband Marcellus. The climactic scene we see the two being escorted to their execution while the choir sings “Halleluiah”. They just don’t make movies like this anymore!

The film earned an estimated gross of 36 million in the USA alone. This is equivalent to about 360 million today. The film won several awards including the “Golden Globe Award for Best Picture.

The Robe was first broadcast by ABC TV on Easter weekend in the year of our Lord 1967, at the early hour of 7:00 PM, E.S.T. to allow for the whole family to view. In an unusual move, the film was shown with only one commercial break.

Johnson is a Kennesaw, GA speaker, writer of short stories, author of book “When America stood for God, Family and Country” and Southern Presbyterian.

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