El Cid (1961) – Anthony Mann

 

The recommendations for my viewing of Henry V for the Great Movies – 100 Years of Film book gets underway with this towering film from Anthony Mann. Charlton Heston and Sophia Loren headline in this three-hour epic that chronicles the life and times of El Cid, known in Spain as Rodrigo Diaz (Heston), a great hero, that rose up to defend the Christians and people of Spain from the attacking Moors.

I’ve never been a Heston fan, Planet of the Apes is about the only film I’ve ever liked him in, so three hours of him was going to be a lot. Than goodness there was lots of colorful pageantry and epic vistas to fill out the film, not to mention a gorgeous score by Miklos Rosza.

Rodrigo does his best to live peacefully, in fact he is on his way to his wedding to Jimena (Loren) when he finds himself immersed in a battle with some attacking Moors. When he spares the lives of those leading the attack, he infuriates the Church and Royalty, and is immediately accused of treason, losing the chance to marry Jimena, and facing her father in a duel of honor.

And though she loves him, she vows revenge for the death of her father. So this heightens the melodrama, as Diaz finds himself leading men, to protect his beloved country, and those who would rule it.

There is political intrigue as members of the royal family vie for the throne, betraying one another, and each of them asking Diaz for help. He remains loyal and true to his cause, instead striving to be what is best for Spain, and though this causes him more grief amongst the leaders of the country, it causes the people to rally to his side, and in fact win back Jimena.

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All of this plays out against fantastic sets, and locations, though everything is a little too colorful, none of the costumes look lived in and used, it’s all too Technicolor perfect. But that was the way things were in films.

Heston is competent as El Cid, but I simply couldn’t buy into his performance, but that’s a personal bias, not a real judgment on his acting abilities.

I do like how much there is going on in this film, yes Rodrigo is at the center of it, but there is a plethora of characters with tons happening around him. There could have been a few moments of levity interspersed throughout, but everything, instead, is played with a gravitas that actually heightens the melodrama.

Overall, it was a solid film, and yet another one of those that I had heard about and never seen, but it’s also not one I could see sitting down and watching again. I’m glad I saw it, check it off, but lets move on to something with less Heston.

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