The Robe Reviews
The action scenes are few and far between, but they have actual weight and consequence behind them.
I believe this was one of the first films stop in Cinemascope, and it looks great. The settings, wardrobe, the million extras, fill the wondrous landscape.
Women will probably not like this film because his girlfriend is THE MOST loyal woman to ever be on screen. She converts to Christianity at the last second even though it will mean her death, simply because she knows she can't live without her boyfriend. Other than that, it's quite enjoyable.
While it may not be as entertaining as Ben-Hur, The Robe delves into the psychological torment of guilt, honor and redemption.
One has to question just how formulaic this epic Roman drama is, because the formula was still fresh by the time this film came along, establishing certain tropes that would be shamelessly slammed into by future epics of this type time and again, and yet, outside of what would go on to become conventions, this film does most of what you'd expect, with a predictable narrative, storytelling style, dialogue, and, for that matter, portrayal of Ancient Rome. This film, like others of its nature and era, gets a little bit carried away with its contrived, simplified portrayal of Ancient Rome, with sophisticated, but near-cheesily overblown dialogue, and character types. I don't know how thin these characters are, as they are rich historical figures and are very often very well-portrayed, but there is something lacking about the expository aspects of Philip Dunne's, Gina Kaus' and Albert Maltz's script, which pays little mind to secondary characters, and isn't even all that layered with the leads, who, to a lesser extent, join most all other characters in supplementing a sense of melodrama. The film even gets manipulative with its portrayal of history and historical figures, so it should come as no surprise that nearly all dramatic elements of this epic, while generally well-portrayed through solid direction and acting, are riddled with cloying histrionics, which are at their worst during the flat romantic segments headed by Richard Burton and the lovely Jean Simmons, but found to some extreme throughout the final product, trying too hard to salvage a resonance that would be better off if the writing conformed to the subtlety of Henry Koster's direction. Well, Koster's direction is far from consistently subtle, or at least graceful in its subtlety, for there are times in which thoughtfulness leads to a blandness that is among the last things a film this problematically written needs, but cannot avoid, due to limp touches to the - you guessed it - writing, which I was expecting to be tighter in this ambitious epic of only about 135 minutes. Momentum is sound more often than not, but when it drags, it limps, and not just under the weight of questionable pacing, for one's investment faces other challenges through all of the conventions and cheesiness which threaten the final product. It does come down to the script, which is so flawed, and fitting for a lesser film, one that isn't rewarding inspired in most every other department, including the musical one.
The awards made some questionable decisions when it came to recognizing this film, and among the most questionable, in my opinion, was a lack of recognition for the score by the great Alfred Newman, who hit some conventions and contrivances, but did what he did best by breaking down a lot of barriers for epic scoring sensibilities at the time to come up with refreshing and stellar compositions whose symphonic beauty is remarkable by its own right, and important in the selling of the sweep of this film. More important in that department is the debut of a CinemaScope visual style, which cinematographer Leon Shamroy anchors through often hauntingly precise coloration and lighting, in addition to a tight scope which is intimate and grand enough to immerse you into George Davis' and Lyle R. Wheeler's Oscar-winning art direction, which is immersive enough by its own right, utilizing Paul S. Fox's and Walter M. Scott's impeccable set decoration and Charles LeMaire's and Emile Santiago's costume designs to restore the look of Ancient Rome - from its high society to simple villages - lavishly. When it comes to aesthetic and production value, this film is a triumph, almost a masterpiece, at least for its time, remaining, to this day, a marvel whose style and technical proficiency compliment entertainment value and immerse you into a distinguished world and story. It may not be especially unique, even in concept, and its scripted interpretation may be a mess of contrivances and fat around the edges, but this story is a thoroughly intriguing one, which juggles epic sweep with rich intimacy as a study on the man behind Christ's crucifixion's coming to embrace the sacred man he killed through a guilt which drives him into dangerous circumstances, thus, there is a rewarding potential that would have been lost if it wasn't for Henry Koster. Koster's efforts are themselves contrived and superficial in a lot of places, and when they're not, their subtlety is somewhat blanding, although that reflects a delicacy that isn't in the overblown script, and is focused enough to orchestrate style into frequent entertainment value, and to draw biting dramatic tension and resonance through taste and a celebration of onscreen talent. Now, a lot of the performances don't help a sense of melodrama, for a number of supporting performances fall flat, but the leads nevertheless deliver as best they can, whether it be Victor Mature as a struggling, but wise slave who holds passion and fury over the demise of a great man, or leading man Richard Burton as a militant man of admiration, love, and guilt, which Burton sells through an impassioned and layered performance. By no means can I promise that everyone will embrace this film, as its script is so problematic, and its strengths aren't particularly upstanding, but their subtle impact goes a long way in overcoming shortcomings through quality aesthetic and dramatic value which make this a worthy epic.
All in all, the film is plenty conventional, even in a portrayal of Ancient Rome that is about as thin as a lot of the characterization, and as contrived as the melodramatics which slow down the impact of momentum almost as much as dull and draggy spells, thus making for a script whose shortcomings are challenged well enough by a powerful score, immersively beautiful visual style, solid direction, and strong lead acting for Henry Koster's "The Robe" to stand as an adequately rewarding and very intriguing study on the impact Christ had even on those who brought about his demise.
3/5 - Good