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Some say that THE ROBE ($35) is a creaky old religious epic that doesnít hold up as well other films in the same vein. Certainly, the film does have some dramatic problems, as well as some wooden performances, but I still find THE ROBE to be a highly enjoyable motion picture experience. Additionally, THE ROBE does occupy an important place in cinematic history. THE ROBE was the film that 20th Century Fox had chosen to herald the arrival of the CinemaScope process, which was intended to give 1950ís movie audiences something that the upstart television could not deliver- panoramic wide screen images.

THE ROBE tells the story of the early days Christianity from the viewpoint of a Roman officer given the task of crucifying a troublesome carpenter, who has developed a large following amongst the people of the Roman province of Palestine. Richard Burton stars as Tribune Marcellus Gallio, who is exiled to worst pesthole in the Roman Empire after offending Caligula (Jay Robinson), the Emperorís chosen successor. Marcellus spends much of his time drowning himself in wine, until the Roman governor Pontius Pilate (Richard Boone) charges him with executing two criminals and the carpenter, who has become a political liability to the empire.

While carrying out his orders, Marcellus looks into the eyes of the dying carpenter and finds himself deeply affected. However, when he orders his slave Demetrius (Victor Mature) to cover him with the dead manís robe during a rainstorm, Marcellus finds himself driven to the brink of madness. Although Marcellus returns to Rome for a short while, thanks to the efforts of Diana (Jean Simmons), the woman he loves, Emperor Tiberius (Ernest Thesiger) gives the nearly mad Tribune a commission to return to Palestine, so that he may root out the newly formed Christian sect and find the robe that has bewitched him. The cast of THE ROBE also features Michael Rennie, Dean Jagger, Torin Thatcher, Betta St. John, Jeff Morrow, Dawn Addams, Leon Askin and Michael Ansara.

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment has made THE ROBE available on Blu-ray Disc in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio presentation that has been encoded onto the disc with the AVC codec. The 1080p presentation is pretty wonderful, owing a large debt to the extensive restoration and digital rejuvenation that THE ROBE has undergone at Lowry Digital. Considering that the film elements for THE ROBE have been ravaged by time, what Fox and Lowry have been able to achieve with their restoration is miraculous. Of course, viewing the now pristine image makes the inherent flaws and/or weaknesses in the early CinemaScope lenses all the more evident. Due to the limitations in those earliest CinemaScope lenses, the cinematography comes across as mildly soft, has a limited depth of field and exhibits some distortions in geometry as result of the primitive nature of the anamorphics. Still, THE ROBE looks mighty impressive on Blu-ray and is light-years beyond any home presentation prior to the restoration. This restored presentation ekes out every bit of resolution and detail in the image. Close-ups are the most detailed, while medium to long shots are less resolved. Color reproduction is very impressive; demonstrating vibrant hues that emulate the look of a Technicolor release print. Blacks are accurately rendered, as are the whites. Contrast is better than I was expecting, shadow detail is fine for a film of this particular vintage. As Lowry has worked their digital magic on the film elements, there are no blemishes and grain has been reduced without undue softness being introduced.

THE ROBE is presented on Blu-ray Disc with a 5.1 channel DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. This would appear to be a repurposings of the original 4 channel stereo mix into the lossless format. As with many other CinemaScope films of the same period, THE ROBE features some directional dialogue, which was intended to enhance the vastness of the then new wide screen process. Directional effects are present, but nowhere at the level of modern films. Alfred Newmanís stirring score is the definite highlight of the soundtrack, although fidelity is limited by the recording technology available more than five decades ago. The bottom end of the track is surprisingly robust when called upon. Dialogue is crisply rendered and generally easy to understand. An English Dolby Digital 4.0 channel soundtrack is also provided, as are French and Portuguese language tracks. Subtitles are available in Spanish, Portuguese, Thai, Cantonese, Mandarin and Korean.

Full motion video, animation and sound serve to enhance the disc's interactive menus. Through the menus, one has access to standard scene selection and set up features, as well as the supplements. Starting things off is an Introduction By Martin Scorsese. Next is a running Audio Commentary with film composer David Newman, as well as film historians Jon Burlingame, Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman. An Isolated Score is also present. Featurettes include: The Making Of The Robe, The CinemaScope Story and From Scripture To Script: The Bible And Hollywood. A vintage Audio Interview With Screenwriter Philip Dunne from 1969 is also featured, as are Newsreel Footage, Still Galleries and an Interactive Pressbook.

Next are the BonusView Picture-in-Picture viewing modes (requires a Profile 1.1 player). The Robe Times Two: A Comparison Of Widescreen And Standard Versions is pretty self-explanetory and show the compositional difference between the Ďscope and flat versions of the film. A Seamless Faith: The Real-Life Search For The Robe Featurettes offers the following programs: Inspiration, The Clothes Of Christ, Clothes In Biblical Times, Clothes Of A King, A Seamless Garment, The Robe On Page & Screen, The Robe And Politics, The Robe In Our World, The Robe In France & Russia and History Vs. Drama.

THE ROBE is a cinematic classic that occupies an important place in the history of movie making. Thanks to the Lowry Digital restoration, THE ROBE has been given a marvelous presentation on Blu-ray. Highly recommended.



The Robe [Blu-ray] (1953)


DVD & Blu-rayDisc reviews are Copyright © 2009 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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