El Cid (1961 United States/Spain)

elcidAn epic in every sense of the word, `El Cid’, boasts everything one would expect to find in a film of its kind: huge crowd scenes, massive battle sequences, and a strong, controlled presence at its core. It achieves the latter in the form of Charlton Heston, who has carried as many epics on his back as has any actor in Hollywood history.

The script is ambitious, but the supporting characters are unremarkable & the proceedings are routine. The whole thing feels as if it were put together from random components. The plot is not so much a flowing narrative as a collection of isolated incidents. It begins with eleventh century Spaniard Rodrigo (Heston) journeying homeward to his intended bride (Sophia Loren), and along the way becoming involved in a battle with the Moors. His willingness to spare the lives of Moorish prisoners brands him as a traitor, but earns him the title of El Cid, one who is fair and merciful. Through his strength and courage, he clears his name and becomes the king’s champion. However, when the king dies and his sons fight bitterly for the throne, Rodrigo is forced to take a stance. This lands him and Loren in exile, but his loyal band of warriors are still willing to follow the charismatic leader.

maxresdefaultAfter a number of battles with the Moors, his army grows to nationwide proportions and he is welcomed back by his king. All this leads up to one defining battle that could drive the Moors from Spain once and for all. El Cid lives again in Heston’s commanding performance, a solid piece of work which fuels the long, often taxing story. Heston has been in enough movies of this kind to know exactly how to ground them, and it is because of him that the film holds the viewer’s attention throughout. There are plenty of familiar British character actors like David Lodge, Hurd Hatfield, Michael Horden and Douglas Wilmer. You will also spot the great Czech actor, Herbert Lom, playing a crazed Moorish military leader.

Sophia Loren has little to do but appear in close-up after close-up, expressing anger, concern, and sacrifice through facial expressions. The rest of the cast, and especially the writers, fail to find anything unique in their assignments, and because of this the story comes off as routine – `Lawrence of Arabia’ without its scope or vision. A been-there-done-that feeling haunts the entire film, and prevents it from achieving greatness. The back and forth with the multitude of characters can get confusing. The political intrigue in the first half drags a bit. The second half has more big epic battles. It does get a bit weird with the Almoravids running in fear of El Cid’s dead body. Like most historical/epic/biopic/blockbusters, the screenplay shortcuts history and (of necessity) opts for a coherent, concise scenario; which in turn, would lend itself to glamorous film stars, spectacular photography and the mandatory love (sex) story.

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