If you’re a film nerd, you know the answer: The first film to be released in cinemascope. The Question: What is The Robe.
Though a wider aspect ratio had been with cinema for quite some time (Abel Gance’s 1927 film Napoleon ends with the screen going to triptych, with three projectors running) In the 1950s, with the rise of television, the studios were desperate to reclaim their hold on the American people. To a certain extent they failed, but just the same, their big solution was changing the aspect ratio to something different than television. And so the screen went to somewhere around 2.35:1. Initially cinemascope was a bit wider than that, as The Robe was 2.55:1, where other inventions, like Cinerama went 2.89:1, MGM’s Camera 65 for Ben-Hur went 2.76:1, whereas the Vistavision format generally went around 1.96:1. This then led to an intermediate ratio, which became 1.85:1, or what is now generally framed at 1.78:1, or 16 by 9. Ironically, television has gone widescreen, and both are heading towards digital. This is my gearheaded-ness, I’m sort of fascinated with all the aspect ratios, from Tohoscope to Dynascope
But nowadays, heh, the studios are gearing up towards 3-D, so there is a sense of a return to this heyday.
The Robe is not a very good movie, but the transfer of it to Blu-ray is worth a gander, if you’re curious. Richard Burton plays one of the centurions who crucified Jesus, but after dealing with some that He saved, and Demetrius (Victor Mature) and Peter (Michael Rennie), he comes to see that Jesus of Nazareth was actually the Christ.
What makes this film worth anything is the production design and the cinematography. Literally they didn’t know what they were doing or how to approach the frame, and so it doesn’t look or feel like anything else, and I really enjoyed looking at how they worked with focus, which was the biggest struggle with the anamorphic process. But the film is stagey, preachy and boring.
Twentieth Century Fox rolled out the red carpet for the film, and they even got Martin Scorsese to do an introduction (1 min.), who talks more about the size than the film itself. The film comes in its original 2.55:1 aspect ratio, and a new DTS-HD 5.1 surround mix. The film comes with a commentary by film Composer David Newman (whose father composed the score), and historians Jon Burlingame, Julie Kirgo, and Nick Redman. You can also listen to the score in an isolated track. There’s a making of (31 min.), and then “The Cienmascope Story” (19 min.), and “From Scripture to Script: The Bible and Hollywood” (25 min.). There’s an audio interview with screenwriter Phillip Dunne (22 min.), and then Bonusview, one in which they talk about the aspect ratio, the other where they talk about the real life search for the Robe. The second one can be watched in a play all function (38 Min.). There’s a section for the adverts for the film, with introductions by celebrities (Dan Dailey, Richard Widmark, Susan Hayworth, Robert Wagner, Clifton Webb 2 min.), a five movieone News clips (6 min.), two trailers, an interactive pressbook, a poster gallery, lobby cards, and publicity stills.