Special Episode – The Robe

The Robe (1953) is a cinematic classic of Golden Age Hollywood. With its mix of ancient Rome and early Christianity, it was a winner with audiences around the globe. In this special episode, we tap into Dr Rad’s expertise in reception in film and come to grips with the power of The Robe!

Special Episode – The Robe

A Challenging Context

It was tricky to deal with modern political issues in this era of Hollywood under the influence of HUAC (the House Un-American Activities Committee). For the makers of The Robe, which explicitly dealt with the life of Jesus under the Romans, there were additional challenges due to the creation of the state of Israel in 1948. Returning to the Old Testament was often a safer bet for Hollywood films.

The rights to The Robe were initially purchased by RKO, before finally being canceled in 1948. It found a new home at 20th Century Fox. The fact that The Robe was in production for a long time has raised some interesting questions about the impact of historical context.

The script was initially written by Albert Maltz, one of the infamous Hollywood Ten. The original script does seem to touch on blacklist themes. In Caligula’s original speech at the end of the film he refers to the “sedition” of the Christians and Marcellus has to deny that he is involved in a conspiracy to overthrow the state. This sounds eerily close to the experience of Hollywood Communists, who were generally not radicals trying to seize control of the government. There were also more references to the naming of names in Maltz’s version of The Robe

A black and white photo of people protesting in favour of the Hollywood Ten.

People protesting in favour of the Hollywood Ten. Source: Encyclopaedia Britannica.

HUAC and The Robe

But HUAC lay in his future, as Maltz only worked on this project from 1942-1946. As Smith (2005) has highlighted, while Maltz could not have worked HUAC references into the script before his HUAC experiences, it is possible that the tension over Communism still shaped his draft. There were moves against Communism before the Second Red Scare that swept America in the late 1940s and 1950s, such as the actions of the Tenney Committee in the early 1940s, or the foundation of the right-wing Motion Picture Alliance for American Ideals.

Or perhaps Maltz was more focused on providing a critique of Italian fascism, given the backdrop of World War II? Maltz wrote Cloak and Dagger (1947) immediately after The Robe, which definitely took aim at Italian fascism, whilst exalting the resistance from the Communists. He would also write Crossfire (1947), a film that tackled issues of anti-Semitism within the USA.

Film poster for "Cloak and Dagger". Gary Cooper is named as the star at the header. Fitz Lang is identified as the director.

Film poster for Cloak and Dagger (1947)

Is it possible that the next screenwriter to work on The Robe worked in some sick burns? Phillip Dunne followed Maltz and would eventually receive sole credit for the film, thanks to the blacklist. He was known to be a liberal and helped to establish the Committee for the First Amendment. This group formed in reaction to the HUAC hearings in 1947. Fellow members included other Hollywood luminaries such as William Wyler, Lucille Ball, Lauren Bacall, Bette Davis and Dorothy Daindridge.

However, Dunne was not a Communist; quite the opposite. He may have intended The Robe to be a veiled criticism of HUAC, but he may also have seen the repression of the Romans as being akin to Stalin and the Communist regime.


A coloured lobby card for 'The Robe' featuring illustrations of the actors and dramatic fights scenes. Text at the top reads '20th Cenutry-Fox presents The Robe technicolour'. Lower text reads 'The First Motion Picture In CinemaScope'

A lobby card for The Robe

Automated Transcript

Provided by Otter AI

Dr Rad 0:16
Welcome to the Partial Historians, we explore all the details of ancient Rome. Everything from the political scandals, the love of ours, the battles waged, and when citizens turn against each other. I’m Dr. Rad.

Dr G 0:34
And I’m Dr. G. We consider Rome as the Romans saw it by reading different authors from the ancient past and comparing their stories. Join us as we trace the journey of Rome from the founding of the city.

Dr Rad 1:03
Welcome to a special episode of The Partial Historians, I am one of your hosts, Dr. Rad.

Dr G 1:10
And I am a somewhat healthy, Dr. G.

Dr Rad 1:15
I know this is true dedication, Patreons, Dr G has been suffering from the vid.

Dr G 1:22
I’ve been on my deathbed. But I’ve bounced back. Thank goodness.

Dr Rad 1:27
It was Rome that calls you for and said live live another day.

Dr G 1:33
And one must always follow the commands of Rome. And here I am. as ever.

Dr Rad 1:39
Well, I suppose luckily, or unluckily. I’m not sure. We’re not doing our normal narrative today. But instead, we’re taking a journey into Hollywood land, which could be good for a sick person, or maybe not.

Dr G 1:54
I look, I think it’s gonna be it’s gonna be good. I’m excited for this golden era. Hollywood is one of my favorite times in Hollywood.

Dr Rad 2:03
We all love it. We all adore it. So let’s get into this special episode where we get to talk all about The Robe 1953.

Dr G 2:50
What a film. I mean, I think the best thing about it is Richard Burton.

Dr Rad 2:54
Definitely let’s let’s give a bit of a cast rundown. So in typical Partial Historians fashion, we’re doing this slightly backwards in that we looked at the sequel first. But that was only for our Patreon. So for everybody else, we’re just doing The Robe. So first of all, we have Richard Burton playing the lead male character Marcellus Gallio.

Dr G 3:19
A fine specimen of a young Roman if I ever saw one.

Dr Rad 3:21
Indeed. And then we have my favorite Jean Simmons playing the lead female part, Diana, I think she’s actually really good in this role. Yeah, well, you know, she’s got that pure beauty about her. She looks very innocent.

Dr G 3:39
She does.

Dr Rad 3:39
Yeah. And then, of course, we’ve got the hero of our Patreon bonus episode Demetrius and the Gladiators, because, of course, being a sequel, he’s in this one too big to mature, playing Demetrius,

Dr G 3:53
And he does look mature, doesn’t he?

Dr Rad 3:57
He does have a mature look about him. But lest we forget, he retired at 44. So I guess he was in his 30s at this point in time.

Dr G 4:04
Oh, wow.

Dr Rad 4:06
And then we have Michael Rennie playing St. Peter.

Dr G 4:11
Yeah, I feel like that was a bit of a that’s a bit of a throw into the sequel as well, isn’t it?

Dr Rad 4:18
I believe so. I think he was in both. Yeah, definitely. I mean, they knew they were filming both when they started, as I discovered last time. And then we have Jay Robinson playing Caligula.

Dr G 4:30
Hmm. Yeah. We’ll come back to that one.

Dr Rad 4:33
Yeah. And then I think the main ones that we have to deal with there are major characters. Yeah, I think that kind of covers it. Yeah, yeah, definitely. So The Robe 1953 is a big film in many ways. Not only is an epic from the age of epics, the Golden Age of Hollywood epics, but it also has won some fame for some of the other milestones that are associated with this film. Now, just to give us an idea of exactly how big a smash it was, it costs a smidgen over $4 million to make. And, yeah, it took in $17 million in the US a market and $36 million world wide.

Dr G 5:25
Okay, so this was a profit making engine?

Dr Rad 5:29
Well, yeah, I mean, it has a cycle that’s going to tell something

Dr G 5:35
built in, apparently, as well. So yeah,

Dr Rad 5:37
I do like this detail, though, that some of the ticket sales would have been to teachers who were pressed into going to see this movie for their students, or with their students, maybe?

Dr G 5:50
Yeah, goodness. I mean, that kind of made up the bulk of sales, surely.

Dr Rad 5:56
Anyway, so let’s talk a little bit about this ethic, Dr. G. So what were your initial impressions? I’m dying to know,

Dr G 6:03
Oh, look, I think longtime listeners of this show will be well aware that I tend to classify myself as a pagan, and my position has not changed. As a result of watching the Rome, it did feel like very much that they were utilizing Roman history as a vehicle for getting to the Christian story. And I’m not a fan of that, to be honest. Christianity is not huge. In this initial face, like this is set sort of right at the moment of the passing of the Messiah.

Dr Rad 6:39
Jesus is alive in this film. That tells us something. Yeah,

Dr G 6:43
Jesus starts alive in this film. Yeah, he doesn’t stay alive. So that gives us almost everything we need to know about what moment in history we’re in. But the sense in which there is a really strong Christianizing moment that comes over all of the players who’ve been closely associated with that moment of Jesus’s death is really interesting. Yeah, and I would say, anachronistic.

Dr Rad 7:09
For sure. I mean, it’s historically accurate to place Jesus’s life in his time period. So the time period we’re talking about is the tail end of the reign of Tiberius, aka the best period ever. And we then end up going into some of calculus, rain as well. And calculus, definitely around this whole movie. He’s not, you know, off to the side, and Tiberius is a circle regular, I think, is definitely the main Roman imperial character that we get to know over the course of this film. And that is historical. As far as we can tell, Jesus was indeed around in the latter half of Tiberius, his reign. So anyway, the general setting for Jesus’s lifetime, and when he starts to become a problem for Rome, all is accurate. And so we’ve got our major players, you know, being where they should be. But as you say, this is a classic Hollywood epic in that in order for you to have a good guy and a bad guy, you know, someone to root for and someone to despise while still enjoying the things that they get up to. It’s pretty normal for Hollywood to go to a Christians versus Romans storyline, or at least Christians slash Jewish people. Question Mark versus Romans?

Dr G 8:30
Yeah. And this leads us into some like really interesting directorial choices, or maybe casting decisions as well, because the Romans quintessentially played by the English. So they’ve got that very sort of RP accent going on. Yeah, but then the people of Palestine appear to be American. Where, I mean, it’s something

Dr Rad 8:53
But I think that that actually does keep into the whole accent divide. Because I think it’s kind of meant to be the people who are on the side, that you’re meant to be rooting for generally American.

Dr G 9:06
Hmm. So Hollywood would want you to believe.

Dr Rad 9:09
Yeah, yeah, I mean, it’s not. It’s not uncommon for the movies of this era to have that accent divided so that it’s super clear, just in case you were thinking of rooting for the Romans that were crucifying Jesus, just in case you had a moment where you thought maybe I’m on their side. They go for the accent just to make it very clear.

Dr G 9:30
That and the way that they decide to portray particular were Romans. Now, Caligula, as we know, doesn’t have heaps of redeeming features, ultimately, and the Romans themselves get pretty jack of them very quickly, they do. So this is what what is about to follow is not the saving of Caligula. Now, when I say I think he might have been overplayed a little bit in this film.

Dr Rad 9:59
Oh, Though I have to admit, though, I kind of enjoy the guy who played here. And he does have the kind of voice that really grates on you in a way that makes you think, yeah, I could assassinate this guy after a few years. I think I’d be annoyed enough.

Dr G 10:15
He is frustratingly inept in his presentation, and because we don’t get a good read on motivation from Caligula, and because it just feels like he’s being played for the sort of the hysterical, maniacal, power driven figure that is portrayed as in this film. It makes him feel a little bit unbelievable, whilst also holding down the position as the bad guy.

Dr Rad 10:46
Yeah, fair enough. Well, before we get too much further into Ahala, we probably should say something about the general storyline of this film. So why don’t you tell us about the the story of Digi

Dr G 10:57
Okay, all right. Well, I mean, it starts off great opening scene. It seems like we’re in the Roman Forum. Everyone’s having a good time. It’s clearly slave-buying season. Not that anybody should be excited about that.

Dr Rad 11:11
I say Why does it not slave-buying season in Rome?

Dr G 11:14
It seems to b a particularly busy time at the moment. And this sets up the few really important dynamics. It allows us to see Marcellus re-meeting his childhood sweetheart, Diana, they haven’t seen each other for many years. So that sets up that relationship. We learn about Diana’s connection as a ward of Tiberius to calendula, potentially as a love interest for him. But we also learn about myself versus ongoing tension with Caligula as well apparently those two don’t get along. And then we have this sort of moment with the slave market, which introduces us to Demetrius as well, who is perhaps the most stoic character in this whole

Dr Rad 12:00
Oh, my God, yes.

Dr G 12:01
So stoic, and this guy kind of just accepts his fate as it is, doesn’t seem to fight one way or the other. But does seem to be motivated by an internal set of principles. And for whatever reason, Demetrius ends up coming to the attention of both Marcellus and Caligula during this slave sail. And this becomes an important point because it’s this moment. And this tension between Marcellus and Caligula, which turns Demetrius is fate. So you technically gets freed in a slave auction through being purchased at such a high price for Marcellus to sort of jab coelicolor A little bit. But because Demetrius feels that this isn’t appropriate to be bought at such a high price just to be set free, he decides to become the manservant of Marcellus anyway. So these two are now bound up together in what appears to be a kind of odd duo, because my Seles then goes on to be like, let’s be friends, if we’re going to hang out together like this. Demetrius is, like, we are not friends. I really owe you. It’s different.

Dr Rad 13:15
I do like the pairing, though. I mean, Burton’s got the voice and Mature’s got this shoulder.

Dr G 13:22
Yeah, so these two end up on adventures together, which are all bound up with calendula in particular ways Caligula is annoyed at Marcellus for this whole debacle in the slave market. So he sends him to Palestine as a bit of a punishment. While he’s there, he ends up in a situation with Pontius Pilate, so that’s good news. Everybody likes it when Pontius Pilate enters the enters the scene, Pontius Pilate sort of commands myself is to be in charge with the crucifixion of Jesus, which is awkward, but also at the same time has a Lady Macbeth moment, which is kind of beautiful, where he’s washing his hands, and he’s like, I need to wash my hands. And he’s slaves like you just wash your hands. Yeah, like the bloods invisible but he’s having trouble guys. He’s ordered the death of Jesus. Then we have some really interesting moments in Palestine, one of which is this trading of the robe. So pivotal to this entire film, it would seem is that we don’t see Jesus very much. We don’t really see his face. We sometimes hear his voice, but we he’s a mysterious figure who seems to have an effect on Demetrius straightaway. When he is on the cross, the robe that he had been wearing has been laid at the bottom of it. One of the Roman soldiers picks it up and it’s like that. We could throw this into the old gambling table. Let’s when the robe of Jesus and Marcellus wins it, but is then sort of overcome when he tries to put it on himself when it’s raining and he wants To protect himself it seems like it has a huge negative effect on him like almost like burns his skin or something. Anyway, it’s it’s horrifying to him and Demetrius just wanders off with the robe in the end does like I’ll take that.

Dr Rad 15:14
But he does have that amazing scene because there’s all that storm happening around them and I must have been I think this is probably one of Victor Mature’s finest moments on screen, where he sort of screams and Richard Burton’s face as he’s, you know, dealing with the effects of the robe and all of that kind of stuff. And he does that whole “murderers, thieves, jungle animals. Masters of the world you call yourselves. I’m curse on you. I curse on your empire.” Mwahahahaha

Dr G 15:51
Lightning strikes in the background and this thunder?

Dr Rad 15:54
Yeah, it’s great. Yeah, the evil laughter was my addition, I should say.

Dr G 16:00
Very intense moment. And Demetrius ends up walking off with the robe, completely unharmed by it, because clearly it’s there’s a connection between his faith and one’s capacity to hold this garment. Sacred as it is. Marcellus ends up back in Rome and seen Tiberius on the Isle of Capri being like what I do, I’ve got this madness. And the Romans in the wisdom decide that the road must be cursed, which is for the Romans had excellent choice really. It’s like that would explain it. So Marcellus is given an imperial commission to destroy this robe. And it’s like, use whatever means you need to.

Dr Rad 16:45
So this is great guys, how many people might have tried it on by now? Yeah,

Dr G 16:48
it’s a disaster. We’ve got to find it as soon as possible.

Dr Rad 16:52
If anybody finds out about this garment, it’s going to be a PR nightmare.

Dr G 16:56
That’s basically what Tiberius says, when when everybody leaves. And he’s like, this is the worst thing that has ever happened in my entire rule.

Dr Rad 17:03
And I’ve had some stuff happen.

Dr G 17:06
We must deal with this instantly.

Dr Rad 17:08
I mean, my brother died, I had to divorce the wife that I loved. I then had to marry a woman I hated the child that we had died, then both my natural son and my adopted son birthday, that was pretty bad. But this this robe. Okay.

Dr G 17:25
It is up there. Yeah. So Marcellus finds himself back in Palestine, because that’s where he last saw Demetrius with the robe. It is like, Well, I’m gonna go back to the source that look for more clues. And this leads to a whole bunch of unfoldings. There’s storytelling things. There’s this slow journey of Marcellus from like quintessential Roman, to like, somebody, embodied in faith, very dedicated Christian, very dedicated across this journey. Yeah, he meets some villagers who really shift his perspective on things. He finds Demetrius again. And all of this sort of nourishes his flourishing belief. So by the time he does get back to Rome, he’s now committed to the cause. And he also hasn’t told anybody that he’s back for ages as well. So

Dr Rad 18:16
Well, yeah, he’s got he’s got new friends now, the Christians. And so Peter,

Dr G 18:20
yeah. And you know, when Diana finds out about this, because she’s been waiting for him this whole time, that he’s hidden, his return from her. She’s not happy about that, and she is that she demands to be taken to him. And that’s when we find out that the Christians are living in the catacombs. Yes. Which, which is awkward, because they should not really exist. Yeah.

Dr Rad 18:47
Minor details, minor details. Yeah,

Dr G 18:50
Look, I was I was all fine for them to just be underground caves, like, Rome is literally riddled with natural springs and cave systems anyway, it’s completely, completely fine and legitimate, but they do refer to them as catacombs. And I was like, guys, you know, that people would have have to be buried in them for them to be catacombs. And the people that we know are buried in the catacombs are. And you guys are the first Christians in Rome. So

Dr Rad 19:17
There’s been a lot of persecution already.

Dr G 19:21
So much, so much persecution already. Anyway, as it turns out, one of the things it’s getting more complicated as the film goes on, but Demetrius has been captured and the Christians have to save him, cuz he’s been tortured for information. Yeah, yeah. And calendula has Demetrius in his grass. Yeah. And is turning the screw as it were. So the Christians all gather together and they managed to pull off a very effective saving of Demetrius and they hide him weirdly at Marcellus his dad’s house. Yeah, although,

Dr Rad 19:57
I was going to say it’s, I like the I like the infiltration because they use myself as a mole. You know, he’s got the clothes, he’s got the accent, he can penetrate into the palace itself in order to rescue Demetrius, which I did appreciate,

Dr G 20:14
Although it is a concern to me that throughout this entire film, Marcellus has been known consistently as the Tribune. So he’s pretty low down on the cursus honorum. And he’s definitely not progressing any higher, because for him after this film, but the thing is that I feel like given the nature of the events, we’ve had two trips to Palestine, at least in the course of this film, that we are looking at over a year. Oh, it’s way more in terms of time. Yeah. And as a magistrate holding the tribuncianship, it seems very unlikely that Marcellus would continue to be attributed over the whole course of this film, or that given the way that he’s behaved, that people would continue to recognize him as Tribune.

Dr Rad 21:03
Yeah, I definitely think it’s meant to be more than a year for sure. But do we think that he is tribune of the plebs or just a military Tribune? That? I don’t know. I feel like I kind of figured he was like a military Tribune.

Dr G 21:17
Well, that is an unfortunate place for the son of a senator to have ended up in terms of his career.

Dr Rad 21:23
I could be wrong, but that because they never really clarify that. But

Dr G 21:27
They don’t. They don’t. And he continues to be attributed throughout the whole that’s true.

Dr Rad 21:31
Yeah, that is true. I think they do use that more than his actual name. Tribune. Give me Yeah, Tribune. I’m having some trouble

Dr G 21:39
You sir, Tribune. I want you to do the crucifixions. today. I’m bored. Yeah. So our final scene. Ultimately, the plot leads us to this moment where it’s the ultimate showdown between Caligula and Marcellus.

Dr Rad 21:56
Yes. Because he’s been captured, he ends up getting captured when he’s trying to get everybody safely. Well, out of Rome, I think they’re going after.

Dr G 22:04
Yeah, he’s trying to get Demetrius safely out of Rome. Yeah. And in the course of that, they’re being run down by some cavalry. And Marcellus chooses to sacrifice himself. Yeah, that his friend can get away. Absolutely. It’s never really been clarified that they are friends now. But what assumes over the course of the travails that they’ve encountered that they now like each other, I think they do. Yeah. Yeah. This means that there is a huge public trial. Myself, his parents are there. All of the elite of Rome there.

Dr Rad 22:38
Yeah, all of them. It’s a massive crowd.

Dr G 22:40
It’s a huge crowd. So many people. Caligula comes in, in what is the reddest garment that has ever been seen on film,

Dr Rad 22:51
that the marvels of Technicolor for you?

Dr G 22:53
It’s incredible. Everybody else looks pale and washed out in comparison. But Caligula Boy, that is some Imperial read that he’s got. This leads into our whole sort of three ways sort of struggle between Diana, Marcellus and Caligula verbally duking it out, essentially.

Dr Rad 23:15
Actually, we should perhaps mentioned that Diana was meant to marry Caligula for a little while there. So yeah, yeah, it’s a triangle or

Dr G 23:24
it’s a triangle. And she certainly makes it clear where she stands to Caligula to the point that he changes his mind about being unwilling to punish her to her definitely having to die.

Dr Rad 23:37
Yeah, well, I mean, it’s a no brainer, really. I mean, when you’re choosing between Richard Burton’s sultry tones, and those of Jay Robinson, I mean, can you imagine that in the bedroom data, add data?

Dr G 23:54
It’s quite something. I mean, I hope he’s got an indoor voice. Just whispered to me, Caligula.

Dr Rad 24:03
Yeah, yeah. So basically clears like, you know what, you guys believe so much in this afterlife and this kingdom of heaven and being saved. No big deal if I execute the both of you, and so they match off quite happily just chip off into the clouds.

Dr G 24:18
Yeah, it’s the way this film ends is a little bit surprising. I felt like after two and a quarter hours of viewing time, I was not expecting the end scene to be a gentle walk by Marcellus and Diana, out of the trial into heaven.

Dr Rad 24:41
I know, I know, but I guess I guess because they knew the sequel was coming. That maybe they felt that that was okay. And look, you know, it’s kind of an anti Hollywood ending. I mean, it’s a happy ending. But it’s not your typical Hollywood ending, I suppose.

Dr G 24:56
Yeah, they do get to stay together forever in love, I suppose. Oh,

Dr Rad 25:01
there’s that. But I mean, I think if you were going for a real Hollywood ending that somehow they would both survive and Galio would become the emperor or something like that. And also maybe the Pope.

Dr G 25:14
Yeah, look, I mean, if you’re gonna rewrite history, I mean, lean in guys.

Dr Rad 25:19
Yeah, exactly. So that’s the rough storyline, which, as you can tell by the fact that it took us 13 minutes to tell you the story. But you know what, we’re saving you from watching a two and a quarter hour movie. So although if you want to it could be fun. I’m not saying you shouldn’t watch it. But you know, 13 minutes on two and a quarter hours. It’s not too bad. So let’s maybe talk about where this movie came in from Dr. G. So whilst Hollywood does love a Christians slash Jewish people versus Romans storyline, it did not come out of thin air is of course, based on a book, of course. Yeah. So it was actually written by a guy called Lloyd C. Douglas. And he was the son of an Indiana pastor. And he became a Lutheran minister himself, before moving over to the Congregational Church, for his career. But he started writing as we got into the like, the late 1920s, he started writing, he wrote this book called “Magnificent Obsession”, and it sold 3 million copies. Oh, my goodness. Yeah. And so by 1933, he was like, You know what, I don’t think I need to be a minister anymore. I think I’m going to be a novelist.

Dr G 26:35
I’ve got a winning formula. And all I need to do is write my books. Yeah,

Dr Rad 26:39
he honestly became one of the most popular novelists in America in this time period. And this is not the Rube is not the only one of his books that was adapted into a film. So well, well, well, they’re not they don’t they’re not only popular in terms of people reading them. They are popular in terms of being picked up and made into Hollywood films. So the robe had been a best seller from 1942 until 1945.

Dr G 27:09
Wow, okay. Yeah. It was on the bestseller list for years.

Dr Rad 27:13
Yeah, absolutely. I presume that publication was maybe slightly slower for like the big novels. I know. They were dying novels and stuff out, you know, in the 1950s that people could buy. And they were turned out very quickly. But I feel like it is a slightly less crowded market, perhaps at this point in time.

Dr G 27:31
It’s a very interesting time for the novel to come out as well, like you’re in the middle of the Second World War.

Dr Rad 27:38
Yeah, you are indeed. So it was eventually bought by RKO. However, they didn’t really act on it. They just sort of bought the rights to it. And you know, by the late 1940s, it’s still something that they’re just sort of sitting on at that. At that point in time. Howard Hughes is in charge of RKO biblical films were not really his thing. He wasn’t as into them as other people seem to have been at the time.

Dr G 28:06
Sounds like how would use it, I might get along. Exactly, yeah.

Dr Rad 28:10
But eventually, Darryl Zanuck and Fox Studios step in. And this is how the film finally kind of gets off the ground and gets made. So that’s just sort of a little bit of background to the film. But as a result, and not, to be honest, this is pretty common for Hollywood movies of this time. There are a number of people who ended up working on the script for the film, because it has such a long production process. But even with the ones that were shorter, it was pretty common to have more than one person, you know, take a look at the script and give their input and that sort of thing. When the film was finally made, it definitely got a huge publicity campaign. So we’re talking radio ads, we’re talking television, we’re talking newspapers, everywhere you look there’s an ad for the road.

Dr G 28:58
Have you seen Cinemascope?

Dr Rad 29:02
Nobody has. It’s the first one to have it. So of course, it’s going to be viewing this new widescreen format which the studios are hoping is going to keep people coming to the movies rather than sitting at home and watching their televisions which of course the becoming a big thing in this post World War Two era and so they make the film’s bigger, more colorful, more extravagant, the kinds of thing that television which is generally a little square, black and white box just can’t really offer you know, we’re talking about also sound you know, stereophonic sound, it’s it’s all a big thing. And it’s given this huge premiere, where it’s like a freaking circus. We’re talking about, you know, the spotlights outside the cinema, the stars are attending, you know, it’s a very, very big deal.

Dr G 29:53
There’s gladiators playing games.

Dr Rad 29:58
Yeah, so it’s definitely a huge to do when it when it comes out. So as you highlighted when this novel was first written, and people were maybe first toying with the idea of making this film, it was a world war two time. And that seems to have been thought to be part of the message of the film when they were first, you know, throwing it around that in some way, Caligula and Rome are meant to be this sort of, you know, decadent place, that they’re somehow the way they’re treating Jewish people slash Christians, because of the crossover. It’s kind of meant to be like the persecutions that were carried out, in particular, I suppose, by Hitler, but also to some extent by Mussolini. So this was definitely meant to be something that people were, I think, picking up on when they were first, you know, developing this into a film.

Dr G 30:59
Look, I think that sounds reasonable. Yeah. Yeah, you do get the sense that the way that the Romans are being positioned in this film is quite particular. And it’s quite different from other epics of this era that I’ve watched so far, because I’m not going to pretend that I’m conversant in all the Hollywood epics.

Dr Rad 31:20
But there are quite a few now.

Dr G 31:22
I have watched a few but I wouldn’t say I’m in any way an expert at this point in time. But it did feel to me like the Romans were being very much positioned in a particular way. And it was, in part to do with, obviously, the focus is on the Christian story. So the Romans are, by default, the bad guys here, but also, that it’s coming out of that sort of post Second War mindset. Well, how do we understand conflict? How do we understand the persecution of peoples? And so while I wasn’t really consciously thinking about it, when I watched it, the vibe that the Romans are giving off in this film is intriguing.

Dr Rad 32:04
Yeah. And I think it’s kind of one of those things as well, where were these sorts of moralizing films, it’s kind of that thing of people get to enjoy watching the Romans have this very fancy schmancy life that they have, whilst also being like, Oh, isn’t a terrible, look at what they’re doing to those poor Christians. So it’s like they because the moral is there, they get to enjoy watching the decadence of Rome. But I didn’t feel like it was as over the top in the robe, as it has been in some of the other movies, we’ve watched, like quovadis, and that sort of thing.

Dr G 32:38
And I feel like the decadence was actually a little bit pared back in this film, like note that it didn’t have like all of the highly colored interior scenes and the layering of different stones and things like that it was obviously trying to be quite opulent in its way. But it also felt like maybe they didn’t have quite as much budget as some other films for some of that stuff. Yeah, definitely.

Dr Rad 33:00
Now, the other interesting thing I’m going to throw in contextually Dr G is that so when this film was purchased, and when it was being made, we’re still in the time of the studio system. So this is a period where you’ve got kind of like five major movie studios that really dominate the production of movies in Hollywood, there are some minor studios. And then there are also some truly budget, you know, just pump out these really crappy movie studios, they do exist. But the major films, particularly the ones that most people would be familiar with today, they’re going to be made by one of these major studios. And it’s kind of that idea of it being like the dream factory time of Hollywood, you know, where they’re manufacturing movies. And so they’re in charge of who gets hired to be director who’s the producer, who’s on contract, like the stars are all under contract at various studios, and they have to make so many pictures per year, and they get paid this much to do it and all that kind of stuff. So huge amount of control. Now, most of these Hollywood studios, these major ones are owned by Jewish movie moguls. This puts them I suppose in an interesting position in the 20th century. Now, of course, I think part of the reason why that ended up being the case is that typically, when when movies first sort of became a thing, it wasn’t necessarily the most admired or respectable profession to be involved in, you know, I mean, it wasn’t the theater.

Dr G 34:33
In the same way that actors in ancient Rome were suffering under the pool of a lack of respect for their craft. Exactly. So too, did early filmmakers, people like that’s not

Dr Rad 34:46
exactly yeah, and I think it’s so it’s something that you do tend to get people that perhaps aren’t risking a wider reputation, I suppose, or aren’t too concerned about what this wider society You may or may not think we’re also talking about people who are potentially immigrants. You know, there’s a whole bunch of reasons why you might end up getting maybe a higher percentage of Jewish people getting involved in the film industry in the early days. And their investment, of course really pays off, because everyone starts to really fall in love with movies, which makes, which makes the people that got involved in the early film industry, very wealthy when they rise to the top. Now, it’s not by any means only Jewish people that are involved. But there is a trend where a lot of the big movie Americans at the studios are Jewish people. Now, they don’t want to be seen to be putting prou Jewish propaganda into their films or things like that, particularly once we get into this time period that we’re talking about, you know, with, obviously, World War Two, I mean, even I mean, obviously, we talk about American history, obviously, there’s always been, I think, a certain stigma against anybody who’s perceived to be an outsider. But particularly in the early 20th century, we know that we see a spike in terms of racism, not just directed against African American groups, but also directed against any immigrant groups, and Jewish people in the 1930s, are increasingly being associated Well, in the 1920s, and the 1930s. Really, they’re increasingly being associated with communism. So especially with everything that’s happened with World War Two, especially, it’s not really a great time, I suppose, to be seen, to be putting out film sort of openly, you know, Pro, the Jewish course. 1919 48, I think makes it particularly touchy issue. Because, of course, this is when we get the creation of the State of Israel. So with the creation of the State of Israel, there was actually a film release that was touching on these sorts of issues, and was kind of pro Israel called the sword in the desert. But there was a riot that broke out in a London cinema when it was shown. And so it was actually withdrawn. And so I think that showed a message of, you know, people aren’t really going to want to see these sorts of films, or at least that’s the feeling. And obviously, we’re talking about Hollywood, it’s a business, you’ve got to, you know, make your money somehow. So a way I suppose, of dealing with that was by making biblical epics, where there is a bit of a focus on, say, the Old Testament. So we do see a lot of Jewish heroes turning up in some of these 1950s epics, another one, of course, played by Victor mature Samson, Samson and Delilah. And then of course, we’ve got Moses turning up in the 10 commandments. And then you’ve got characters like Joshua Solomon, and even in terms of women, you’ve got people like Ruth and Esther turning up in some of these biblical epics. So the robe is kind of an interesting one, because it is obviously crossing that, that line between Old Testament days and entering the New Testament led by one Jesus Christ.

Dr G 38:02
Yeah, we’re in this very interesting storyline. I suspect, and it doesn’t necessarily, I don’t think it’s over in this film. But it’s clear as well, that this is about the genesis of Christianity. And it emerges out of Palestinian culture, that’s clear, both from the geographic location. And it’s clear from the way in which the robe engages with this story as well, like Marcellus goes on this journey, which involves him going into Palestine as part of his job as a Roman, but also learning and discovering things about himself while he is there. Yeah. And for him, that’s not necessarily about Jesus in the beginning. It’s a much longer journey. And so I think part of what this film is trying to do is to try to capture what does this historical moment really mean? For so that sense in which we know that there are people in Palestine during this time period historically, who are being crucified? And what kind of effect does that have on the people who are there at the time? And what kind of stories are they telling about these people? Because one of these stories ends up becoming very influential, and being retold and retold. So this is an interesting way to tackle it, I think, through the eyes of somebody who is Roman, and also through the eyes of someone who is not Roman, but he’s also an outsider.

Dr Rad 39:34
Yeah, it is a really interesting film in that respect. And I think also the choice of having it I mean, obviously, they had to place it when they did if they were going to be accurate about when Jesus was supposedly alive and when he was being crucified. But I think there is also a tendency to set these sorts of movies during the Empire, not just because historically it makes sense, but also because there are publican era of Rome had been such a model for the USA itself. And they like to think of themselves as you know, inheriting some of those Republican Roman values. So a way I suppose dealing with the fact that they like, we’re like the Romans, they’re like, oh, wait a second. Not those Romans. Yeah. When like their republic and Romans, not those decadent, Imperial Roman, it’s not the USA.

Dr G 40:26
I mean, they’re very lucky in that regard that the timeline is what it is. Because imagine if this had happened in the Republic, and it very well could have because

Dr Rad 40:35
Their heads would literally explode

Dr G 40:38
We are not that far into the imperial period.

Dr Rad 40:44
Now, of course, for that there were some minor contextual factors. So the rivalry from television, we’ve got the studio system, and the people that are behind the studio system, follow the money, did you?

Dr G 40:57
Well, yeah. Like I hear Jean Simmons had to, like, break contract and get a different contract in order to do partly to be in this film.

Dr Rad 41:04
That’s generally what they had to do. There’s always sort of like they it was, it was almost as though the celebrities were like trading cards. And, you know, studios would be like, Look, I really want so and so from this picture, they be just right for the role. What can you do I will trade you these two women for that woman for six months? Or? Or yeah, they will, they had to renegotiate their contracts. Because often their contracts would be like for seven years. So it’s quite a substantial chunk of time. So we’ve got television, we’ve got the studio system, we’ve got the creation of Israel, whilst this film is very slowly being developed. And then of course, the big thing that we need to talk about is the Red Scare of the 1950s. Don’t know. Thank you, thank you, I needed a sound effect. So by the time the room is finally like properly in production, which is by the early 1950s, we’re looking at a second round of huge hearings, which is the house of UnAmerican Activities Committee. And these are the people that are most notorious for trying to root out communists in various industries in America, but in particular, in Hollywood, and I say in particular, in that it was probably obviously the most widely publicized.

Dr G 42:23
Yeah, it’s a horrifying time to be for the progressive political nature.

Dr Rad 42:27
Yes. So there’s been a lot of talk about the robe and the whack hearings. Because of course, there are some key scenes in the room, which some people have taken to mean, that this film was trying to talk about the present happenings in America, whilst extensively talking about the past. I’m wondering if you can guess which scenes I’m talking about Dr. G. I

Dr G 42:53
don’t know that I can. I didn’t have this moment where I was like, aha, that’s a clear us moment. I had moments where I was like, this is another Lady Macbeth reference.

Dr Rad 43:04
Very possibly,

Dr G 43:05
maybe they’re the same. Look, there is this scene on the ship back to Italy, where Barcellos seems to be involuntarily moaning a bit like a lady while he’s asleep. As there is the sound of the hammer on the deck of the ship. Could this be a hammer and sickle reference that I’ve missed? Could this? Could this be a recollection of his role in the crucifixion? Where the sounds are the hammer of minds him of the of the nails that he drilled into Jesus’s body? Anyway? I don’t know. But that was a great scene.

Dr Rad 43:43
Well, basically, it is the scene where Tiberius is talking to Marcellus, the Tribune, about finding out about the road, like tracking it down. Yeah, reaching out all the Christians, all of that kind of stuff. So he explicitly says to Marcellus, you know, I need a list of names every name, I need to know who these people are, we need to hunt them down, we need to route them down. So that has sometimes been seen as a not very subtle reference to what he wack was trying to do in the late 1940s. And in the early 1950s, because this film, of course, came out in 1953. So it was out after two rounds of Hollywood hearings, the of the committee, so some people have seen that as being a reference. But I did find this article which delves into the complicated production of this film. And part of I think the reason why people were so keen to see a parallel is that the major screenwriter during the early days of production for the robe was Albert moths. Now, Albert mult isn’t a minor very well, because he was one of the Hollywood 10. So he’s one of the original guys that ends up getting called up in 1947. Before he work along with another guy, I know, Dalton Trumbo, he and Trump We’re pretty tight.

Dr G 45:02
Of course they are.

Dr Rad 45:05
Yeah, yeah. And then the next guy to work on the script is a guy called Philip Dunne. Now he ended up being part of a group of people in Hollywood called the committee for the First Amendment. So this is a reference to the fact that when the US UK hearing started to happen in 1947, quite a lot of the more liberal people in Hollywood were, of course horrified by what was happening, these people that they know, these people that they’ve worked with, and they perhaps were just liberal enough to not think that this was actually something that should be happening in America. So a bunch of them get together to try and rally support for the Hollywood 10. And they end up calling themselves the committee for the first amendment because one of the decisions one of the key decisions that the Hollywood tena decided to make in 1947, is that they were going to plead the First Amendment and not the fifth. Okay, so they’re not they’re not pleading,

Dr G 46:04
now, you’re really testing my understanding of the US Constitution, because I do not know what the First Amendment stands for adults. Basically,

Dr Rad 46:13
we’re talking about the Fifth Amendment is your right to not incriminate yourself, which tends to be what happens later on in the huge tech hearings, because the First Amendment doesn’t work. The First Amendment we’re talking about things like your freedom of speech. Okay, your your basic freedoms, like some of the things that Americans cling to, most daily, I see. And they basically say that they want to do that rather than pleading the fifth when they get called up in front of this committee, because to plead the fifth kind of has the connotation, I suppose that you have done something criminal, I was

Dr G 46:49
gonna say, surely pleading, the fifth is already an implication of

Dr Rad 46:53
kind of, I mean, like, it’s not really, that’s not really what it necessarily means, but it does have that connotation. Whereas the First Amendment, it’s more about fundamental freedom, like if you’re at risk

Dr G 47:04
of incriminating yourself, doesn’t that make you criminal?

Dr Rad 47:07
Well, I mean, this is the thing. No, it doesn’t have to, it’s more just the fact that obviously, you have the right not to incriminate yourself, maybe accidentally, but it just, it just has that connotation. So yeah. So that’s why it became a big thing because they took that stance that they were going to plead the First Amendment and argue this and it does not go well for them. And why? Yeah, yeah, that’s a shame. He’d been one of the he was he was known to be a political liberal. And he was one of the founding members of this group, which also included some very well known names like you know, Lauren Bacall, Humphrey Bogart. Yeah. Lots of people who would do you know, radio announcements, telling people look, this is what is happening right now. This is terrifying. We need to do something about it. We need to rally and show support. So there’s definitely some leftist feelings coming out of the screen writing. There’s just just like, catch Dr. G. O. Albert molts was riding the robe up until about 1946. I wonder if you can do some quick math for me and tell me what the problem is with that? Well, it’s

Dr G 48:10
after the Second World War for the huge tech hearings? I don’t know. That’s exactly

Dr Rad 48:15
right. It’s before the HUAC hearing. So how could he be making coded reference to the US hearings before the hearings?

Dr G 48:24
I mean, the guy’s got four. So what can I say? He’s a smart man. And he saw it coming. Yeah. So

Dr Rad 48:33
while says obviously potential for there to be some Anti Fascist stuff, because yeah, that album also sort of worked into the script. You know, in terms of what everyone’s just been going through with World War Two, it seems unlikely that Albert moulds would have been able to work in huge references before the huge hearings, that became a problem for him in 1947.

Dr G 48:59
You do make a very sound argument and I am convinced,

Dr Rad 49:03
I would like to claim this as my own but somebody else went into the archives in this effort. However, that still leaves the question of fill Phillip done. Okay.

Dr G 49:15
Yes, sinister.

Dr Rad 49:18
Well, not necessarily mean, I actually quite like the sound of him. He sounds like I’ve gotten a guy.

Dr G 49:23
Philip is done. That’s what I’m told.

Dr Rad 49:26
I suppose there are also they’re also supposed to pretend potential references to kind of like blacklisting and curricula being a somewhat McCarthy like figure particularly in that last big scene that you talked about. Okay, the way that he talks about the way he’s talking to Gallio in that final showdown of his seen,

Dr G 49:49
also the way he has plants in the audience to backup his position, which, which aren’t enough to get it across the line anyway, which is kind of hilarious because you think As the Emperor he’d be able to buy off more people. But he’s then also immediately called out for this by Diana being like, that’s all you got the people you planted in the crowd.

Dr Rad 50:10
I know she’s very outspoken. I love the fact that in both Demetrius and the Gladiator, and sorry, Demetrius of the Gladiators, and The Robe, we have these final scenes where Roman women are super outspoken in a public fora. Yeah, in a way that I think would not fly in reality. No, just laying into them. Yeah. But I think the thing that really came through for me when I was rewatching, it is that Marcellus is very clear to Caligula that look, this is just what I believe. I’m not trying to take down Rome, you know, I can, I can be loyal to both of you, which I think is very interesting, because that’s kind of the line that a lot of people who were brought up before the huge tech committee in the 1940s, and the 1950s, were trying to argue, the majority of them, I mean, particularly those who worked in Hollywood, sure, I’m sure there are some rogue communists out there in the states who were aiming higher, but in terms of the Hollywood people, they weren’t trying to take over the state.

Dr G 51:14
And this is also I think, tapping into some bigger ideas that I think America at this time had about itself. And maybe these ideas linger today in various ways, which is when Marcellus makes this dichotomy between his ability to serve Rome, which is completely uncompromised and his perspective, and his personal interest in pursuing his beliefs, to the extent to which they don’t affect his capacity to serve Rome, is tapping into that idea of freedom of religion. And also, this vaunted, but potentially quite false idea of the separation of religion and state, which is a very modern invention. And once we look into any state system, almost completely unsupported by the evidence at play on the ground in any nation state of today.

Dr Rad 52:10
Yeah, definitely. Now, one of the interesting things is that we do actually have a record of Maltz’s version of the script, which Philip Dunne would have used to develop his idea. And Maltz definitely had more scenes that develop this idea of the need for the naming of names. And it also included a bit more development with the character of Abbey door. Now Abbey door is the informant, that must sell us users to try and find out about the Christian, the Jewish slash Christian community that he is tracking down. So in Maltz’s, version, Marcellus actually gives avatar a coin in exchange for every name that is brought to him. These These were not kept, obviously in Dunne’s version, which begs the question, was it purely because if there’s already an incredibly long fail, or was it that by the time that done was working on the script, those sorts of references might have been seen as maybe too problematic?

Dr G 53:19
Maybe unseemly, given the circumstances that we’re facing right now in Hollywood? Let’s not mention that.

Dr Rad 53:26
Exactly. Yeah. Because it is no doubt that Philip Dunne is was somebody who was anti-HUAC, but the thing is, he was also anti communist. So the people that were part of this committee for the First Amendment, they weren’t necessarily communists themselves. In fact, I would say that generally, they were not communists at all. They were just people who thought that he work was wrong. And thought it was important to speak out against the freedoms that were to speak out because they were basic American freedoms that were being trampled on. And also because I presume, again, because of that natural affinity for people that you knew and people that you worked with being, you know, put in this horrible situation.

Dr G 54:11
Yeah, look, I think that’s completely fair. You always want to stick up for your friends.

Dr Rad 54:16
Yeah. So I mean, I guess it’s like one of those movies that in a way you can kind of read it, however you like, in that you can see it as being a critique of totalitarianism. Okay, it could be seen, as you know, you could see Caligula and the Romans as being kind of Stalinist communist figures and that you’re living in a repressive state, or you can read it as being I suppose, a critique of the kind of repression that was going on during the hue Acura, I think

Dr G 54:45
it offers itself to a range of these sorts of interpretations and the importance of the positioning of the audience in this to very much be on the side of Marcellus and that unfolding personal journey Ready to understanding is part of the key way that it’s navigating all of these tension.

Dr Rad 55:06
Yeah, definitely. Yeah. So overall, Dr. G, after, after us talking all about all these various contextual issues for the making of the room. What is your final impression of this film?

Dr G 55:21
Oh look, I don’t want to see it again. I know, I like my Roman history to just be a little bit more grandiose. I don’t know that I’m into it as being a backdrop for some other sort of moral didacticism, which it feels very strongly as what’s going on here. I did enjoy the elder Tiberius, he seemed like the most reasonable guy around traps in this building.

Dr Rad 55:54
Although I must admit, I thought you would pick up on this, did you pick up on the fact that Tiberius was very skeptical about Roman religious practices?

Dr G 56:03
I mean, I suppose he should be. He’s seen enough in his time. And in terms of my overall I probably gonna give it maybe three stars, it’s clearly been very well put together for its time and its age. I want to see more Romans, the robe, it didn’t feel like it was well explained.

Dr Rad 56:26
You mean how the magic worked.

Dr G 56:29
Look, guys, what’s going on with this robe?

Dr Rad 56:33
Well, I think it’s kind of interesting, because I suppose like a lot of blockbuster films these days. Interestingly, there was a bit of a divide between critics and the audience. So as I mentioned at the beginning, clearly it was well patronized, lots of people went to see it, you know, and I think that, that has to be partly put down to the fact that it was a new screen technology. And even though television might have been enticing people away from the movies a little bit, there’s still no way that a 1950s television could compete with the sort of star studded epics. That was so colorful. And you know, the other than that, you know, the sound has been so rich, and the colors were so dazzling. I don’t think television could really compete with these sorts of things. So I can see why the average person on the street with like them, but critics were a little bit more hesitant about this sort of film. So I did find an article which I will cite in the show notes, which had some of my favorite ways of summing up the robe, so I thought you might enjoy them as well. So from the New Statesman on the 28th of November 1953. Most of the film I have found dull and the rest nauseating.

Dr G 57:50
Goodness me Well, that one’s not not enjoying it at all.

Dr Rad 57:54
From the Daily Mail on the 20th of November 1953, fundamentally, distasteful

Dr G 58:00

Dr Rad 58:03
From the evening news on the 20th of November 1953, just money down the drain. From the Evening Standard, on the 20th, November 1953, boring heavy faltered and ham fisted

Dr G 58:18
look, I think I’d agree with that, to be honest,

Dr Rad 58:21
from the Sunday Express on the 22nd of November, tediously earnest and crushingly sentimental. And finally, my favorite one from the Financial Times 20th of November 1953. Although why the Financial Times of reviewing the robe I will never know. A long lacrimose, high class sleeping draught.

Dr G 58:44
I spent a lot of money and I napped very well. Thank you. Yeah, look, and I hear that I did find it tough to get through this film. And I will say that there is a moment where I expected the robe to really do itself justice. And the robe failed to show up. And that’s the moment where Demetrius is clearly at death’s door. Oh, sure. Yeah, there at Marcellus, his dad’s house, and the Roman physician is there. And he’s like, look, there are limits to what science can achieve. It’s like I can’t put the blood back in his body. And yeah, kind of gives up on it. And then he walks out there, we have pee to go in. I was like, it’s now time for the robe. Surely a healthy application of the robe is going to fix this guy. But not only do we not get to see it, but it doesn’t seem like the robe was involved. There’s some other miracle happening there. And I was like, Guys, you really missed a trick. The robe could have done the job, and it would have made the magic. palpably real for everybody at that point.

Dr Rad 59:52
I know exactly what you mean. But it since they were already planning a sequel, lest we forget that that’s what cures Demetrius’ love in Demetrius and the Gladiators, part two of The Robe. So I wonder if they knew that that was going to be the plot device for that. Alright. I don’t want to undercut the power of the robe. No, yeah, you can’t, you got to overuse a piece of fabric. And of course,

Dr G 1:00:14
I went into this already knowing that piece of information because we’ve talked about the sequel before we’ve talked about the original. So I was kind of like, surely it’s robe time, just to wave the robe over and gently have a stand. Yeah, that’s a little blanket. And it’s like, he’s gonna come good. Trust me. We know this. But they don’t. And I was like, Ah,

Dr Rad 1:00:35
I wonder if it’s because they needed to make use of, you know, Peter, a little bit more St. Peter. They needed his talents on display. I mean, he was

Dr G 1:00:42
definitely under utilized in this film. I think I was like, Why is he here? He’s got to get to Rome. Somehow. I suppose.

Dr Rad 1:00:49
I met the guy who plays him. I mean, come on, he really does look like something out of a DaVinci painting. I love that guy. Like already, hats off to you definitely has the look. Yeah, yeah. And I think we mentioned this when we talked about Demetrius and the gladiators. Lest we forget that Christianity became a vehicle for showing your patriotism in this time period in America. And we all know how much Americans love and showing their patriotism. And so it was kind of like one of those things where if the Soviets your enemy in the Cold War, godless communists, then Americans, freedom loving Christians, and so going to church every week was a sign of not only your personal religious faith, but your loyalty to America and your patriotism. So I kind of presume that going to the sorts of films, it must have been something that was very much a part of the, you know, the general vibe, particularly in certain areas in America in this time period.

Dr G 1:01:56
Oh, yeah, definitely. And I can imagine there’d be people trying to sell the robe after you left the cinema as well.

Dr Rad 1:02:05
Well, funny, you should mention that because I do have another statistic here from also another article that I will cite in the show notes. That said that tells me that between 1950 and 1963 Ancient World epics topped the US box office in seven out of the 13 years, so I don’t so we have Samson and Delilah, Victor Mature in 1950. David and Bathsheba in 1951, The Robe in 1953. Then there’s a little bit of a lull, is it because of The Robe?

Dr G 1:02:39
Probably everybody’s like I brought all my tickets. I really can’t afford to go to the cinema.

Dr Rad 1:02:44
The Ten Commandments in 1957 Ben Hur in 1960s Spartacus in 1962 and Cleopatra in 1963. And Quo Vadis in 1952 was second only pipped at the post by the greatest show on earth. Wow. And this is the same. This is the thing whilst we might say okay, so maybe there’s a bit of a yearning for Christianity in this time period because of the cold war. But it’s the same way the world over. Now. To be fair, the world is more Christian, as in there are more people that would probably identify as Christians in general, in this time period, as well. So perhaps not surprising, but they don’t have to go and see it to show their loyalty to their governments or whatever they’re trying to do. So that’s true. Yeah, yeah. But I thought I wanted to use this to sum up with, okay, the road, we’ve done it, I agree with you. It’s not my favorite, although I do love Richard Burton and Gene Simmons, as actors in this film, and I do enjoy a bit of curricula. I actually think I enjoyed Demetrius and the gladiators more. But I thought a good way of summing this up was to take this little snippet from a Sunday Times critic called Delos Powell. She wrote something which I really enjoyed, which were the Scripture prizes 1932 to 1961. Are you ready for the awards? Dr. G?

Dr G 1:04:06
I’m ready.

Dr Rad 1:04:07
Okay. The award for most vulgar film goes to the side of the cross. Applause Applause Applause

And that’s a film from the 1930s. The award for Most nauseating film goes to Quo Vadis.

The award for the most exhausting film goes to The Ten Commandments.

Dr G 1:04:38
That is exhausting as true.

Dr Rad 1:04:40
The award for the most nondescript film goes to The Robe.

Dr G 1:04:47
Nondescript, yeah,

Dr Rad 1:04:50
the award for the most luxurious bloodbaths goes to Samson and Delilah. The award for the most idiotic additional dialogue goes to the big fisherman. award for the most genteel orgy goes to Solomon and Sheba.

Dr G 1:05:15
She’s just making these categories up.

Dr Rad 1:05:18
Yeah, that’s the point. And finally, a special chariot race award goes to Ben Hur,

Dr G 1:05:29
Hur hur hur. I mean, I’d be very surprised if it went to The Fall of the Roman Empire. But it’s up there.

Dr Rad 1:05:38
Oh, I think that would definitely be number two, surely. And I will I very much like talking to you about the road because whilst the robe might not actually be the most flashy of the ethics of the Golden Age in the 1950s, it certainly has a lot of the things that I like to talk about, which is the war on television, the studio system at play modern politics, in terms of the foundation of the State of Israel, and of course, American domestic politics, the background of the huge tech hearings and the hunt for reds under the bed.

Dr G 1:06:19
Yes, wow. Caligula did have a very red robe and that should be a hint to anybody

Dr Rad 1:06:25

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

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Drs R and G laugh and spar their way through the ancient Roman world!


  1. PaulG
    April 11, 2023

    An interesting and well researched discussion about the Christian epic movies of that era in general and this movie in particular, but the premise of the film is wholly ahistorical. There is zero evidence that either Tiberius or Caligula had anything to do with Christians unless you set any store by some alleged letters between Pilate and Tiberius which are now taken as Christian forgeries. In fact there is almost nothing in the ancient accounts to lead us to conclude that Christianity existed until late in the first century. So as myth made into a movie great stuff but surely myth.

    • The Partial Historians
      April 16, 2023

      Thank you so much Paul. The evidence outside of Christian sources certainly is thin on the ground, especially for direct involvement of the emperors.

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