El Cid (1961): Anthony Mann Historical Epic, Starring Charlton Heston and Sophia Loren

Anthony Mann’s impressive historical epic, “El Cid,” is a grand, romanticized tale of the Christian Castilian knight Don Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar, called El Cid, who in the 11th century fought the North African Almoravides and helped the unification of Spain.

The movie stars Chartn Heston, right after winning an Oscar for “Ben-Hur,” and international sex symbol and star Sopia Loren (who won a Best Actress in the same year for the Italian film “Two Women”).

Boasting an epic running time (184 minutes), “El Cid” was the fourth most commecrial popular feature in 1961. Over the years, it has acquired a cult status among viewers and contempo directors . Martin Scorsese, for whom “El Cid” is “one of the greatest epic films ever made, helped to restore and re-release the picture in 1993.

Produced by Samuel Bronston, the film was written by Philip Yordan, Ben Barzman, and Fredric M. Frank, from a story by Frank.

The music score was by multiple Oscar-winner Miklos Rosza, the cinematography by Robert Krasker and editing by Robert Lawrence.

When the tale begins, General Ben Yusuf (Herbert Lom) of the summons the Emirs of Al-Andalus to North Africa, reproaching them for complacency in dealing with the infidels.

En route to his future bride Dona Jimena (Sophia Loren), Don Rodrigo (Charlton Heston) becomes involved in battle against the Moorish army. Two Emirs, Al-Mu’tamin and Al-Kabir, are captured, but Rodrigo releases them.

The Emirs proclaim him ‘El Cid’ (the Castillian Spanish pronunciation of the Arabic for Lord: “Al Sidi”) and swear allegiance to him. But he is accused of treason against the King by Jimena’s father, Count Gormaz. Rodrigo’s proud father, Don Diego challenges Gormaz, and Rodrigo kills him in a duel.

Rodrigo takes up the mantle of the King’s champion in combat for control of Calahorra. He is then sent to collect tribute from Moorish vassals of the Castillian crown, but Jimena, in league with Count Ordóñez (Raf Valone), plot 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 Jimena in marriage. But the marriage is not consummated and she removes herself to a convent.

King Ferdinand dies, and eldest son Prince Sancho (Gary Raymond), becomes king.  Younger son Prince Alfonso (John Fraser) also desires the throne, and helped by his sister, Princess Urraca (Genevieve Page), assassinate Sancho.  At his coronation, El Cid has Alfonso swear upon the Bible that he had no part in the death of his brother. He swears so, but has Rodrigo banished for his impudence. Jimena’s love for El Cid is rekindled and she is banished with him.

Rodrigo is called into service of the king to protect Castille from Yusuf’s North African army. He allies himself with other Emirs who fear Ben Yusuf and at Valencia, Rodrigo relieves the city of Emir Al-Kadir. The Emir Al-Mu’tamin and the Valencians offer the crown to ‘The Cid’, but he refuses it.

Rodrigo then repels the invading army of Ben Yusuf, but is wounded in battle. If the arrow is removed, there is a chance he would live, but he will not be able to lead his army. El Cid decides not remove it, knowing that this will kill him. King Alfonso comes to his bedside, asks forgiveness and recognizes that he is the noblest knight in all his kingdom.

Supremely mounted, the film was largely shot on location in Spain, including the castles of Belmonte (Cuenca) and Peniscola (Castellón).

Oscar Nominations: 3

Art Direction (color): Veniero Colasanti, John Moore

Original score: Miklos Rosza

Best Song: Love Theme from El Cid. Music by Rozsa, lyrics by Paul Francis Webster.

Oscar Awards: None