EL CID – DVD Review

     February 11, 2008

Reviewed by Andre Dellamorte

The “Epic” Genre is usually long on tooth and spectacle, but, with few exceptions (like Lawrence of Arabia) is generally deathly dull. Cinema was trying to convey size, and in making their world and actions macro, it made the characters obscured by the scope. Yes, you could have thousands and thousands of people on screen, but to what greater purpose? Generally none, though admittedly, I’m of the home theater generation, and haven’t seen many of the super 70mm films on the big screen. This may make some of these films better, but it’s also sort of like watching 3-D film in 2-D. Story is story.

And so El Cid is much better than the standard epic sword and sandal epic because it’s got character, and that character is Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar (Charlton Heston), a man of a number of principles. On his way home for his wedding day, he takes some attacking Muslims prisoner, but decides to release them to which he is hailed by these men, and given respect. Such leads to his nickname, Cid.

But, upon returning home, he’s told that his future wife’s father can’t stand that he did it. And so the wedding is called off. This is a bummer for Cid, as his wife was to be Jimena, who is played by Sophia Loren, looking like a million bucks – which what she was paid for being in the movie. Arguing over how to deal with the Moors, the father and Cid get into a sword fight that takes the father’s life.

He has to fight for clemency, which introduces the love triangle aspect of the film as Princess Urraca (Genevieve Page) wants to get mad rutty with the Cid. But the Cid is right and just and loves his Jimena, who ends up joining a nunnery, while the country changes hands to a power ad son who will not respect the Moors who are against the evil Ben Yusseff (Herbert Lom, aka Inspector Dreyfuss), and in doing so allows the possibility for peace to crumble.

The film presents Cid’s life as great in terms of what he accomplished, but coitus interruptus on the personal side of things. Every time, every chance he has for a moment of peace, or hanging with his wife, and then eventual kids is interrupted by the people who need him. The price of being a great man is that often you cannot be a great husband, lover or father, and that toll is what makes the film resonate. Though I prefer director Anthony Mann’s earlier films, his taugt westerns like The Naked Spur, or Winchester ’73, but he hands the material well, and though some of it is a bit long at the tooth, he never gets lost in the material. Heston and Loren are fine in their roles, and there’s something about the larger than life presence of Heston that makes him so perfect for these sorts of films. And the spectacle is impressive for what it is.

The film is treated like a classic, and it is, it’s not on par with Lawrence, but it’s more entertaining than Ben-Hur, though without the homoerotic subtext.

TWC presents this in their Miriam Collection (named after Harvey Weinstein’s Mum) in anamorphic widescreen and in 5.1 surround. The film is presented in a standard version, and a deluxe edition, which comes with a reproduction of the souvenir program, six production stills, a reproduction of the film’s related comic book, and an introduction from Maritn Scorsese, who loves him this film. And that’s just with the packaging.

Disc one comes with about two hours of the film, and a commentary track by Bill Bronstein and producer Samuel L. Bronstein’s biographer Neal M. Rosendorf. They talk aabout the then-current political commentary of the film, and it’s relationship to Franco, while also dealing with the gossip about Heston and Loren’s acrimonious working relationship. Disc one also has 15 minutes or radio interviews, a still gallery, and a limited filmography.

Disc two continues the commentary, and houses the majority of the supplements. Here are “Hollywood Conquers Spain: The Making of El Cid” (24 min.), “Samuel Bronston: The Epic Journey of a Dreamer” (52 min.) offers a relatively flattering puff piece on the producer (and to a certain extent that’s fair, this is a producer’s genre). “Behind the Camera: Anthony Mann and El Cid” (17 minutes) gives the filmmaker some credit, while “Miklos Rozsa: Maestro of the Movies” (30 minutes) is well worth the effort, as Rozsa is one of the greats. “Preserving Our Legacy: Gerry Byrne on Film Preservation and Restoration” (7 minutes) offers a little insight into the film’s restoration. Rounding out the package are two trailers for the film and one for the upcoming release of The Fall of the Roman Empire. No mention is made of Circus World.

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