The Robe
by Phil Boatwright

The Special Edition DVD release of this powerful 1953 sword, sandal and Christ epic (renown for being the first film shot in CinemaScope, a widescreen attempt to lure people away from that new home entertainment system - television) is now available and worth having in your home movie library.

]Based on the Lloyd C. Douglas novel, the episodic costume drama concerns a Roman centurion who wins Christ's robe in a dice game. Soon his life, and that of his slave, is changed as they discover Jesus to be the Savior of the world. We see Jesus through the use of long shots and camera angles that focus the attention not on an actor portraying Christ, but on the people who came into His presence. This method was effectively used in Ben Hur as well, giving both productions a great dignity. Richard Burton was nominated for an Oscar, but Victor Mature steals the picture with a moving performance as the converted slave, Demetrius. The depiction of the early church and the life-changing power of our Lord make this film worth viewing. The Special Edition contains several bonus features, including a Making Of featurette and a most interesting commentary track that focuses on the contribution of Alfred Newman, the film’s composer.

As for the “Making Of” featurette, those involved seemed more inclined to the political dynamic of the filmmakers than the spiritual significance of the book’s author. Lloyd C. Douglas, a former minister who generally put religious significance in his stories, is more or less dismissed by the commentators. They are determined to equate the struggles of the early Church with ‘50s McCarthyism. More insight is given to Communist sympathizers than to those who endured imprisonment and death because of this new religion, Christianity. But remember this when listening to those featured in the provocative, though myopic featurette, The Robe was the 4th highest grossing film of that decade. People weren’t sitting in the theater thinking, “Gee this is about blacklisting.” Moviegoers were being moved by the life-changing power of the Man from Galilee.

Not rated, the film contains several battle sequences and mature themes. However, governed by the then Motion Picture Code, the studio presented this adult subject matter with taste and discretion, two words seldom applied to today’s movie-making procedure.