The Robe

The Robe (1953)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Cast: Richard Burton, Jean Simmons, Victor Mature, Ernest Thesiger, Michael Rennie
Extras: Introduction, Commentary Track, Featurettes, Still Gallery, Movietonenews, Bonusview, Audio Interview

Hot on the heels of the phenomenal success of "Quo Vadis, " "The Robe" was another epic that took not only the biblical theme to heart, but also tried to exceed the prior movie's lavish production design. Arriving now in a wonderfully – and newly – restored transfer, it was time to check out "The Robe" on Blu-Ray.

Marcellus Gallio (Richard Burton) is a tribune in the Roman army – though he has achieved the high military rank more by way of relations than actual achievement. One day he affronts Caligula and the new Emperor-in-waiting instantly exiles him to Jerusalem, far away from Rome. Drinking and gambling his days away, Gallio one days receives the order to crucify a number of criminals – among them Jesus Christ. Following the ceremony, he then proceeds to win the rob of Jesus in a game of dice but when is slave Demetrius hands it to him, it is as if Gallio is being stung by the cloth and in the following days he is being driven nearly mad by visions and lapse of coherence.

Suspecting a curse, Emperor Tiberius orders Gallio to find the robe – which has since vanished together with Gallio's slave Demetrius – and destroy it. It leads Gallio back to the place where it all began, where he suddenly finds his faith and becomes part of the new religion emerging there – Christianity.

I had not seen "The Robe" in at least 20 years and had fond memories of the film. When I inserted the disc in my player I was immediately struck by the amazing transfer that greeted me, but quickly I found that the film does sadly not hold up very well as a movie these days. The biggest problem I have with it is the acting – Richard Burton in particular. His performance is so stilted throughout, and devoid of any real emotion that I found it near impossible to sit through the entire film. His barking out his lines at any given occasion, even when it would have required a bit of pensiveness, is exceedingly irritating. In the film he may have a regular conversation with someone and appears to be yelling at everyone around him for no obvious reason. As a result his character has no depth at all and his transformation cannot be taken seriously as he comes across as a flat, unlikeable character throughout the film.

Jean Simmons on the other hands is a radiant shining light in the film, but sadly she has only very limited on-screen time. She might have been able to carry the film better but her part is relatively small despite the importance of her character, while Victor Mature tried his best to act normal opposite of Burton's raving over-the-top antics.

Ultimately, as I mentioned above, I found it hard to watch the film to the end. I could have gotten over the razor-thin story and the aged stereotypes in the film – even over its moralistic lily-white Christian theme – but the acting simply killed it for me.

The transfer on the other hand is remarkable. I don't know how they did it, but the film looks spectacular in this high definition transfer. While there are a few shots where sharpness is an issue – mostly during the optically processed transitions – there are shots in the film that are jaw-dropping with their detail and splendid colors. The incredible level of detail and lack of overt grain makes the frequent use of matte paintings all the more evident, however, so be prepared to suspend your disbelief very consciously as you watch this film.

Presented in its original 2.40:1 widescreen aspect ratio, the image reveals solid contrasts that give the image good visual depth and renders shadows with just the right amount of definition. You will be stunned by the colors, however, as the hues and shades on the screen are leaping at you with amazing richness and vibrance.

The audio on the release has also been reworked, offering up even a 5.1 DTS HD Master Lossless track that adds a lot of thump to the presentation. While the dialogues are still a bit narrow-banded and come across as unnaturally harsh at times, overall the audio presentation is every bit as surprising as the video transfer with its clarity and complete lack of sibilance, noise or hiss.
Alfred Newman's score has also been remixed and offers a wide sound field that injects the track with a sparkle that you may not have heard before. For music fans, this Blu-Ray release even includes the isolated score of the film to enjoy undisturbed.

Among the other extras on the release is an introduction by Martin Scorsese and a commentary track featuring film historians and film composer David Newman as they discuss the history, the making and the legacy of the film and its elements.

A series of featurettes are also included covering various aspects of the filmmaking process – including a look at the emerging Cinemascope format at the time – as well as vintage audio interviews and movietone news.

As a very interesting extra, the release contains a picture-in-picture track also that gives you a chance to see the film in widescreen and fullframe side by side to get an understanding for the impact an altered aspect ratio can have on a movie. Fortunately with widescreen HDTV sets permeating the market this is no longer as much of an issue as it used to be in the past.

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment certainly went to great lengths here to create such a splendid presentation of this classic film, and spiced up with a number of great bonus features, this release certainly fits the bill of Easter-themed movies very well. Be forewarned, however, that the movie is exceedingly pompous and does not really measure up to today's expectations of what comprises a good movie. Like the robe in the film, it is actually the myth around it that makes it so magnificent.