The Robe 1953 - Movie Review
THE SCREEN: 'THE ROSE' SHOWN IN CEMASCOPE; Movie Based on Douglas' Novel Stars Richard Burton, Jean Simmons, Victor Mature Much-Heralded Film Process Gives Viewers a Smashing Display of Spectacle
By BOSLEY CROWTHER
Published: September 17, 1953
Twentieth Century-Fox removed the wrappings last night from its much-heralded CinemaScope production of "The Robe" and revealed a historical drama less compelling than the process by which it is shown. This huge motion picture re-creation in color of the late Lloyd C. Douglas' rich tale of early Christian converts was put on view on the Roxy's new giant screen and proved in itself to be essentially a smashing display of spectacle.
The panoply and splendor of Emperor Tiberius' Rome, the turbulence of Jerusalem and the dustiness of the Holy Land have never been shown with more magnificence or sweep on a movie screen than they are on the great arching panel installed for the showing of "The Robe." And the mightiness of masses and the forms of heroes have never loomed so large as they do in this studied demonstration, projected by CinemaScope. But an unwavering force of personal drama is missed in the size and the length of the show, and a full sense of spiritual experience is lost in the physicalness of the display.
Physical Action Stressed
This is not hard to fathom. The adaptation that Gina Kaus has made from Mr. Douglas' best-selling novel and the screen play that Philip Dunne has penned have emphasized physical action more than the drama of feelings and words. The power of Christ's presence and spirit upon a Roman tribune's slave and then, in time, upon the tribune is not developed in clear dramatic terms; it is simply presented as an assumption upon which the subsequent action turns. The consequence is that the inspiration of the spirt, which is the key to the story that is told, is a matter of sheer deduction from the surge of music and the expressions in eyes.
And when these eyes appear in faces that often loom upon the screen in close-ups of mammoth proportions, and when the music surges and swells from magnified multiple speakers that make up the system's stereophonic sound, the violent assault upon the senses dissipates spiritual intimacy.
Likewise, the slowness of the pacing through many of the major sequences and the intricacies of the plotting, which run the picture for more than two hours, tend to affect the burdened senses with a feeling of frank monotony.
However, the vastness of the images upon the sixty-eight by twenty-four-foot screen, the eye-filling vigor of the action and the beauty of some of the shots compensate with fascinations and excitements that keep the customer upright in his chair. And the performances by the actors are—all things considered—remarkably good.
Richard Burton, the young English actor who distinguished himself previously in Twentieth Century Fox "My Cousin Rachel," is stalwart, spirited and stern as the arrogant Roman tribune who has command of the crucifixion of Christ and who eventually becomes a passionate convert through an obsession about the Savior's robe. Jean Simmons is lovely and impassioned as the Roman maid who loves this headstrong man, Victor Mature is muscular and moody as the early converted Greek slave.
Michael Rennie is solemn and transcendent as Simon Called Peter, whom they call "the big fisherman"; Dean Jagger is full of piety as a humble convert and Jay Robinson is warped and shrill as Caligula. Several other actors comport themselves in minor roles according to the moods of the occasions that Director Henry Koster has decreed.
It is notable that Christ is seen only as a wide-robed figure on a distant hill and a tormented, indistinguishable victim burdened beneath the heavy Cross. In this respect the picture has dignity and restraint.
As for the esthetic nature and cinematic potential of CinemaScope, it is evident that the system has the advantage of great pictorial range. The expanse of the screen across the theatre gives opportunity for panoramic scenes of overwhelming beauty. And in medium shots, such as one here in which four horses charge toward the camera, there may be developed great power. The shape of the screen—wide and narrow—makes for occasional oppressiveness. A sense of the image being pressed down and drawn out inevitably occurs. Close-ups, too, become oppressive. However, the system seems fully flexible, and some exciting employments of it may be anticipated confidently.