General Ibn (pronounced Ben) Yusuf (Herbert Lom) of the Almoravid dynasty has summoned all the Emirs of Al-Andalus to North Africa and chastises them for their complacency in dealing with the infidels and reveals his plan for Islamic world domination. Later, while en route to his future bride Doña Ximena (Sophia Loren), Don Rodrigo (Charlton Heston) becomes involved in a battle against a Moorish army. Two of the Emirs, Al-Mu’tamin (Douglas Wilmer) of Zaragosa and Al-Kadir (Frank Thring) of Valencia, are captured, but Rodrigo releases them on condition that they pledge to never again attack King Ferdinand of Castile’s (Ralph Truman) lands. The Emirs proclaim him ‘El Cid’ (the Castillian Spanish pronunciation of the Arabic for Lord: “Al Sidi”) and swear allegiance to him. For this act he is accused of treason against the King by Count Ordóñez (Raf Vallone) and later Ximena’s father, Count Gormaz (Andrew Cruickshank). Rodrigo’s proud father, Don Diego (Michael Hordern), supports Rodrigo against Count Ordóñez. Later Gormaz refuses to take back the challenge or the accusation of treason, and Rodrigo kills him, the King’s Champion, in a duel. Ximena swears revenge upon her unrepentant father’s murderer. Rodrigo then takes up the mantle of the King’s champion in single combat for control of the city of Calahorra, which he wins. Rodrigo is then sent upon a mission to collect tribute from Moorish vassals of the Castillian crown, but Ximena, in league with Count Ordóñez, has plotted to have Rodrigo killed. El Cid and his men are ambushed but are saved by Al-Mu’tamin, to whom he had previously showed clemency. Returning home, his reward is the hand of Ximena in marriage. But the marriage is not consummated, she removes herself to a convent. King Ferdinand dies, and his eldest son, Prince Sancho (Gary Raymond), becomes king. The younger son, Prince Alfonso (John Fraser), also desires the throne; his sister, Princess Urraca (Geneviève Page) secretly has Sancho assassinated. At Alfonso’s coronation, El Cid has him swear upon the Bible that he had no part in the death of his brother. Since he had no part in it as his sister was responsible, he swears so, but has Rodrigo banished for his impudence. Ximena’s love for El Cid is rekindled, she chooses banishment with him and they have children. But Rodrigo is called into service by other exiled Spanish fighters, and eventually into the service of the king once again, to protect Castille from Yusuf’s North African army. Rodrigo does not join the king, and allies himself with the Emirs who fight at Valencia, where Rodrigo relieves the city of the wicked Emir Al-Kadir, who betrayed him. Count Ordóñez brings Ximena from where the king had imprisoned her and the children after his defeat by the Moors. Valencia falls and Emir Al-Mu’tamin, Rodrigo’s army and the Valencians offer the crown to ‘The Cid’, but he refuses and sends the crown to King Alfonso. Rodrigo then repels the invading army of Ben Yusuf, but is wounded in battle by an arrow before the final victory. If the arrow is removed, there is a chance that he will live, but he will not be able to lead his army. El Cid obtains a promise from Ximena to not remove it, knowing that this will kill him. He intends to ride out, even if dead…

Upon the film’s release, Bosley Crowther wrote “it is hard to remember a picture-not excluding Henry V, Ivanhoe, Helen of Troy and, naturally, Ben-Hur-in which scenery and regal rites and warfare have been so magnificently assembled and photographed as they are in this dazzler…The pure graphic structure of the pictures, the imposing arrangement of the scenes, the dynamic flow of the action against strong backgrounds, all photographed with the 70-mm. color camera and projected on the Super-Technirama screen, give a grandeur and eloquence to this production that are worth seeing for themselves.” Crowther also pointed out that while “the spectacle is terrific, the human drama is stiff and dull.” The film’s leading lady had a major issue with Bronston’s promotion of the film, an issue important enough to her that Loren sued Bronston for breach of contract in New York Supreme Court. The film is a favorite of Martin Scorsese, who called it “one of the greatest epic films ever made.” Scorsese was one of the major forces behind a 1993 restoration and re-release of El Cid. Time magazine has provided some production details: “Inevitably, the picture is colossal-it runs three hours and 15 minutes (including intermission), cost $6,200,000, employs an extra-wide widescreen, a special color process, 7,000 extras, 10,000 costumes, 35 ships, 50 outsize engines of medieval war, and four of the noblest old castles in Spain: Ampudia, Belmonte, Peñíscola and Torrelobatón.” Ampudia appears as the raided village at the beginning of the film, Torrelobatón as Cid’s hometown Vivar, the Castle of Belmonte appears as Calahorra, and Peñíscola and Bamburgh Castle as Valencia. The film was shot mostly on location in Spain but a few studio scenes were shot in Rome, purely to achieve the financial gains of co-production status. “El Cid” has been on my to see list for quite some time as I am an avid fan of this sort of epic historic 3 hour movies we don´t really see anymore. It´s lavish, grand, boombastic and big with fantastic sceneries. But, I was still disappointed in the end. Charlton Heston´s El Cid is not portrayed in a way that really makes you root for him and his actions to be honest. I´m not sure why it doesn´t work, maybe due to the stiff theatrical acting and Heston´s inability to give proper life to El Cid. Apparently he himself was not all that happy with the movie either in the end. Sophia Loren is beautiful and so screen worthy, but maybe a bit too blend in this role. The story deals with a strong love story and a man of honour who puts his wife, his country, and his king first and never he himself. The legend of El Cid is intriguing, but movie wise it´s too theatrical and a bit dull despite the epic production in my point of view. (3 and a half out of 5)

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