The Robe (1953)
|Year Of Production||1953|
|RSDL / Flipper||RSDL (57:17)||Cast & Crew|
|Region Coding||2,4||Directed By||Henry Koster|
Twentieth Century Fox
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||None||English Dolby Digital 4.0 L-C-R-S (384Kb/s)|
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||2.55:1|
|Video Format||576i (PAL)|
|Original Aspect Ratio||2.55:1||Miscellaneous|
English for the Hearing Impaired
|Annoying Product Placement||No|
|Action In or After Credits||No|
Often thought of as subtle US Christian propaganda, The Robe (1953) is perhaps best remembered as the quintessential biblical epic of the 1950s. It was designed to lure Americans out of their homes and away from this new-fangled invention called television (by some accounts, there were about ten million television sets sold in the US between 1947 and 1950). Before the movie industry recognised television as a powerful companion, they feared it greatly. Thus movies had to offer something more. Colour became important, stereo sound became more important, 'movie stars' became more important, as did gimmicks, such as 3D glasses. Televisions had adopted the same standard as movies (1.33:1), so movies got wider. As a result, we get epic widescreen movies in glorious colour, such as The Robe (aspect ratio of 2.55:1) and Ben-Hur (aspect ratio of 2.76:1).
The Robe was based on Lloyd C. Douglas's 1943 novel of the same name, which in turn was inspired by events in the Bible's New Testament. It is the story of a Roman tribune, Marcellus Gallio (Richard Burton), during the reigns of the Emperors Tiberius and Caligula. After insulting Caligula (Jay Robinson), Gallio is posted to Jerusalem. He is one of the Roman officers in charge of the crucifixion of Jesus. During the crucifixion, Jesus' robe is taken from him, and Gallio wins it in a game of dice. The robe starts to affect him deeply, and Gallio believes that the robe is bewitched. But soon, with the help of his Christian slave Demetrius (Victor Mature), Marcellus begins to question his spiritually bankrupt life, and Rome's cruelty. There is also a sub-plot involving a love story between Marcellus and his long time friend Diana (Jean Simmons).
Victor Mature once remarked that he couldn't act, and that he had over fifty movies to prove it! Well this is one of them, but he is not alone here. The acting is fairly wooden throughout, and often resembles a high-school play. Even the great Richard Burton manages to be quite hammy at times, although all the actors in these sword 'n' Bible epics tend to be overly serious and far too earnest at the best of times. Only Jay Robinson breathes any life into this movie performance wise, and this rather slowly paced story comes alive when he is on screen.
Considering that the movie is now about fifty years old, the transfer is reasonable, but I wish that there had been more of an effort in restoring the source material.
The tag-line for the film originally was: "The first motion picture in CinemaScope--the modern miracle you see without glasses!" Widescreen Museum notes that "Fox were trying to equate CinemaScope to 3-D. Reviewers and optical gurus all around the world tried to explain how this new process could be 3-D without projecting two images and wearing glasses. . . . The explanation was that since the new CinemaScope screens were curved, (a really, really slight curve), each eye saw the image in a slightly different dimension, thus creating the three dimensional effect. Of course that is absolute nonsense".
The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.55:1, 16x9 enhanced.
The sharpness of the image is variable, and often is very soft and grainy. The black level and shadow detail is poor, and an example of this can be seen during a scene in a dark passageway at 27:27. There is also some low level noise on occasion, such as at 92:41.
The colour also varies a great deal, but generally has been muted with age. The brightness of the image also varies, especially just before or just after a scene change. There is what appears to be chroma noise at 22:46.
It is often hard to separate the MPEG artefacts from problems with the source material. A scene involving smoke demonstrates some pixelization (20:42), and faces occasionally suffer from posterization (127:03). There is also some macro-blocking on occasion (27:32).
Unlike Ben-Hur, there are no major problems with telecine wobble, but there is aliasing, such as the shimmer on the background stairs at 8:20.
The major problem for this movie is film artefacts. There are more of these during this movie than perhaps every other DVD I have ever seen combined. They appear constantly through the movie, usually with multiple artefacts on screen at any given moment. Some are quite large. For example, the scene at 12:37 displays a shotgun splatter of white flecks sprayed across the screen. Of course one must keep in mind that the source material is about fifty years old, but the transfer of Ben-Hur certainly does not have this problem to this degree.
Many of the backgrounds are matte paintings, and there is a fair bit of edge enhancement. For example, white halos appear around the characters at 18:59 and 87:59.
There are twelve sets of subtitles on the DVD, and the English subtitles are accurate, but slightly simplified.
This is a RSDL disc, with the layer change placed between Chapters 9 and 10, at 57:17. It is possibly one of the best layer changes I have seen (or not seen). I had to watch the movie a third time specifically to spot it. In the movie, the scene ends and fades to black. The sound is silent, and then bang -- layer change. Very well placed indeed.
The original CinemaScope version featured what was known as '4-track magnetic stereo', but the movie was later re-released with 6-track sound for the 70mm version. The DVD features only one audio option, an English Dolby Digital 4.0 audio track, which is similar to Dolby Digital stereo-surround.
The dialogue quality and audio sync are good, and the movie features the 'panning voices' that were popular during this era of movie-making. For example during a scene at 14:31, Gallio has a conversation with his father. Gallio's voice comes out of the centre and left speaker, as he is standing to the left of the screen, while his father, who is standing in the middle, has his voice come out of the centre speaker only.
The musical score is credited to Alfred Newman, and is the usual sword 'n' sandal epic cliché featuring a sweeping, melodramatic orchestral score and soaring religious choral voices.
The surround sound mix is very front-heavy, and one of the strangest that I have ever heard. The rear speakers sleep through most of the movie, but then at odd moments, such as during a storm or during particular crowd scenes they suddenly come alive very loudly. It is most distracting, for whenever it happened, it broke my concentration. An example of this is the thunder clap at 23:12.
My subwoofer appeared to snooze throughout this movie.
|Surround Channel Use|
A very simple menu, presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, 16x9 enhanced, with no audio enhancement.
This two minute and one second trailer is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.55:1, 16x9 enhanced, with Dolby Digital stereo.
NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.
The Robe was released on DVD in Region 1 in October, 2001.
The Region 4 DVD misses out on:
The Region 1 DVD misses out on:
I would call it even in general, although personally I favour the local release for its affordability, and its superior PAL image.
Many people would have seen The Robe a few times on television over the years, but like most movies, you haven't really seen it until you have seen it in widescreen. This movie is an important part of cinema history, and as such, is a must-see for movie buffs, or those after a Christian story.
The video quality is disappointing but still watchable.
The audio quality is acceptable considering the age of the source material..
The extras are very slim.
|DVD||Pioneer DV-535, using S-Video output|
|Display||Grundig Elegance 82-2101 (82cm, 16x9). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.|
|Audio Decoder||Built in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.|
|Amplification||Sony STR DE-545|
|Speakers||Sony SS-V315 x5; Sony SA-WMS315 subwoofer|