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THE ROBE (1953)


After years of losing their audience to the new television medium, 20th Century Fox fired a powerful shot for Hollywood with the first film released in CinemaScope. Richard Burton stars as a fictionalized version of the Roman centurion who supervised Christ’s crucifixion and won His robe gambling at the foot of the cross. Guilt and the power of the miraculous garment convert him to Christianity, leading him to defy the Roman Empire in the name of faith. RKO had bought the screen rights to Lloyd C. Douglas’ massive bestseller in 1942, but the studio’s failing fortunes made filming the story impossible. Eventually, they sold the rights to Fox, which envisioned the story on a massive scale. Originally it was to be shot in standard Academy ratio, but the studio halted production after only one week. When they went back to work, they shot each scene twice—once in CinemaScope and once “flat,” for theaters that had not converted to the new system. The large images dazzled audiences, even if, at first, it meant working without close-ups. The studio filled the wider image with an impressive array of period sets and costumes, both of which would win Oscars. The risk paid off when it became the biggest hit of its year. (d. Henry Koster, 135m, 35mm)

THE ROBE has been restored by the Academy Film Archive and Twentieth Century Fox with funding provided by The Film Foundation.

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