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Some people say that THE ROBE ($20) is a creaky old religious epic that doesn’t 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 fairly enjoyable motion picture experience. Additionally, THE ROBE does hold 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 fifties 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 in 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 Emperor’s 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 man’s 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 love, 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 DVD in a 2.55:1 wide screen presentation that has been enhanced for playback on 16:9 displays. Most of the time, the transfer is a tad soft and a little grainy. Long shots are especially problematic and appear particularly soft. Close ups and medium shots look about the best, offering up reasonable levels of sharpness and detail. However, individual close ups and medium shots that contain optical transitions appear softer, grainier and have slightly skewed colors. A lot of the time, the transfer provides very vivid colors that sometimes approach the appearance of an IB Technicolor print. Other times, however, the colors can take on a mildly faded appearance. Neither chroma noise nor bleeding caused any serious concerns. Blacks are accurately rendered, although shadow detail is rather lacking. Clean dual layer authoring precluded noticeable incidents with digital compression artifacts.

I don’t want to give the impression that THE ROBE is an unwatchable mess. It is far from it. However, I have to say that the film elements for THE ROBE are not in great shape, which prevents this new transfer from producing a truly superior quality image. THE ROBE is in need of an expensive film restoration, which would bring back the movie’s original luster and minimize all the signs of age, from the excessive grain to image softness to numerous blemishes at reel changes. Whether a restoration is practical or even possible is something that the studio will have to determine.

For this release THE ROBE is presented with a Dolby Digital 4.0 channel soundtrack that encompasses the original 4 channel stereo mix. The mix has a fairly big "fifties sound" that favors the forward soundstage. As with many other CinemaScope films of the same period, THE ROBE features some directional dialogue, which enhances the "big" wide screen image of the process. The dialogue is always understandable and this portion of the track has aged pretty well. Alfred Newman’s stirring music is the definite highlight of the soundtrack, although one will find some of the expected frequency limitations associated with a motion picture that is about to celebrate its fiftieth anniversary. I wouldn’t say the music has a harsh quality, but the sound seems to favor the upper mid frequencies. An English stereo surround and French monaural track have also been encoded on the DVD. Subtitles are provided in English and Spanish. The basic interactive menus provide access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as a theatrical trailer and bonus trailers.

THE ROBE is good old-fashioned Hollywood entertainment. The move and the presentations do have some problems, but I think that film buffs will find the DVD worth checking out. Until a major restoration is undertaken or a pristine film element is unearthed, I doubt that THE ROBE will look any better than this DVD offering.


The Robe


DVD reviews are Copyright 2001 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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