With all its colors and visuals returned to their original splendor, the current re-release of the 1961 “El Cid,” (Cinerama Dome, Mann’s Festival) is the kind of super-spectacle they don’t make anymore, maybe can’t make anymore. This restored print, another of Martin Scorsese’s invaluable reclamation projects, shows why.
It’s a vast, teeming pageant, loaded with decor and furious action. History, romance, legendry, adventure, swashbuckling jousts, sword fights and grand battle scenes--with 5,000 soldiers of the Spanish Army acting as extras in the overpowering climax, the oceanside Valencia siege sequence--all these combine for close to the quintessence of the “cast of thousands” historical extravaganza: the genre that began with Griffith and DeMille and, in the ‘60s, reached its physical peak.
Shot in Spain by producer Samuel Bronston, “El Cid” (Times-rated Family) is a marvel of historical reconstruction. The original 11th-Century castles were used, 35 ships of the Moorish fleet rebuilt, costumes and settings re-created with lavish care; even Miklos Rozsa’s score uses medieval modes. The script, by Philip Yordan, Fredric M. Frank and the uncredited blacklist victim Ben Barzman, is out of the ordinary too. It paints a corrupt, obsessive Spanish court, filled with cruel intrigue and perverse psychological undercurrents, as a dark backdrop for the shining, pure force of El Cid’s nobility.
If the chivalric ideal is at the heart of Corneille’s classic drama, “Le Cid"--whose events make up much of the film’s first half--honor beyond death keys the historical legend itself, especially its grisly, necrophile climax: the corpse’s last charge at the Battle of Valencia. Director Anthony Mann, assisted here by Yakima Canutt and the brilliant cinematographer Robert Krasker (“Henry V,” “The Third Man”) was a recognized master of action and landscape in 1961. His work in “El Cid"--the long shots of mountainous vistas and turreted castles, the close-ups of furious brawling--now seems an extension of his classic ‘50s Jimmy Stewart Westerns (“Winchester 73,” “The Naked Spur”) rather than a departure from them. And the film’s Rodrigo (El Cid) and Chimene, paradigm historical star Charlton Heston and Sophia Loren--supported by Raf Vallone, Genevieve Page, Herbert Lom and others--are at their physical peaks too. They help make the film seethe with excitement and beauty.
This movie may lack humor to counterbalance its intensity, and it’s sometimes less successful in intimate scenes: When these stars kiss, it’s like Zeus and Hera smooching. But, torn from its time and restored to ours, “El Cid” has overpowering scale, blackhearted villains, pure knights and ladyloves, breathtaking grandeur. It’s an ode to heroism, idealism and romance that still sweeps us away.
Charlton Heston: Rodrigo Diaz de Bivar/El Cid
Sophia Loren: Chimene
Raf Vallone: Count Ordonez
Genevieve Page: Queen Urraca
A Miramax Films presentation of a Samuel Bronston production. Director Anthony Mann. Producers Bronston, Mann. Screenplay Philip Yordan, Fredric M. Frank, Ben Barzman. Cinematographer Robert Krasker. Editor Robert Lawrence. Costumes John Moore. Music Miklos Rozsa. Art director Veniero Colesanti. Running time: 3 hours.