New on DVD: The Robe

If one thing can be said about productions from the 1950s, it’s that they weren’t afraid of going big.

Marcellus Gallio (Richard Burton) is a Roman tribune in the time of Christ. To irk his rival, he purchases a slave (Victor Mature) at an auction for an outrageous price, and then allows him to work without restraints or physical force. During a trip to Palestine, Marcellus is ordered to crucify Jesus. Afterwards, during a poker game, he wins his first “trophy” – Christ’s robe. However, contact with it makes him ill and plagues him with nightmares. Hoping to make amends and free himself of this infection, he returns to Palestine to learn about Christ despite his disbelief in him.

The Robe was the first film shot in Cinemascope, allowing for wide landscapes without the need for extra screens. Unfortunately, this is the only extraordinary element about the movie. The narrative progresses slowly, causing the viewer to be aware of every one of its 133 minutes. The battle between Marcellus and his rival is well done, as was most sword fighting of the period, and the atmosphere is right. Unfortunately, the story doesn’t measure up.

The DVD special features include two featurettes: “The Making of The Robe” and “The Cinemascope Story,” both of which discuss the production in hindsight. The gallery includes stills as well as an interactive pressbook, which is viewed page-by-page and gives the option of zooming in to read the text that accompanies the dramatic photos. The feature commentary is provided by film composer David Newman (son of The Robe’s composer Alfred Newman) and film historians Jon Burlingame, Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman, all of whom provide interesting insights into the film’s production and music. The film can also be watched with only Newman’s score on the soundtrack.

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