on October 28, 2001
The Robe is most famous now for being the first movie filmed in CinemaScope. It was not the first film shot in a widescreen process. There were a few experiments with widescreen in the twenties and thirties, but The Robe was the film which started the boom in the production of widescreen epics. The Robe therefore has a definite and important place in cinema history, but this would mean little today if it were not also a fine film in its own right. In this respect it does not disappoint. The story tells of Marcellus Gallio (Richard Burton), a Roman tribune sent to Palestine who oversees the crucifixion of Christ. He wins Christ's robe in a dice game, little realising the significance it will have for him. Burton is very good in this role and shows what a fine film actor he could be. Victor Mature is also entertaining as Demetrius, Burton's slave and later his friend. Best of all the film shows Jean Simmons at her best, playing Diana the woman Burton loves. My only complaint about her role is that she does not appear on screen enough.
Biblical epics may not be terribly fashionable nowadays, but I've always enjoyed them and The Robe is one of the best of the genre. It describes the events surrounding the familiar Biblical stories using characters from the Bible and fictional characters to flesh out the narrative. In this way it rather resembles how Ben Hur interweaves the Biblical story with fictional events of Ben Hur's life. This technique works well in The Robe and makes for fine historical fiction with a religious theme.
The print used for the Twentieth Century Fox DVD is in good condition. The CinemaScope images have been anamorphically enhanced and look stunning. The colours are bright and clear and there is hardly any visible damage. The sound likewise is good with no background noise. This DVD only has some trailers for extras, but anyone who enjoys Biblical epics will want to get The Robe.
A marvelous epic melodrama, with portions that are emotionally stirring, and with two exceedingly attractive stars, this film ranks high in the "sword and sandals" genre.
This is prime-time Richard Burton, at age 27, heavenly to look at and even better to listen to; his crisp enunciation makes the English language shine, and though some of his scenes are a little "over the top", he carries them off with charismatic presence. Jean Simmons is exquisite as Diana, the woman who has loved Marcellus (Burton) since childhood, and their screen romance has a rare depth and spark.
Other notable performances come from Victor Mature as Demetrius the slave, with a mute but moving scene at Christ's crucifixion, and Michael Rennie is grand as Peter. Jay Robinson is wonderfully rotten as the vicious Caligula.
I always like a good fight sequence, and there is a brilliantly choreographed one between Marcellus and a centurion. It is the kind of swordplay great Shakespearean actors have perfected, and it is a delight to watch.
Directed by Henry Koster, it has an exceptional score by Alfred Newman, and vibrant Technicolor cinematography by Leon Shamroy. I like the way the night scenes have a deep blue glow to them, and the costumes are wonderful. Oscars went to Best Art Direction/Set Design (color) and Best Costume design (color). It was also nominated for Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Cinematography (color), and was the first film to be released in CinemaScope.
I saw this film many years ago, and had thought it a little silly, but we have both aged well; I can now watch it repeatedly, and appreciate the depictions of courage, and the beauty and humanity of it. Total running time is 2 hours and 13 minutes.
on March 19, 2009
I was blown away watching "The Robe" on Blu-ray disc last night. I've never seen it like this. The richness in detail is exhilarating. The score sounds incredible, especially on Audio Channel 6 (isolated). It's long been one of my top 5 favorite scores and Fox Home Entertainment (FHE) served the film and the soundtrack very well with this massive restoration.
FHE spent the most money in this restoration on the soundtrack according to the man in charge of the project, Shawn Belston, VP of Library and Technical Services for FHE, in a chat he had with Ronald Epstein of Home Theater Forum this past Monday evening. They even removed the "wow", which is likely a costly process, but a process well worthwhile in such endeavors.
The entire score is isolated, and it has NEVER sounded better. I noted, however, that in the "Rescue of Demetrius" sequence as Marcellus and other men were preparing to burst in on the torture room, the mix wasn't what I am used to hearing and that some rather interesting string work is more sublimated. I won't be selling off my fantastic 2-CD soundtrack any time in the future, I can tell you, but there is more than enough totally exhilarating music in this isolated score to make folks VERY, VERY happy!
I noted for the first time in all my many viewings of the film that the photography is quite special -- master cinematographer Leon Shamroy did some incredible work during his career, but most folks know him as the man behind those special filters for "South Pacific". His work on many films, including "Cleopatra", is exquisite. Here, working with a brand new medium, you can see the extraordinary efforts Shamroy went to in order to "properly light" his shots, especially those where the only light sources were oil lamps or torches. When Marcellus bursts into the room in Cana where he learns Demetrius is staying, the light streaming in through the window -- the light by which Demetrius was reading -- is absolutely poetic.
"The Robe" is seldom, if ever, cited for the absolutely clever and innovative composition of images in shots through the film, but director Henry Koster FILLED his screen with highly dramatic placements of people. Some of the shots are staggeringly beautiful. The "Palm Sunday" sequence as Marcellus rides toward Jerusalem is stunning. As the procession passes Demetrius, there is this TRUE sense that Jesus is off camera and "behind us" as we look at Demetrius watching him pass. Add to that the wonderful scoring and it's an extraordinary cinematic moment. And this film is FILLED with extraordinary moments -- Marcellus' entry into the slave market, Diana's farewell to Marcellus at the docks in Ostia, the sequence where Demetrius seeks out Jesus in order to warn him of what the Romans are doing and his conversation with Judas (an unbilled Michael Ansara), the entire Crucifixion sequence (and it's extremely moving), Marcellus' madness, the arrival at Capri (stunning shot), the rescue of Demetrius, the chase and the final confrontation with Caligula in the palace are all extremely memorable and satisfying. I can think of NO CinemaScope film that used the process more dramatically or more satisfyingly (contrast it with MGM's "It's Always Fair Weather" where folks often seem lost in cavernous spaces).
Performances in this film are NOT -- repeat NOT -- under the radar, despite the common pap you read time and time again. Burton is wonderful as Marcellus, Jean Simmons is exquisite as Diana, and Victor Mature is a revelation as Demetrius. In fact, Mature probably turns in the best performance of his career in one of the better performances in this film. Not to be left out is Jay Robinson whose Caligula is one of the finest screen creations I've seen.
I have no idea what the Standard DVD of this film looks like, but I can tell you that in Blu-ray, it's heartbreakingly beautiful.
There are a slew of special features, in addition to the isolated score, but I have not yet indulged in those except for the special publicity materials.
I have to say that on the basis of the smiley-boxed "How the West Was Won" and this issue of "The Robe", my investment in Blu-ray has been MORE than worth it, both as a film lover and as a film score lover!
on September 16, 2002
In 1953 Hollywood answered the threat of television by announcing a new WideScreen format called Cinemascope. Up until now all movies were Standard 4:3 ratio format. Now, with 20th Century Fox's Cinemascope a 255:1 ratio (this is really spectacular to see on your WideScreen Home Theatre)and the "THE ROBE" people would marvel over this larger than life Technicolor film experience.
With this 20th Century Fox DVD release we have GOOD news & BAD news; The GOOD news is this package provides an ANAMORPHIC WIDESCREEN presentation (this movie will adjust to any tv size uncluding HDTV 16:9). We also get 4.0 Surround Sound (great quality). The BAD news, the picture is NOT ENHANCED for WIDESCREEN TVs. (this makes for a grainy and dark presentation. The vibrant Technicolor is some what lost too.)
The movie "THE ROBE" itself remains one of the screens greatest biblical epics. Nominated for 5 Academy Awards including "BEST PICTURE & BEST ACTOR (Richard Burton)".
SUMMARY; A Roman Centurian (Burton) is charged with overseeing the crucifixion. He wins Christ's Robe in a gambling game at the foot of the cross & his life is changed forever. A grand supporting cast to include; Jean Simmons, Victor Mature & Michael Rennie.
The movie is 135 minutes in length. Extra Feature: Trailer Only
This is the movie which introduced us to Cinemascope and Hollywood would never be the same.
"The Robe" is a great Hollywood movie epic that should be experienced by everyone at least once.
Again my only reason for a 4 star rating is because of the graininess of the Home Theatre Wide Screen presentation. Enjoy.
In this 2009 Special Edition re-release of "The Robe" we are presented the very best possible restoration of this classic 20th Century-Fox film which with the wonderful extra features make this a very special experience.
The film itself remains what it always has been, a rather wooden but still entertaining epic of the foundation of Christianity in the 1st Century A.D. The performances range from subtle and engaging as by Jean Simmons, to surprisingly effective as in the under-rated Victor Mature. The uneven performances move on to the theatrical and unschooled in film style of Richard Burton and finally lands with a huge splash and lots of color everywhere with the over the top Jay Robinson as Caligula.
But on with what is superb about this DVD release. And that is the Extras! And I don't mean the thousands of people on the roman sets. The commentary is delicious by film historians Jon Burlingame, Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman (of Film Score Monthly) and film composer David Newman (son of The Robe's composer Alfred Newman). Mostly the talk about the magnificent music of the film, the history of the studios fabled music stage, the musicians. But also a lot is given over to the actors, director and the making of the film. I must say that Julie Kirgos observations on Victor Mature's performance gave me a new insight into his work. But for me the most wonderful extra was the music only option. You can view the film with only the score playing. With the dialog and sound effect missing your ears open up to the massive and splendiferous score by Alfred Newman. It is fascinating to listen to and to hear the voices at the end to the cues of the composer and orchestra members.
Also included is a short feature on the making of the film, which is fantastic. The Robe may not be the best picture in the Epic genre, but historically important for changing movies forever with the introduction of Cinemascope and Stereophonic sound. To round out the entire Special Edition, the film has been restored to its fabulous Technicolor splendor as is pointed out in a brief and interesting introduction by Martin Scorsese.
on April 14, 2010
The Robe [Blu-ray]
I have praise and questions about the restoration of this classic movie, which is still far from being ideal, at least to my eyes when compared with other restorations of "Sword and Sandal" epics from the `fifties.
The transfer from what apparently was the original Cinemascope negative is definitely sharp, without scratches, or other physical imperfections. Also, as others have indicated, the transfer also reveals the imperfections of the anamorphic lenses used in the film's production. It is brighter than the print used to make the earlier DVD release. The sound is definitely an improvement over the DVD release and is excellent as one of the earliest examples of a stereophonic soundtrack.
But what has me wondering is the condition of the color balances in the original Cinemascope negative used for the restoration. Martin Scorsese, in his valuable and informative introduction, tells us that color correction was utilized in the BD transfer. I'm sure that Fox's transfer technicians did all that they technically could within the limitations of their restoration software on the originals, but throughout the film, there is an orange-yellow cast, particularly in shadows that definitely is not normal compared to other films. Also, the contrast in shadows could have been increased. For example of this, look at the scene when Demetrius finally escapes from Marcellus Gallio to search for, and attempt to save Jesus from execution. Compared to other "Sword and Sandal" epic releases from that period, the color, especially on flesh tones, appears to be a bit on the washed-out side. Color saturation in the restoration also could have been slightly increased for most scenes. However, there are a few scenes that excel where the restoration technicians' efforts were successful, one particularly when Marcellus Gallio finally locates Demetrius and tries to burn the robe.
Was the original Cinemascope negative stored in less-than-optimal archival storage over the years? I think this is the question that must be pondered among classic film buffs about this restoration. If the restoration technicians did all that they could do, then this may be the best that we will be able to ever see this classic, unless another restoration is done at a future time from the original negative with improved color correction software.
Imperfections in anamorphic lenses aside, the color in the restoration of "The Robe" pales in comparison to the wonderful restoration done to Time-Warner's "Quo Vadis" of two years earlier.
on March 28, 2001
By the year 1953 that pagan deity Tee Vee had put the fear of God into Hollywood, and all the studios were leading crusades against the infidel. 3-D, with its cumbersome Polaroid glasses, had been a flash in the pan; but then an old wide screen process was re-introduced as CinemaScope ("You see it without glasses!" the ads trumpeted), and a lavish costume picture was planned to present the innovation. The choice was Lloyd C Douglas's 1943 novel "The Robe", the story of a young centurion who wins Christ's garment by gambling at the foot of the Cross. By today's standards, the movie seems like hokum, filled with sermonizing and "historical" acting. Hollywood found the Welsh actor Richard Burton, with his rugged good looks and beautiful speaking voice, irresistible; but unfortunately his performance in this, his third American film, was justifiably panned as hammy and superficial. His co-star Jean Simmons had a dignified presence and she could be quite effective, as when she denounces the Emperor in the final scene. But her performances tended to be homogeneous: the Roman patrician here, the 18th Dynasty drudge in "The Egyption", and the Marseilles bourgeoise in "Desiree" are all the same. Many of the supporting roles in "The Robe" are either mis-cast (an ascetic Michael Rennie as Peter) or badly acted (over-the-top ranting and smirking by Jay Robinson as Caligula). Oddly enough, the critics' favorite whipping boy Victor Mature received the best reviews for his restrained portrayal of the Greek slave Demetrius. The picture's highlight is Alfred Newman's musical themes. From the portentous overture, through Miriam's lovely Elegy, to the closing Halleluiah Chorus (adapted from the composer's own "The Song of Bernadette"), this is one of Hollywood's finest musical scores.Addendum: I'm always amazed at the customers in Amazon.com who complain that a cassette or a DVD they have bought is not in wide screen format. They're talking about a movie made in 1940! With sporadic exceptions, wide screen pictures were not produced until 1952. I mention this because I think it's strange, considering the unique position of "The Robe" in cinema history,that there is no letter-box version available
on March 22, 2005
Of all the many stories and film efforts centred around the crucifixion of Jesus "The Robe",based on the famous novel of the same name by Llyod C. Douglas would probably be still the best known. Often accused now of being extremely dated and theatrical in its approach by critics who also target Richard Burton's performance in particular as an example of one that has not aged well, that I believe is too harsh an assessment. A recent viewing of this great biblical classic reaffirmed in my belief that to the contrary "The Robe", is a wonderfully inspiring piece of cinema still with a message about loving your fellow man regardless of their differences that is just as timely today as it was when the novel was written. The great joy of watching "The Robe", is that it can be appreciated on a number of different levels, in that it can be appreciated for its strong story telling and sound message of tolerance to all people that you dont have to be religious to be able to absorb, and secondly as a grandiose piece of old Hollywood movie making on a lavish scale filmed in beautiful colour with breathtaking sets and costumes, plenty of sword play action, and filmed in the then ground breaking process called Cinemascope that was designed to give large scale epics such as this a stunning appearance in the cinemas that people could not see on their television screens at home.
Richard Burton really had his ground breaking Hollywood role in "The Robe", where he plays Roman Tribune Marcellus Gallio who falls foul of the rage of the heir to the Roman Empire's throne Caligula (Jay Robinson), and as punishment is sent to the hellish back water of the Roman garrison at Jerusalem. Seperated from his love Diana (Jean Simmons), who has been promised to Caligula Marcellus sets out for the east with his Greek man servant Demetrius (Victor Mature). They arrive in Jerusalem just as the now famous messiah called Jesus arrives and immediately Demetrius is struck by the power of both the presence and teachings of the one they call Jesus, the Son of God. However as the restless next few days Marcellus finds himself recalled to Rome but not before his duty is carried out which is to oversee the crucifixtion of Jesus on Calvary. Winning the robe of Jesus in a dice match with the other soldiers Marcellus finds that the robe seems to possess strange powers which affect his mind and which he firstly believes is a curse placed on him by the robe's mysterious former owner who he has executed. Demetrius flees with the robe as a rememberance of Jesus and Marcellus sets out to find the robe and destroy it and its supposed evil influence. However Marcellus finds more than he bargained for in his search as he not only finds Demetrius but is introduced to the Lord's Disciple Peter (Michael Rennie), and through both him and the simple good influence of a villager Justus (Dean Jagger) begins to see the beliefs of Christ's followers in a different light. Upon returning to Rome Marcellus embraces fully the Christian teachings much to the dismay of both Diana and his father (Torin Thatcher). Once Demetrius is captured and tortured by Caligula who is now Emperor, Marcellus with the aid of other Christians stages a rescue mission which frees Demetrius but which finds Marcellus allowing himself to be captured so that his former slave and now friend may escape to safety. Put on trial before the whole court Marcellus is steadfast in holding on to his new beliefs and delivers a blistering verbal attack on Caligula and his corrupt ways which causes the Emperor to pass the death sentence on Marcellus as a supposed traitor to the Roman State. Diana however knowing that she loves Marcellus with all her heart decides to defy Caligula and in the poignant last scene joins him in his march to the archery field where both will be executed.
Good old fashioned story telling at its best is how best to describe "The Robe". It manages the often difficult task of weaving in fictional characters and occurences into a well known true story with ease. Director Henry Koster had a major task on his hands here driving such a sprawling story while keeping the narrative intact and entertaining. He succeeds very well here and has managed to extract some memorable performances from the leads. Richard Burton uses every ounce of his acting ability to make believable the transformation of the disbelieving tribune into a believer of Christ and his teachings, and even if in a couple of instances his performance could possibly be seen as a bit theatrical for the most part it is a marvellously controlled performance that is the heart and soul of this story. He very deservedly won an Academy Award Nomination for Best Actor of 1953 for his efforts. Victor Mature as Demetrius, although never a critics favourite, is an actor I always enjoy watching and in "The Robe", once again proves how totally suited he is to these biblical productions which he won his greatest fame in during the 1950's decade. He continued on in this role in the highly entertaining sequel "Demetrius and the Gladiators", the following year. Jean Simmons, given the confines of her role as Marcellus' love interest does the best job possible with what she has to work with and her love scenes with Richard Burton and when she locks horns against the insane Caligula are especially note worthy. Other stand out performances that need to be noted are the always excellent Michael Rennie as Peter, Dean Jagger in a very different type of role than usual as the simple villager Justus who influences Marcellus to embrace Christianity, and of course Jay Robinson in a wildly entertaining turn in the first of his two outings as the deranged Emperor Caligula. Nominated for 5 Academy Awards in 1953 including one for Best Picture, "The Robe", has first class production values in all areas from superb set and costume design recreating the look of the early Roman Empire to perfection, a stirring Alfred Newman score which is one of his best, and vivid colour photography by Leon Shamroy.
Rather sadly nowadays alot of these 1950's Biblical Epics are often dismissed as "old hat", or "out moded", however I happen to admire them greatly and am still after repeated viewings amazed by the great attention to detail and also by the sheer sincerity that goes into the performances in these efforts. "The Robe", is no exception and is a treasured part of my Easter viewing each year. I enjoy it both as sheer entertainment as well as for the strong affirming message it conveys to its audience. They certainly dont make epics such as this one nowdays mores the pity and for that reason among many I highly recommend a viewing of a young Richard Burton in his prime in Twentieth Century Fox's classic biblical story "The Robe". It should be in every Epic Film lovers collection without a doubt.
on May 7, 2010
"The Robe" is a great film showing how Christ truly can change an individual--and Rhichard Burton's character goes through a remarkable change, almost Paul-like. The special features on the Blu-ray Disc are sweet! (especially the times 2, as the film was shot simulatneously as widescreen and full screen)
-Introduction by Martin Scorses
-"The Robe Times Two": A Comparison of Widescreen and Standard Versions
-BONUSview Picture-in-Picture - "A Seamless Faith: The Real-Life Search for The Robe" Interactive Featurette
-Commentary with Film Composer David Newman and Film Historians Jon Burlingame, Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman
-Isolated Score: The Music of "The Robe" - Alfred Newman's Score
-"The Making of The Robe" Featurette
-"The Cinemascope Story Featurette"
-"From Scripture to Script: The Bible and Hollywood" Featurette
-Audio Interview with Screenwriter Philip Dunne (1969)
on September 10, 2010
Just my opinion but the 2001 DVD release is more worthy of your money. The new special edition's colors look flat and, even worse, the picture compresses at the far ends of the picture. It is very distracting. If a person walks from off-screen to the middle of the screen they go from stick figure to fully fleshed out human. My description might be a little exaggerated but you get the point. Like I said it was quite distracting. Even though the 2001 DVD can't compare in sharpness and cleanliness I feel it has more "personality". The 2009 SE seems too clinical/drab and as I stated above, the lens issue is goofed up. I give the studio credit for trying to restore this correctly but I just wish it would have come out better.