Unrated 2-Disc Box Set
Directed by Anthony Mann
Starring Charlton Heston, Sophia Loren
Available Jan. 29, 2008
The sixties were a funny time… You know, for EVEN MORE than the obvious reasons. It was the decade that the studio system in Hollywood finally fell to corporate ownership. The debate rages to this day on whether or not this was a development for the better.
As Martin Scorsese notes in his liner-note introduction for today’s film, Anthony Mann‘s El Cid “is a picture that marks the passing of an era in American moviemaking.” Quite possibly the last huge epic before corporations. Before Kubrick. Before Hippies. Before Altman.
Watching El Cid in this, its first-ever American DVD release, I was struck by something I was never able to articulate before. Why the hell do these old-school De Mille-style epics seem so much… BIGGER than the epics we make today? Is it the lack of computers? Is it the fact that movie stars were “movie stars” back then and not models with delusions of grandeur? Is it that they were all shot in 70 millimeter while we’re slowly but sure converting to George Lucas’ Godawful digital video in the present? Or is it just that Anthony Mann rules all?
Because El Cid is big with a capital “BIG.” And if there’s anyone who loves them a big-assed movie, it’s me. I’m all for subtlety and character development and all that other horsecrap, but for Christ’s sake, this is the MOVIES! Go big or go home.
Charlton Heston plays Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar in 11th-century Spain. He is dubbed “El Cid” by a Muslim man working to tear-ass in conquest through Europe. He is captured by Rodrigo, but spared. This act of mercy by Rodrigo on behalf of the Muslims gets Rodrigo a treason charge and imperils his marriage to the lovely Jimena (Sophia Loren).
This is only the beginning. The story in El Cid doesn’t flow, but moves at a good clip through a checklist of big events, from Rodrigo’s ascension to the Spanish King’s go-to battle guy, to his auspicious marriage, to his military campaigns to his exile and eventual death. I like how it goes, but I see why there can be resistance to that from today’s audiences. I guess it might display a side of vanity by the filmmakers. They have three hours to kill, so they might as well keep piling on.
Anthony Mann uses every single last conceivable inch of his frame. El Cid does fully embody the old Hollywood grandeur that we don’t much see anymore, but it does something else that few get right even now. El Cid creates the impression that the world it creates exists beyond its margins. Watch Braveheart, and you get the sensation that it is, after all, just a movie, and there are grips and Mel Gibson’s waterboys waiting just next to the camera. Or watch 300, where technically there’s nothing INSIDE the frame, either.
No one likes cracking jokes at crazy ol’ gun-toting Charlton Heston more than I do. But the reason he was in all these huge epics by Wyler and De Mille is because he was so damn GOOD at it. Few actors before or since can bring the big-movie atmosphere quite like he could. And few give Sophia Loren the credit she deserves outside of her looks as the fine actress she is. I particularly enjoyed the early passages in the film where betrayal and circumstances collide to taint her marriage to Rodrigo. Her work is very subtle and understated, and it’s work that any actress could be proud of.
El Cid is brought to us in DVD form after so long because the studio that financed it, Allied Artists, went under shortly before its release. It has been picked up by The Weinstein Company in a transfer so rich and lavish that you could get a cavity just looking at it. It’s the debut selection for “The Miriam Collection,” named after Miriam Weinstein, Bob and Harvey’s mother.
Good job, guys. What’s the next one?
**** out of 4
DVD Bonus Features
FEATURES ‘N’ SHIT
This two-disc DVD to El Cid features enough special features to choke a battalion of Spanish horses, up to and including a comic book, lobby card reproductions, and a vial of Herbert Lom’s blood. There are quite a few here, but the stand-outs are…
– A half-hour featurette on film composer Miklos Rosza, who was nominated for seventeen Oscars (two of which were for El Cid) and won thrice. He’s responsible for such classics of the age as Double Indemnity, The Naked City, The Lost Weekend, and Spellbound. Look him up on IMDB and see how many of your favorites he has his name on.
– A one-hour doc on producer Samuel Bronston, whose career was marked with a fast rise and even faster fall. The doc paints a picture of him as the gentle and zealous producer who just wanted to make good movies, but financial woes put an end to that… They kinda glossed over his perjury conviction, though.
– A 17-minute featurette on director Anthony Mann, who was one of the best journeyman directors Hollywood has ever seen. If you haven’t seen The Man from Laramie, I just feel sorry for you. From noir to westerns to epics, he did it all. Go to IMDB and then go to Netflix. He’s your new idol. You just don’t know it yet.
LIST OF SPECIAL FEATURES
• Reproduction of Original 1961 Souvenir Program (Collector’s Edition Only)
• Reproduction of Original 1961 El Cid Comic Book (Collector’s Edition Only)
• Six Color Production Stills (Collector’s Edition Only)
• Written Introduction by Director Martin Scorsese
• Feature Commentary With Bill Bronston, son of producer Sam Bronston, and historian/author Neal M. Rosendorf, Ph.D., assistant professor of US International History at Long Island University
• 1961 Promotional Radio Interviews with Charlton Heston and Sophia Loren
• Introduction Interview with Charlton Heston
• Samuel Bronston: The Epic Journey of a Dreamer
• Behind The Camera: Anthony Mann and El Cid
• Hollywood Conquers Spain: The Making of An Epic
• Maestro of the Movies: Miklos Rozsa and El Cid
• The Importance of Film Preservation and Restoration: A Conversation With Gerry Byrne
• Trailer Gallery
• Still Gallery