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20th Century Fox presents
The Robe (1953)

"Were you out there?"
- Marcellus Gallio (Richard Burton)

Review By: Jesse Shanks   
Published: October 15, 2001

Stars: Richard Burton, Jean Simmons, Victor Mature
Other Stars: Michael Rennie, Jay Robinson, Dean Jagger
Director: Henry Koster

Manufacturer: dvcc
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 02hr:13m:24s
Release Date: October 16, 2001
UPC: 024543020820
Genre: epic

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
C+ C-C+B D+

DVD Review

Some movies are better left to the memory we have of them than to actually sit through them again. The Robe is a film that made a big impression on me when I was a child and I looked forward to seeing it in on DVD in widescreen with Dolby sound. Well, the widescreen and Dolby were okay, but the movie was a real let down. This has to rank as one of the most over-hyped epics of the 1950s, thanks to the fact that it was the first film released in the then revolutionary Cinemascope.

Richard Burton portrays Marcellus, a Roman tribune, and this has to represent one of his worst performances (Oscar®-nominated!) and he is not helped much by a colorless appearance by Marcellus' romantic interest, Jean Simmons as Lady Diana. In fact, along with a typically laughable Victor Mature as Demetrius and stoic Michael Rennie as Peter, this has to rank as one of the worst-acted biblical epics in a genre that is famous for terrible acting.

The tale is one of a spiritual quest that is passionless and static. Burton's emotions do not range far on either side of severe discomfort; the bliss he takes on at the conclusion more likely represents his happiness that this film must somehow end. Mature, as his slave, is painful to watch, especially when he is shouting at Burton. The pair is sent into a troubled Judea where, ultimately, Marcellus is assigned as tribune in charge of the crucifixion of Jesus. (Marcellus is, in fact, the tribune written about in the New Testament, gambling for the robe worn by the purported messiah.) His experience at the crucifixion drives Marcellus to distraction; the robe he has won at dice now seems to haunt his thoughts. Demetrius escapes his slavery and disappears to join the surviving followers of Jesus.

Brought back to Rome by the intervention of his love Diana, Marcellus is assigned by the Emperor Tiberius to find the robe that has bewitched him and destroy it. He returns to Judea and searches for his former slave, now in possession of the robe. Meanwhile, Tiberius has died and the mad Emperor Caligula (Jay Robinson) assumes the throne and targets the newly emerging Christians as enemies of the state. Robinson is the actor who shows any spark, but his portrayal is a little too campy to be taken seriously. He and Mature later appear in the sequel to The Robe called Demetrius and the Gladiators.

The Robe won two Oscars®, for Art Direction and Set Design, which are certainly two of the best features of this film. It also received nominations for Best Picture and Best Color Cinematography. Interestingly, there are cameos by a young Michael Ansara, playing the traitor Judas and Richard Boone, almost unrecognizable, as Pontius Pilate.

The movie stumbles toward its conclusion so slowly and painfully that my finger kept twitching on the chapter button. I can imagine that there are those die-hard fans of the biblical drama that will disagree with my appraisal; perhaps they are right and justified in adding it to their collection. However, I will pass on to more interesting and entertaining portrayals of the Roman era.

Rating for Style: C+
Rating for Substance: C-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.55:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The Robe was hailed in 1953 as the first Cinemascope release and is presented on DVD anamorphically with its original aspect ratio of 2.55:1. Another Cinemascope release that year, How to Marry A Millionaire with Marilyn Monroe, utilized several stunt shots to show off the extra wide screen. That gimmick is mostly avoided here, except for wide establishing shots and one particular scene of a fleeing chariot that is drawn by four horses spread dramatically across the screen. Often the Cinemascope is disadvantageous, especially in scenes with only a few characters. The production designer or director often fails to fill up the vast spaces with visual interest and we get some very boring shots with actors occupying only small portions. This is not as noticeable in the full-frame versions I have seen on TV; perhaps here is one case where that alternative might have been nice on the flip side of the disc. The larger scenes are much more effective. Still, the overall quality is very good and I saw only fleeting bits of film noise, scratches and other flaws in the source. In fact, I felt that the transfer was almost too good, because it shows the film to have a certain "look" that resembles the cheaper films created in that era. Perhaps this is a restoration issue, but to my eye, The Robe looks cheap and dated and often slightly grainy.

Image Transfer Grade: C+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: Three audio tracks are provided for The Robe: Dolby Surround 4.0 in English, Dolby Stereo in English and a French mono (it is kinda cool and campy to watch in French!). Although we get decent enhanced stereo in the surround version, there is some ambient echo in the larger scenes, such as the crucifixion and in Caligula's court. This is mostly a talky static movie and makes for a talky static soundtrack. The disc provides subtitles in English and Spanish.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
4 Other Trailer(s) featuring Anna and the King, The Bible,Cleopatra,Demetrius and the Gladiators
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Not much in the way of extras for this release. There is a theatrical trailer and some promo trailers for three other Fox biblically-oriented epics and one for Anna and The King. Included in the list is Demetrius and the Gladiators, the sequel to this film, although the title is misspelled.

Extras Grade: D+


Final Comments

Stiff and static, The Robe has not worn well over the years, despite the hoopla that accompanied its original release. Poor acting overwhelms any positive achievement technically and I can only recommend this disc to biblical drama completists.


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