On Easter Sunday, some families sit down to watch 1953’s “The Robe” religiously (pun intended). This movie was the Fifties answer to Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ,” without the blood and gore. Besides, “The Robe” had Richard Burton (Marcellus), Jean Simmons (Diana) and Victor Mature (Demetrius) in this story of gambler Marcellus who wins the robe Jesus wore in a crap game. Well, I’m not sure it was a crap game, it could’ve been a game of Texas Hold’em.
Anyway, as soon as Marcellus has the robe, he begins to hallucinate and suffer from violent outbursts he and his girlfriend, Diana, attribute to a curse that must have been placed on the robe.
The robe goes missing and is thought to be in the possession of Demetrius, Marcellus’s escaped slave. Marcellus opts to search out Demetrius, who is somewhere in the middle East. I hope Demetrius isn’t hiding in one of those Afghanistan caves because nobody can ever find anybody in those dark and creepy places.
His quest completed, Marcellus attempts to destroy the robe, and the curse he believes comes with it, but instead finds Christianity. It’s quite a moving performance by Burton.
One of the best parts of this movie is when all the heroes and heroines are about to get killed by nasty ruler, Caligula (Jay Robinson), but, instead of showing the fear Caligula fervently desires to see, instead they walk off to their deaths, confident and smiling. Caligula shrieks out in frustration, “They’re going to a better place! They’re going to a better place!”
Not that Hollywood believes in type casting, but the next movie in which they cast Victor Mature was “Demetrius and the Gladiators.”
Click here to check out “The Robe” on DVD. (Amazon Sales Rank: 166)
On the other hand, families not watching “The Robe” are probably set to see 1948’s “Easter Parade,” starring a legendary cast, including the luminous Judy Garland, famed dancer Ann Miller, and the mind-boggling footwork of Fred Astaire. This MGM production also features words and music by America’s most prolific songwriter, Irving Berlin, including standards: It Only Happens When I Dance With You, I Love A Piano, and Steppin’ Out With My Baby, as well as perennial fave, Easter Parade.
“Easter Parade” was the first time Judy Garland ever met Fred Astaire, and it has been said that he was so huge a star, she was afraid to speak to him until they had been properly introduced.
It’s in this film that the legendary dance, “We’re A Couple of Swells,” was performed with Garland and Astaire in tramp costumes, teeth blacked out, wearing hugely oversized tramp shoes, looking as though they were having the time of their lives. In fact, their biographies confirm this number as being their favorite.
When Berlin, who inspired tongue-tied awe in most people, boldly suggested how one of his songs should be phrased, Judy walked up to him, put her face two inches in front of his, poked a pugnacious finger into his stomach and said, “Listen buster, you write ’em, I sing ’em.” (“Get Happy: The Life of Judy Garland” by Gerald Clarke.)
Astaire, who had been called out of retirement when the original star, Gene Kelly, broke an ankle playing touch football, overcame his trepidation at the thought of publicly dancing again after two years away. His admiration for Judy Garland contributed to his “Yes, I’ll do it.” He said, “Judy’s uncanny knowledge of showmanship impressed me more than ever as I worked with her. ‘We’re a Couple of Swells’ with Judy … remain with me as a high spot of enjoyment in my career.” (“Steps in Time” by Fred Astaire.)
Click here to check out the “Easter Parade” 2 Disc Special Edition DVD. (Amazon Sales Rank: 1,409)
From the sales ranks of these two Easter films, it’s apparent that the majority of DVD buyers prefer spirituality to showbiz.