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El Cid
IMDB Rating: 7.3/10 from 9,092 votes
Release: 24 October 1961 (Italy) /

El Cid

Genre: Action, Adventure, Biography, Drama, History, Romance, War
Director: Anthony Mann,
Stars: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Synopsis: Epic film of the legendary Spanish hero, Rodrigo Diaz ("El Cid" to his followers), who, without compromising his strict sense of honour, still succeeds in taking the initiative and driving the Moors from Spain. Written by Stewart M. Clamen <clamen@cs.cmu.edu>

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Critic Reviews

Grim, Ponderous, Moving, Magnificent

I'm a girl and have a girl's taste in movies. If I'm going to watch a movie with a lot of sword fights, oppressed peasants, and corrupt kings, I want it to be a swashbuckler, preferably one starring Errol Flynn. Swashbucklers bring a lot of humor to otherwise unbearable dramatic situations.

"El Cid" presents unbearable dramatic situations, and it is not a laugh riot. I saw the three-hour plus, uncut version and never felt tempted to laugh once. This is the Middle Ages without Monty Python, without the levity of an Errol Flynn - Olivia De Haviland romance or comic relief of a Little John.

Boy oh boy was this grim. And long. You could have almost filmed the entire film with three colors: white, black, and red. Lots of red.

But "El Cid" did to me what it wanted to do. I really believed in Rodrigo and Jimena as star-crossed, larger-than-life lovers. I really believed that the little girl who leads them from her well to her farm house lived a thousand years ago. I really believed that something like the mouth of hell itself was opening up as Ben Yusef invaded. I really believed in Rodrigo's relentless nobility and heroism. Neither Charlton Heston's strangely artificial looking hair nor the obvious non-Arab status of a couple of the "Moors" (Douglas Wilmer, who later played Sherlock Holmes, was one especially unconvincing Arab) interfered with my willing suspension of disbelief. I cried. Several times.

There's a lot to cry about. In almost every scene, someone is either crying, usually Sophia Loren, or gritting his teeth, often Charlton Heston, but others grit their teeth a lot, also. Actually Loren doesn't so much cry, but, rather, huge, luminous tears quiver, poised, on her lower eyelid. In her final scenes, the teardrop dancing on her right eyelid is so huge, black and luminous it begins to look like a second pupil.

If the sound of horse hoof-beats does something for you, you will love this movie. There are many horses. Many, many, many. And they are always thundering off to somewhere, more often than not, over cobblestones. Lots of horse hoof-beats on this soundtrack.

Some viewers found the plot hard to understand; they, perhaps, saw the cut version. Having seen the uncut version, I found the plot entirely comprehensible.

"El Cid" is like a ballad. There is one grim face-off after another, escalating in gravity, in which the hero proves that he is growing into his own heroism, through every choice he makes. Each choice is harder than the last one, until his final choice, which is truly impossible, but which he fulfills anyway. If you like medieval ballads, you may love this movie. It has the same grim beauty and power and inexorability, the same insistence on throwing whatever is divine in naked human character up against the impossible demands of earthly life.

For such a long movie, there is scant dialogue. With few words, people prove their true character through their actions, just as characters in ancient epics did.

One viewer complained that this movie bore no relation to the "real" El Cid legend. If that is true, the movie is all the more remarkable. The filmmakers managed to create, from scratch, a convincing and moving medieval narrative.

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