ⓘ El Cid (film)


ⓘ El Cid (film)

El Cid is a 1961 epic historical drama film that romanticizes the life of the Christian Castilian knight Don Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar, called "El Cid", who, in the 11th century, fought the North African Almoravides and ultimately contributed to the unification of Spain. The film stars Charlton Heston in the title role and Sophia Loren as Doña Ximena.

Made by Samuel Bronston Productions in association with Dear Film Produzione and released in the United States by Allied Artists, the film was directed by Anthony Mann and produced by Samuel Bronston, with Jaime Prades and Michal Waszynski as associate producers. The screenplay was by Philip Yordan, Ben Barzman, and Fredric M. Frank from a story by Frank. The music score was by Miklos Rozsa, the cinematography by Robert Krasker and the editing by Robert Lawrence. The film had its World Premiere at the Metropole Theatre, Victoria, London on December 6, 1961.


1. Plot

Gen. Ibn pronounced Ben Yusuf Herbert Lom of the Almoravid dynasty has summoned all the Emirs of Al-Andalus to North Africa. He chastises them for co-existing peacefully with their Christian neighbors, which goes against his dream of Islamic world domination. The emirs return to Spain with orders to resume hostilities with the Christians while Ibn Yusuf readies his army for a full-scale invasion.

Don Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar Charlton Heston, on the way to his wedding with Doña Ximena Sophia Loren, rescues a Spanish town from an invading Moorish army. Two of the Emirs, Al-Mutamin Douglas Wilmer of Zaragoza and Al-Kadir Frank Thring of Valencia, are captured. More interested in peace than in wreaking vengeance, Rodrigo escorts his prisoners to Vivar and releases them on condition that they never again attack lands belonging to King Ferdinand of Castile Ralph Truman. The Emirs proclaim him "El Cid" the Castillian Spanish pronunciation of the Arabic for Lord: "Al Sidi" and swear allegiance to him.

For his act of mercy, Don Rodrigo is accused of treason by Count Ordoñez Raf Vallone. In court, the charge is supported by Ximenas father, Count Gormaz Andrew Cruickshank, the kings champion. Rodrigos aged father, Don Diego Michael Hordern, angrily calls Gormaz a liar. Gormaz strikes Don Diego, challenging him to a duel. At a private meeting Rodrigo begs Gormaz to ask the aged but proud Diego for forgiveness for accusing Rodrigo of treason. Gormaz refuses, so Rodrigo fights the duel on Diego’s behalf and kills his opponent. Ximena witnesses the death of Gormaz and swears to avenge him, renouncing her affection for Rodrigo.

When a rival king demands the city of Calahorra, Rodrigo becomes Ferdinands champion, winning the city in single combat. In his new capacity he is sent on a mission to collect tribute from Moorish vassals to the Castillian crown. He asks that Ximena be given to him as his wife upon his return, so that he can provide for her. Ximena promises Count Ordoñez she will marry him instead if he kills Rodrigo. Ordoñez lays an ambush for Rodrigo and his men but is captured by Al-Mutamin, to whom Rodrigo had earlier showed mercy. Rodrigo forgives the Count and returns home to marry Ximena. The marriage is not consummated: Rodrigo will not touch her if she does not give herself to him out of love. Ximena instead goes to a convent.

King Ferdinand dies and his younger son, Prince Alfonso John Fraser tells the elder son Prince Sancho Gary Raymond that their father wanted his kingdom divided between his heirs: Castile to Sancho, Asturias and Leon to Alfonso, and Calahorra to their sister, Princess Urraca Genevieve Page. Sancho refuses to accept anything but an undivided kingdom as his birthright. After Alfonso instigates a knife fight, Sancho overpowers his brother and sends him to be imprisoned in Zamora. Rodrigo, who swore to protect all the king’s children, singlehandedly defeats Alfonsos guards and brings the Prince to Calahorra. Sancho arrives to demand Alfonso, but Urraca refuses to hand him over. Rodrigo cannot take a side in the conflict, because his oath was to serve them all equally.

Ibn Yusuf arrives at Valencia, the fortified city guarding the beach where he plans to land his armada. To weaken his Spanish opponents he hires Dolfos, a warrior formerly trusted by Ferdinand, to assassinate Sancho and throw suspicion for the crime on Alfonso, who becomes the sole king. At Alfonsos coronation, El Cid has him swear upon the Bible that he had no part in the death of his brother. Alfonso, genuinely innocent, is offended by the demand and banishes Rodrigo from Spain. Ximena discovers she still loves Rodrigo and voluntarily joins him in exile. Rodrigo makes his career as a soldier in foreign lands, and he and Ximena have two children.

Years later, Rodrigo, known widely as "El Cid", is called back into the service of the king to protect Castille from Yusufs North African army. Rather than work directly with the king El Cid allies himself with the Emirs besieging Valencia, where Al-Kadir has violated his oath of allegiance to Rodrigo and come out in support of Ibn Yusuf.

After being defeated by the Moors, Alfonso seizes Ximena and her children and puts them in prison. Count Ordoñez rescues the three and brings them to Rodrigo, wanting to end his rivalry with El Cid and join him in the defense of Spain. Knowing that the citizens of Valencia are starving after the long siege, Rodrigo wins them over by throwing food into the city with his catapults. Al-Kadir tries to intercede, but the Valencians kill him and open the gates to the besiegers. Emir Al-Mutamin, Rodrigos army, and the Valencians offer the citys crown to El Cid, but he refuses and instead sends the crown to King Alfonso.

Ibn Yusuf arrives with his immense invasion army, and Valencia is the only barrier between him and Spain. The ensuing battle goes well for the defenders until El Cid is struck in the chest by an arrow and has to be carried away to safety. Doctors inform him that they can probably remove the arrow and save his life, but he will be incapacitated for a long time after the surgery. Unwilling to abandon his army at this critical moment, Rodrigo obtains a promise from Ximena to leave the arrow and let him ride back into battle, dying or dead. King Alfonso comes to his bedside and asks for his forgiveness.

Rodrigo dies, and his allies honor his wish to return to the army. With the help of an iron frame they prop up his corpse, dressed in armor and holding a banner, on the back of his horse Babieca. Guided by King Alfonso and Emir Al-Mutamin riding on either side, the horse leads a charge against Yusuf’s terrified soldiers, who believe that El Cid has risen from the dead. Ibn Yusuf is thrown from his horse and crushed beneath Babieca’s hooves, leaving his scattered army to be annihilated. King Alfonso leads Christians and Moors alike in a prayer for God to receive the soul "of the purest knight of all".


2. Cast

  • Gerard Tichy as King Ramiro
  • Massimo Serato as Fañez nephew of Rodrigo
  • Herbert Lom as Ben Yusuf
  • John Fraser as Alfonso VI King of Castile
  • Nerio Bernardi as Soldier Credited on film as Nelio Bernardi
  • Genevieve Page as Doña Urraca sister of Alfonso VI
  • Frank Thring as Al-Kadir Quadir Emir of Valencia
  • Charlton Heston as Don Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar, El Cid
  • Ralph Truman as King Ferdinand
  • Fausto Tozzi as Dolfos
  • Hurd Hatfield, as Arias
  • Gary Raymond as Prince Sancho, the 1st born of King Ferdinand
  • Sophia Loren as Doña Ximena
  • Raf Vallone as Garcia Ordoñez
  • Barbara Everest as Mother Superior
  • Franco Fantasia as Soldier
  • Douglas Wilmer as Al-Mutamin Emir of Zaragoza
  • Carlo Giustini as Bermudez
  • Michael Hordern as Don Diego father of Rodrigo
  • Tullio Carminati as Al-Jarifi
  • Christopher Rhodes as Don Martin
  • Andrew Cruickshank as Count Gormaz father of Ximena
  • Katina Noble as Nun

3.1. Production Development

In April 1960, Variety announced that producer Samuel Bronston was independently producing three films in Spain, one of which included El Cid. It was also reported that Bronston had purchased the rights to Fredric M. Franks 140-page treatment for the film and had hired him the week before to prepare the script by July. In July, Anthony Mann and Philip Yordan had signed on to direct and co-write the film respectively. Two days before filming, Loren read Yordans draft where she was displeased with her dialogue. She then recommended hiring Ben Barzman to revise the script. Mann subsequently flew out to get Barzman on a plane to Rome in which he gave him the Frank-Yordan draft, in which Barzman found to be unusable.

With filming set to begin on Monday, Barzman received a copy of the tragicomedy play Le Cid by Pierre Corneille from the library of the French embassy in Madrid and used it as the basis for a new script. Barzmans screen credit would not be added to the film until 1999. However, Barzmans script lacked powerful romantic scenes, which again displeased Loren. Bernard Gordon then stated, "So Yordan yanked me from what I was doing in Paris and said, Write me three or four love scenes for Loren and Heston. Well, what the hell – he was paying me $1500 a week, which was a lot more than I made any other way, and I just took orders and I sat down and I wrote four scenes, about three or four pages each. Whatever love scenes there are in the picture I wrote. And they sent them to Loren and said, OK, shell do the picture, so I was a little bit of a hero at that point." For script advice and historical truth, the famous Spanish historian Menendez Pidal helped the screenwriters and the director of the film. The naturalist Felix Rodriguez de la Fuente also helped to use raptors and other birds.

However, principal photography was nearly delayed when Cesareo Gonzalezs Aspa Films filed an infringement claim against Bronston over the projects title and theme. Previously, in July 1956, it was reported that two biopics of El Cid were in development: an American-Spanish co-production with Anthony Quinn set to star, and a collaboration between RKO, Milton Sperling, and Marvin Gosch. By August 1960, Bronston reached a deal to have Aspa Films and Robert Haggiags Dear Film involved in the production making the project an American-Italian-Spanish co-production.


3.2. Production Casting

Writing in his autobiography, in summer 1960, Charlton Heston received the script in which he described as not "good, ranging from minimally OK to crappy", but instead, he was intrigued with the role. He flew out to Madrid, Spain to meet with Bronston, Yordan, and Mann who all discussed the role with him. On July 26, 1960, his casting was announced. For research into his role, Heston read El Cantar de mio Cid and arranged a meeting with historian Ramon Menendez Pidal in Madrid. Ava Gardner was reportedly the first choice for Ximena, but she backed out feeling Hestons part was bigger than hers. Mann then suggested his wife Sara Montiel, but Heston and Bronston refused. However, Heston wrote his autobiography that Sophia Loren was the first and only choice. Loren was eventually cast and paid $200.000 for ten weeks work; producer Samuel Bronston also agreed to pay $200 a week for her hairdresser.

Orson Welles was initially approached Ben Yusuf, in which he insisted for a double do his on-set performance while he would dub his lines during post-production. Bronston refused. British actors were primarily sought for the other male roles, for which most of the principal casting was completed by early November 1960. That same month, on November 30, Hurd Hatfield had joined the cast. At least four actresses screen-tested for the role for Doña Urraca. Genevieve Page won the part, and her casting was announced on December 16, 1960.


3.3. Production Filming

Principal photography began November 14, 1960 at Sevilla Studios in Madrid, Spain. Filming was reported to spend at least four months of exterior shooting in Spain which would be followed by a final month of interior shooting at the Cinecittà Studios in Rome.

Ampudia appears as the raided village at the beginning of the film, Torrelobaton as Cids hometown Vivar, the Castle of Belmonte appears as Calahorra, and Peñiscola and Bamburgh Castle as Valencia.


4. Release

On December 14, 1961, the film premiered at the Warner Theatre in New York City and premiered at the Carthay Circle Theatre in Los Angeles on December 18. For the films international release, distributors included the Rank Organization releasing the film in Britain, Dear Films in Italy, Astoria Filmes in Portugal, Filmayer in Spain, and Melior in Belgium.

In August 1993, the film was re-released in theaters by Miramax Films having underwent a digital and color restoration supervised by Martin Scorsese. The re-release added 16 minutes of restored footage back to the films initial 180-minute running time.


4.1. Release Home media

The film was released on January 29, 2008 as a deluxe edition and a collectors edition DVD. Both DVDs included bonus materials including archival cast interviews, as well as 1961 promotional radio interviews with Loren and Heston; an audio commentary from Bill Bronston son of Samuel Bronston and historian-author Neal M. Rosendorf; a documentary on the importance of film preservation and restoration; biographical featurettes on Samuel Bronston, Anthony Mann, and Miklos Rozsa; and a "making of" documentary, "Hollywood Conquers Spain." The collectors edition DVD also included a reproduction of the premieres souvenir program and a comic book, as well as six color production stills.


5.1. Reception Box office

The film grossed $26.6 million in the United States and Canada and returned $12 million in rentals the distributors share of the box office gross.


5.2. Reception Contemporary reviews

Bosley Crowther of The New York Times 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 70mm color camera and projected on the Super-Technirama screen, give a grandeur and eloquence to this production that are worth seeing for themselves". Variety praised the film as "a fast-action color-rich, corpse-strewn, battle picture.The Spanish scenery is magnificent, the costumes are vivid, the chain mail and Toledo steel gear impressive." Time felt that "Surprisingly, the picture is good - maybe not as good as Ben-Hur, but anyway better than any spectacle since Spartacus." They also noted that "Bronstons epic has its embarrassments. El Cid himself, too, crudely contemporarized seems less the scourge of the heathen than a champion of civil rights. And there are moments when Hero Heston looks as though he needs a derrick to help him with that broadsword. Nevertheless, Anthony Mann has managed his immense material with firmness, elegance, and a sure sense of burly epic rhythm."

Harrisons Reports praised the performances from Heston and Loren and summarized the film as "raw and strong, brooding and challenging, romantic and powerfully dramatic. It is motion picture entertainment ascending new heights of pomp, pageantry, panoply." Philip K. Scheuer of the Los Angeles Times opened his review writing, El Cid brings back the excitement of movie-making; it may even bring back the excitement of movie-going. Its is as big as Ben-Hur if not bigger. If it had put a few more connectives in the narrative, if it had not thrown in an excess of everything else in three hours running time, it might have been great." Newsweek described the film as being "crammed with jousts and battles, and its sound track is reminiscent of Idlewild airport on a busy day, but the dramatics in it explode with all the force of a panful of popcorn." The reviewer also derided Manns direction as "slow, stately, and confused, while Miss Loren and Heston spend most of the picture simply glaring at each other."

Sophia Loren had a major issue with Bronstons promotion of the film, an issue important enough to her that Loren sued him for breach of contract in New York Supreme Court. As Time described it:

On a 600-sq ft. billboard facing south over Manhattans Times Square, Sophia Lorens name appears in illuminated letters that could be read from an incoming liner, but - Mamma mia! - that name is below Charlton Hestons. In the language of the complaint: "If the defendants are permitted to place deponents name below that of Charlton Heston, then it will appear that deponents status is considered to be inferior to that of Charlton Heston… It is impossible to determine or even to estimate the extent of the damages which the plaintiff will suffer".


5.3. Reception Reflexive reviews

During its 1993 re-release, Martin Scorsese praised El Cid as "one of the greatest epic films ever made". James Berardinelli of Reel Views gave the film three stars out of four. In his review, he felt that El Cid turns more often to the ridiculous than the sublime. Perhaps if the movie didnt take itself so seriously, there wouldnt be opportunities for unintentional laughter, but, from the bombastic dialogue to the stentorian score, El Cid is about as self-important as a motion picture can be. Regardless, there are still moments of breathtaking, almost transcendant splendor, when the film makers attain the grand aspirations they strive for. Richard Christiansen for the Chicago Tribune gave the film two-and-a-half stars out of four. He commented that ".watching the movie today is something of a chore. Much of its celebration of heroic romanticism seems either sillily inflated or crudely flat in this non-heroic age" and felt Heston and Loren lacked romantic chemistry.

Richard Corliss, reviewing for Time, wrote that "Like the best action films, El Cid is both turbulent and intelligent, with characters who analyze their passions as they eloquently articulate them. The Court scenes, in particular, have the complex intrigue, if not quite the poetry, of a Shakespearean history play. This richness is especially evident in the films love story." On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 92% based on 12 reviews with an average rating of 6.71/10.