Combustible Celluloid
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With: Charlton Heston, Sophia Loren, Raf Vallone, Genevieve Page, John Fraser, Gary Raymond, Hurd Hatfield, Massimo Serato, Frank Thring, Michael Hordern, Andrew Cruickshank, Douglas Wilmer, Tullio Carminati, Ralph Truman, Christopher Rhodes, Carlo Giustini, Gerard Tichy, Fausto Tozzi, Barbara Everest, Katina Noble, Nerio Bernardi, Franco Fantasia, Herbert Lom
Written by: Philip Yordan, Fredric M. Frank, Ben Barzman (uncredited)
Directed by: Anthony Mann
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 188
Date: 10/24/1961

El Cid (1961)

3 Stars (out of 4)

'Cid' Vicious

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Not many filmmakers could make the transition to epic filmmaking with all their signature touches intact. After his series of masterful 1950s Westerns, Anthony Mann more or less succeeds. He still seems overwhelmed by the film's gigantic scope, and his trademark action scenes are lost in a jumble of moving bodies, but his compositions within the massive, labyrinthine sets are still quite fascinating. Charlton Heston plays the title character, an 11th century Spaniard who befriends a band of good Moors and helps drive out a band of evil Moors. His initial act of friendship is seen as treason, which triggers an unstoppable string of terrible events, most of which involve his true love Jimena (Sophia Loren). They become bitter enemies for a time. For my money, though, the young queen (Genevieve Page, also in Belle de Jour) is just as gorgeous. The story takes place over many years -- Heston's beard turns gray -- and ends with long battle sequences. Mann's expertise normally involved the outdoors, but here it's the interiors that dazzle (much like his early, cheap films noir). The limitless depth of field and expansive frame -- filled with doorways, arches and staircases -- once again reveal the psychological torment of Mann's characters. Despite its success, the film only received three Oscar nominations (Art Direction, Song and Score) and failed to secure Mann's reputation as one of the great American filmmakers.

DVD Details: El Cid had never been released on DVD in the United States before 2008, and so the Weinsteins, under their new label The Miriam Collection, have given it the true epic treatment. We get a two-disc set with all kinds of extras, including a commentary track by Bill Bronston (son of legendary producer Sam Bronston) and Bronston biographer Neal M. Rosendorf. There are radio interviews with Heston and Loren, stills, and filmographies. Disc two comes with lots of featurettes, including a good, short on one Mann, and others on Bronston and composer Miklós Rózsa. Martin Scorsese provides an introduction in the liner notes (and a blurb for the front cover). This two-disc set is available by itself for about $25, or in a $40 box set that also comes with a comic book, areproduction of the original souvenir program and copies of the lobbycards (all shrunk to the size of the DVD itself).

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