The second of our series on screen portrayals of Pontius Pilate is Richard Boone in the film The Robe (1953). ( The portrayal of Pilate by Rod Steiger in Jesus of Nazareth (1977), the first in our series, is reviewed here.) Descended from a younger brother of Daniel Boone, Boone, a Navy veteran of the Pacific during World War ii, studied acting on the GI bill. Boone assayed the role of Pilate only three years into his career, but he already had the three traits that made him stand out as an actor: a commanding presence, a deep gravelly voice and an ability to suggest that a character he is portraying is not as simple as we think at first glance. Boone went on to be a western television star in the hit show Have Gun Will Travel (1957-1963) in which he played Paladin, a West Point graduate who fought for truth and justice in the old West, as long as his $1,000.00 fee was paid. Boone portrayed Paladin as a well-educated man who would often draw upon his knowledge of history to win the day. It was the favorite show of a very small Donald McClarey and no doubt helped inspire a love of history in me. Here is the Paladin theme song which could be sung by almost all schoolboys in the early Sixties:
Alright, that is quite enough Memory Lane! Back to the task at hand. Below is the video clip of Boone as Pilate.
We see Pilate washing his hands. Tribune Gallio, portrayed by Richard Burton, has been ordered to report to Pilate. Gallio is being summoned back to Rome. However, Pilate has one task for him to perform before he leaves. A routine assignment, the execution of three criminals. One of them is a fanatic, who has a following and Gallio is told by Pilate to bring enough men to deal with trouble. Pilate gives these orders in a clipped military style, wasting not a syllable.
Then, the unexpected happens. Pilate confesses, almost talking to himself, that he had a miserable night, bedeviled by factions and no one agreeing with anyone, with even his wife having an opinion. (“Have nothing to do with that innocent man, because in a dream last night, I suffered much on account of him.”). Pilate then shakes off his reverie, and wishes Gallio good luck. He then asks a slave to bring water to wash his hands, and is reminded that he has just washed his hands.
It is a small gem of a performance. Boone portrays Pilate as a no nonsense military man who is beginning to be haunted by what he has just done in sentencing Jesus. It is a minimalist performance that conveys much in a very brief scene.