El Cid is one of my favourites from that epic period of American cinema, the 1960s, where every film made seemed to be over three hours long and featured all the stars you could possibly want to see that weren't in the sky. This one also has the distinction of being helmed by one of the great unsung directors, Anthony Mann, whose work with James Stewart in a remarkable and memorable series of westerns in the 1950s deserves to be reappraised. Mann seemed to specialise in films where the hero's mental and phsyical state was always in question (and usually brought to the fore). In El Cid, that inner conflict is dwarfed by the historical conflict, although he later went on to explore the male psyche more dramatically in his last truly great masterpiece, the equally spectacular The Fall of the Roman Empire a few years later.
For those not in the know, El Cid is the legendary Spanish hero who succeeds in driving the Moors from Spain. Charlton Heston (who else?) is the eponymous hero, portraying Cid as a man with a strict sense of honour even when everything and everyone is against him, and the lovely Sophia Loren plays Chimene, his on-off lover. A masked Herbert Lom, however, steals the show in a raving, shouting, wild-eyed performance as the leader of the Moors (he has one of the best and unintentionally funniest deaths in screen history, to boot). Aside from the gigantic battle set-pieces near the end of the film, which are exciting and powerfully shot by the great cinematographer Robert Krasker, the highlights of the film are two ferocious one-on-one fights, the first one a vicious swordfight between El Cid and Chimene's father over their relationship, and the other a trial by combat between El Cid and Don Martin over the the ownership of the city of Calahorra.
Filmed in the widescreen process Super Technirama 70, this brilliant film should have an aspect ratio of roughly 2.20:1. However, this DVD from Universal unwisely crops the image to 1.78:1 after the credit sequence, thereby rendering Mann's exquisite shot composition insignificant. Furthermore, the print used doesn't appear to be the same version so lovingly restored in the early 1990s, exhibiting much more print damage than even the UK TV showing did.
Once again a major distributor shows their contempt for us with this DVD release, so I would recommend getting the new Japanese or French DVDs of this fine film instead, because they're both in the correct anamorphic widescreen ratio.