Habits, we all have them. Sometimes it’s watching a particular film at Christmas time. Or maybe it’s watching a certain number of films at Easter. For me I’ve watched The Ten Commandments every year since I was 12. Sometimes it was with beer and pizza, but most of the time it was not. The habit of watching the film began when my mom would have “the girls” over for Bridge club. The Bridge club got together every month, and when it was time for my mom to host the monthly game they descended on my house with avengence. The noise level would skyrocket as the girls exchanged gossip they had saved up for an entire month, and each one tried to be louder than the person next to them. My father and I immediately retreated into the basement. Sometimes we were accompanied by the family dog, but most of the time he went upstairs to fall asleep on my bed.
Easter was a time for two, and sometimes three films. The Ten Commandments was always #1 on the hit parade. The Robe was one of my fathers favorites followed by another film with Anthony Quinn called Barrabas. I didn’t know it until just last month when I bought The Robe on DVD but when the film was being made two versions were made. Some theaters simply could not make or afford the conversion to Cinemascope so a full screen version of the film was shot. Blocking, lighting etc., all had to be changed for the full screen version. It simply wasn’t as spectacular.
Cinemascope was marvel to behold. The screen was enormous. It was 86% wider than it was tall. Consequently a long shot and a close up shot could be done at the same time. If a horse race started on the left half of the screen you would have to turn your head to see the horses on the right side of the screen. I wish I could see The Robe on a Cinemascope screen. The DVD version, while enhanced, cleaned up ( dirt and scratches removed ), with some pretty impressive color correction just doesn’t do the film justice. This is a film meant for the really big screen.
The Robe made the transition from the really big screen to the really small screen or TV on Easter weekend in 1967. My dad told me I was really going to be impressed. “The Girls” arrived around 6:30 PM, we retreated about 6:45, and the film started at seven. In very unusual move the film was aired with only one commercial break. It isn’t a long film, it’s only 133 minutes long – 2 hrs. 13 minutes, so I guess whoever decided to air it wanted the whole family to see it. I don’t think my dad was impressed with the flat, full screen version. He had expected the Cinemascope version.
The Robe was the first film released in Cinemascope, but it not the first film produced in Cinemascope. That honor goes to the film How To Marry a Millionaire. HTMAM was finished first, but Twentieth Century Fox wanted The Robe released first as they had so much money tied up in the film and in retro-fitting theaters with the special screen.
Richard Burton, Jean Simmons, Victor Mature, Michael Rennie were the big names associated with the film, but ninety percent of the cast were made up of character actors, actors who have one very distinctive feature about them (actors that make you say or think “I know that voice ! I didn’t know he was in this film”), and actors just starting their careers.
Richard Burton was just getting started when he did the film The Robe. However, he well on his way to becoming an alcoholic, and a ladies man. When Liz Taylor first met him she was very unimpressed with him, “he never stopped talking, and he was rather full of himself”.
Burton played a Roman Centurion who had a ravenous taste for the grape. And an eye for the ladies. But that’s where the similarities stopped. He apparently didn’t like making The Robe, and at times it shows. At times he’s very stiff and proper, and at times he’s wooden and very uncomfortable. He doesn’t give a consistent performance. He may have been good on stage, but on screen his performance is pretty helter-skelter. While sets were prepared for filming Victor Mature taught him how to play Craps. They were caught gambling behind unused sets several times.
Having watched Ernest Thesiger in The Bride of Frankenstein, as well as many others of the Universal studio classic movie monsters, I was surprised to see him tied up in a biblical film of this magnitude. His role is pretty insignificant in comparison to others in the film, but when I watched the film on DVD it was pretty hard to believe the actor on the screen was the same man who played the role of the undertaker in the film A Christmas Carol (1951) or Dr. Pretorius in The Bride Of Frankenstein (1935).
When I was watching the film I thought I recognized someone. It’s the guy in purple. He is not given any credits. . But if you were brought up in the sixties you saw him regularly – every week on the hit TV show I Dream Of Jeannie as Dr. Bellows. Hayden Rorke was no spring chicken to the stage having begun his
career in the thirties. He made his first film, This Is The Army, in 1943. He later starred in An American in Paris with Gene Kelly, Pillow Talk with Doris Day and Rock Hudson, and in one of the first disaster films When Worlds Collide with Barbara Rush.
This next fellow is somebody you saw on almost every TV show. He played Judas in The Robe, but is probably best know for having created the character Kang on Star Trek in the sixties, and reprising the character on Star Trek:Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. He appeared in the Irwin Allen film Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, its spin off TV series, as well as Lost In Space, and The Time Tunnel. Ansara was married in the fifties for a very brief period to the late Jean Byron who was the mom on The Patty Duke Show. He was married to Barbara Eden from 1958 to 1974. Michael appeared on The Untouchables, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Perry Mason, The Outer Limits, I Dream of Jeannie, the original Hawaii Five-O, the Centennial mini-series, and supplied the voice of “Mr. Freeze” in the animated Batman series.