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.
Cid - 2-Disc Limited Collector's Edition