Written by El Puerquito Magnifico
If the term “epic film” is ever introduced into the dictionary, it should be accompanied by a reproduction of the poster for El Cid, Samuel Bronston’s masterpiece, which has finally been given the grandiose DVD release it so richly deserves.
The film, directed by Anthony Mann, was released in 1961 and stars Charlton Heston and Sophia Loren. It tells the tale of Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar, the legendary hero of Spain. This true story is set in the 11th century, and begins with Rodrigo stumbling into a battle between Christians and Moors on his way to his wedding. He takes several Emirs captive and, deciding to show compassion rather than continue the bloodshed, decides to let them go. It is this act of compassion that earns him the title “El Cid” (which means “The Lord” or “The Leader,” from the Arabic “El Seid), because he is both a merciful lord and ruthless fighter. This act of mercy also brings charges of treason against him, and inadvertently causes his betrothed, Chimene (played by Sophia Loren) to despise him.
El Cid follows Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar throughout the rest of his days: his journey to clear his name and become the king’s champion, his exile at the hands of a corrupt ruler, and his attempts to unite Spain. It is a truly epic adventure, and the scope of this movie is nothing short of amazing. But throughout all of this, the film never loses sight of the human side of the story and the tale of star crossed lovers Rodrigo and Chemine. El Cid tells the tale of a man who became a hero, a leader, a legend and then a myth.
I didn’t want to repeat myself too much in this review, so I consulted a thesaurus to find synonyms for the word “epic.” Astronomic, colossal, prodigious, and sizable were all suitable words, and none of them can truly describe this film. The scale is just plain huge, and the detail and craftsmanship are amazing. The costumes, weaponry, sets and locations are absolutely breathtaking, and become even more so when you realize there are approximately 7,000 cast members. This is long before the days of CGI, so when you see a massive battle taking place, those are all real living, breathing human beings, not computer generated images. Each and every sword, cloak, helmet and suit of armor is historically accurate and painstakingly detailed. It’s awesome.
The only downfall of this film, if it can be perceived as such, is that it was made in 1961, and as a result, the style of storytelling and especially the acting, may be considered a bit dated or over-the-top by younger viewers. If this minor detail gets in the way of anyone’s enjoyment of the film, it is simply a matter of taste, and is really the fault of the viewer, rather than the filmmakers. On a personal level, I have to say that I’m a bit disappointed in the fact that I was born 15 years after this movie was released, and never had the chance to see it on the big screen, as it was meant to be seen. This movie ranks up there with Spartacus, The Ten Commandments or Ben-Hur. It is, quite simply, a classic.
The limited-edition collector’s DVD set is just as epic as the film, which is so big it had to be split between two discs. The discs are packaged in a really classy-looking collector’s case, and the film has been digitally remastered and loaded with extras. Included on the first DVD are the movie with commentary from Bill Bronston (son of producer Samuel) and Neal M. Rosendorf (historian and Bronston biographer), vintage radio interviews with Charlton Heston and Sophia Loren, still galleries, and filmographies. The second disc includes the second half of the movie (with commentary), and several documentaries.
“Hollywood Conquers Spain: The Making of El Cid” contains interviews with the stars, filmmakers and historians regarding the movie’s production. “Samuel Bronston: The Epic Journey of a Dreamer” is the life story of the man who also produced several other epic films from the olden days of Hollywood. Also included are brief documentaries on director Anthony Mann and composer Miklós Rózsa, as well as an interview with Gerry Byrne, who had a hand in remastering El Cid for its DVD release.
Also included are several little postcard-sized pictures from the film, a huge book about the making of the movie, and even a Dell Comics adaptation of the film. If you enjoy classic films of a bygone era, you will surely love El Cid, and if you are a longtime fan who has been waiting for this movie to receive a proper release on DVD, your wait is over: El Cid has arrived.