El Cid 1961 Charlton Heston

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El Cid 1961

El Cid - Released December 14, 1961. Directed by Anthony Mann.

Mammoth 1961 epic directed by Anthony Mann. Stars Charlton Heston (El Cid) and Sophia Loren (Dona Ximena).

The story covers the pivotal period of Spanish history when the country was split by rivalries in the nobility and the onslaught of an invasion from North Africa. An army of 7,000 extras appear in the film, and at least four of Spain's best preserved ancient castles appear in this 3 hour, 15 minute movie.

Heston charges into playing Don Rodrigo as the only man in Spain who can understand the cataclysm of self-engineered disaster that's wrecking the country, and his loyalty to Spain is so pure it naturally ends up getting him banished.

Genevieve Page is the poisonous Princess Urraca who pulls many of the strings that rule the sour Spanish Court. The tale turns creepy and perverse when Urraca is combined with conflicted brother Prince Alfonso (John Fraser) who ends up being the new king when King Ferdinand (Ralph Truman) dies (Urraca helpfully assassinated other competitors for the throne).

The success of the invasion force attacking Spain led by General Ibn Ben Yusuf (Herbert Lom) is the only thing to wake the nobles from their intrigues. They end up turning to the banished Don Rodrigo as their best hope for preserving Spain.

While Rodrigo is more than willing to get himself killed for Spain during the entire story, this becomes a painful task because he is finally getting along with his wife (Loren). But duty calls and even a mortal wound will not keep El Cid from riding out before the Spanish-Moor army to smash Ben Yusuf's massive force.

Loren and Heston are sometimes dwarfed by the scope of the film, which is the usual problem with monster productions from the 1950s and 1960s. When Mann doesn't have the amazing scenery of Spain to block into his shots, though, the film downsizes and the humanity of the tale perks up, with a psychological dimension introduced with some of the character behavior (story is by Frederic Frank and Philip Yordan). But the machine of the plot turns slowly in other ways.

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There are many fine (and gigantic) action sequences and Heston and Loren both look terrific throughout the whole film. There is enough intensity in many of their scenes (which would be hard to avoid since Loren is trying very hard to kill Heston for the first half of the film) that it raises the movie up from the doldrums of too-much-on-the-screen-too-often, an inevitable problem with such a long film.

Mann's epic film has influenced many martial films that followed, such as Cleopatra (1963), Fall of the Roman Empire (1964), Braveheart (1991), Gladiator (2000) even 300 (2006).

El Cid's huge boxoffice in 1961 helped fuel the continuing industry of epics in the 1960s.

Original Page April, 2014 | Updated April 2016

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