Top positive review
As pure spectacle, a feast for the eyes....
on January 16, 2008
Like Mann's other well-known feature, "Fall of the Roman Empire," El Cid has a lot going for it: breathtaking Spanish scenery and fabulously authentic set pieces, two very competent and attractive leads with Heston and Loren, and an interesting protagonist whose story is steeped more in myth than reality.
Although this DVD has not yet been released, this film, like "Fall of the Roman Empire," is worthy of a "special edition" replete with interviews, extras, a behind-the-scenes documentary, deleted scenes, and the like--should they even exist. The film was released almost 45 years ago.
While not as opulent as "Fall" that would be released three years later, the love story between Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar (El Cid) and Chimene, his wife is a more interesting one--as interesting as the story of the Cid himself.
These are characters one feels emotionally attached to unlike those of Livius and Drusilla in Mann's 'Fall," which resembles yet an additional prop to the sets to Mann's $16 million dollar epic, but Mann got off relatively cheap with "El Cid," utilizing many of the existing medieval castles that dot the coastlines of sunny Spain.
Chimene loves Rodrigo who is to be her husband, than hates him for killing her father who insults Rodrigo's father and his family name. She marries Rodrigo out of spite at the request of King Ferdinand, and Chimene colludes to kill Rodrigo with a fellow conspirator who also loves her. Later, she ultimately learns to love this selfless knight who shows mercy to his enemies, earns their respect, and defends a brat of a king who is nothing more than a spoiled tyrant--wonderfully played by popular 60's British mod, John Fraser who would later win a coveted supporting role in Roman Polanski's "Repulsion."
The movie gets 5 stars despite the fact that battle scenes seem rather brief and could have been better orchestrated on a slightly more lavish scale. Mann's "Fall" clearly has an edge here; what we see in "El Cid" for the majority of the film are really skirmishes of no more than 15 to 20 men at a time. The Miklos Rosza score, obviously influenced by the achingly beautiful coda in Tchaikovsky's Symphony 4, and like all of his splendid soundtracks, will compel an exhaustive search for the compact disc at your local retailer. Clearly, this is music to be savored like a fine Castillian wine.
This was a role Heston was born to play: physical, larger than life, and majestic in scope. In a death-scene that is perhaps one of the longest, most touchingly portrayed, and perhaps Heston's finest in an epic like this, will move you as will the story of this heroic 11th Century knight who attempted to unite his divided Spain.