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El Cid

My fascination with El Cid goes back to high school, where the school library had a beat-up paperback novelization of Samuel Bronston's epic movie - from a time when that term meant something. I read it, loved it and in the days before home video (gasp), had no way of actually seeing the movie.

So when the Weinstein Company announced that they would be giving this movie a lavish home video treatment, my response to their publicity company was almost visceral. I turned into Charlton Heston, gritting out "yyyyyyess! A thousand times yes! I have ….wwwwaited my whole life to see this …mmmmovie."

The package was worth the wait.

Directed by Anthony Mann, El Cid has all the strengths and weaknesses of the classic epic movie - first and foremost an incredibly macho performance by Heston. The insanely chiseled thespian growls and barks both tender sympathies and oaths before God. Such films would have created Heston if they had not already had him.

Sweeping across the landscape of early sixties Spain, El Cid tells the tale of the nation's (literally) Epic Hero, Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar. A Christian knight who allied himself with Muslims to unite Spain, the man called El Cid speaks to the heroic ideals of Spain. Never tempted, never wavering, El Cid embodies nobility, and the simplicity of the film's morality feels pretty good for three hours or so.

In fact, the message of the film, if not its pacing, feels pretty timely. Rodrigo urges Christians and Muslims to freely mingle, at one point enjoying a feast and commenting to Moutamin (Douglas Wilmer), "you'll make a Muslim out of me yet!" From out of the past, Heston causes himself to spin in his own grave. (Yes, I know he's not dead yet; it's a joke.)

The two forces unite against a fanatical Muslim leader, Ben Yussuf, whose armies sweep upwards out of Northern Africa. Heck, watch this and you might learn a little something about geography. Certainly, you'll appreciate the composition of the landscape, as the film captures the vistas of Spain in gorgeously restored color.

There's also internal intrigue, as El Cid tries to mold a treacherous young prince into a worthy king of all the land. Though occasionally heavy-handed, the script has a few simple insights into what makes a decent leader.

But don't take my word for granted. The film bears Martin Scorsese's imprimatur as "…one of the finest epics ever made." One of the architects behind its restoration, Scorsese may gush a little too much, enthusing about the anti-chemistry of Heston and Sophia Loren working in the film's favor. A featurette reveals that Heston could barely make eye contact with the love of Rodrigo's life, and in more than one scene, that comes across.

Still, El Cid stands almost as a lost classic, and the package put together as part of the Weinstein's first "Miriam Collection" release delivers almost as much as the Family Guy: Blue Harvest boxed set. Including reproductions of both the initial program for the film (from the days when movies would have such things) and a small-sized reprinting of the Dell Comics adaptation. Okay, for comic book fans, it's a reminder of how lucky we are today with movie-related adaptations, because today's market requires…oh, what's the word …creativity. The comic included here is pretty dogged, literal and possibly traced from installments of Prince Valiant, yet in 1961, it was probably pretty thrilling.

The package gives a great glimpse into film and marketing history, also including the original trailer for comparison to the restored version. Of course, I'm biased. For over half my life, I've waited to see El Cid ride his white horse into history, and now… now I'm satisfied.

El Cid - 2-Disc Limited Collector's Edition

Derek McCaw

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