Sumptuous in every way, visually magnificent, with grandiose sets, panoramic Spanish vistas and intricately detailed costumes, possessor of one of cinema's greatest music scores, boasting vast and astonishingly kinetic battles, and breathing heroic virtue in every scene, El Cid
is the very epitome of epic. For this reworking of the medieval legend of the Cid (Arabic for "Lord") who united warring factions and saved 11th-century Spain from invasion, producer Samuel Bronston and director Anthony Mann insisted every set had to be created from scratch, every costume specially made for this movie alone; they also shot entirely on location in La Mancha and along the Mediterranean coast of Spain to enhance the film's authenticity. The cinematography is saturated with the burnished hues of the Spanish landscape, as are the palatial sets and rich costumes; Miklos Rozsa's resplendent score is also the result of painstaking research into medieval Spanish sources. The screenplay is imbued with knightly gravitas and more than a little salvation imagery, from the opening scene of the young Rodrigo rescuing a cross from a burning church, to the movie's indelible finale as The Cid rides "out of the gates of history into legend".
Charlton Heston is at his most indomitable as Rodrigo, "The Cid", a natural leader of men and the embodiment of every manly virtue (note that he fathers twins--a sure token of his virility); Sophie Loren is ravishing as Chimene, the woman whose love for Rodrigo conflicts with her filial instincts after he kills her father, the king's champion, over a point of honour. Their scenes together create a humane warmth at the heart of this vast movie: the moment when Chimene finally declares her love (beneath a shrine of three crosses--more symbolism) to the exiled Rodrigo forms a pivotal and very intimate centrepiece. Shortly thereafter he must rise from their rural marriage bed to lead his followers into battle, and the tension between his public and private lives adds a piquancy to the film's stunning battle sequences. The international supporting cast sometimes look like makeweights, especially when chewing on the occasionally stilted dialogue, but any such faults are easily forgiven as the scale and spectacle of El Cid carries the viewer away on a tide of chivalry. --Mark Walker