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‘El Cid’

By Richard Harrington
Washington Post Staff Writer
August 27, 1993


Anthony Mann
Charlton Heston;
Sophia Loren;
Raf Vallone;
Hurd Hatfield
Not rated

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At three hours, the epic "El Cid" was long in 1961. And it only seems longer 32 years later in its refurbished version.

Of course the saga of Rodrigo Diaz de Bivar was many years longer when it unfolded in 11th-century Spain. It was a time of feudal intrigues and invasions by dastardly Moors from North Africa. As a priest surveys a town wrecked by marauding Moors, he quiveringly implores: "Father, please send us someone who will take us to the light," and before the sentence is finished, Charlton Heston strides into the frame, ready to carry a cross (and this film) on his back.

Rodrigo became the great hero of Spain by unifying Christian kings and Moorish emirs against those invading Moors, led by the terrible Ben Yussuf (a charcoaled Herbert Lom, whose face remains mostly hidden by veils). Director Anthony Mann envisioned the story (which had previously inspired operas and plays) as a motion tapestry -- an ambition recognized in this version, which, like "Lawrence of Arabia" a few years back, revitalizes "El Cid's" striking visuals and the sweeping score by Miklos Rozsa.

"El Cid" is a film in which things happen either very quickly or very slowly, but always grandly -- the costumes are lavishly colorful, the sets spectacular, the crowds huge, the passions extreme. Within the first 10 minutes, Rodrigo has defeated and captured those Moors, pardoned them on a promise never to invade again (thus being dubbed El Cid, Moorish for "one who is both compassionate and a great warrior"), and continued on his journey to wed the luscious Chimene (Sophia Loren).

Unfortunately, as a result of convoluted events, Rodrigo ends up killing Chimene's father, whose dying breath extends long enough to encourage his daughter to avenge his death. This Chimene does by plotting to have Rodrigo killed -- and when that fails, deciding that marriage is the best revenge.

The battle scenes sprinkled throughout the film are on an appropriately epic scale. Those who saw the film 30 years ago are likely to have fond memories of the struggle to take, and then defend, Valencia, and those final battles fought on the beach. In retrospect, these battles are not particularly bloody or vicious, simply overcrowded.

Others are likely to recall the grand love of Rodrigo and Chimene, which, despite its rocky start, proves redemptive. Of course, it helps that Sophia Loren looks marvelous, radiating old-fashioned, albeit unconventional, glamour. As for Heston, he never comes across as a particularly ferocious fighter, but he brings that familiar heroic countenance to yet another heroic role.

Three decades down the line, "El Cid" seems more dated than some of its contemporaries. It's overly long and it's overly melodramatic, but it's also a perfect example of the kind of film they just don't make anymore, because they can't.

"El Cid" is not rated, but even a PG would be a stretch.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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