DVD Review: El Cid (2-Disc Limited Collector's Edition)
Release Date: January 29, 2008
Distributor: The Weinstein Company
· Anthony Mann
· Charlton Heston
· Sophia Loren
· Raf Vallone
· Genevieve Page
The 2 Disc Limited Collector's Edition DVD box set of "El Cid" is chock full of goodies!
by Jim Pappas
Published: January 26, 2008
I’ve never really understood why some people are born leaders, and most of the rest of us are born followers. But that is the way of things, and the concept is driven home in the classic film, "El Cid," which is being released in a 2 disc “Limited Collector’s Edition.” this month, by The Weinstein Company.
According to the history books (and the film), El Cid (meaning the Chief or the Leader) was a Castilian nobleman living in the late 10th century named Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar. He became the chief general for King Alfonso VI, and was beloved by the peasant class in Spain for his compassion, integrity, and sense of duty. He was truly an heroic figure in Spanish and European history, and a man very much ahead of his time. He managed to unite both Christians and Muslims to fight a common enemy, in the film identified as the Moor Ben Yusef (played forcefully by Herbert Lom). The reality was that he did organize Christians and Muslims to work together in friendship, and maybe someone like that is needed in our world today.
In the beginning of "El Cid," Charlton Heston, who plays the title character in his usual stiff manner, releases two Moor prisoners, who he had captured during a battle as he was on his way home to get married. The love he felt for his intended, Chimene (Sophia Loren in all her glory), as is implied by the screenplay (credits to Fredric M. Frank and Philip Yordan), gave him a sense of compassion for the two Muslims, and in return for granting them their freedom, an oath was given to El Cid promising eternal friendship. That oath would come into play later in the film, as El Cid was able to rally Moor armies to help Christians defeat Muslims invading Spain from Africa.
This collector’s edition DVD of "El Cid" is a worthy edition to any film buff’s library. It comes in a very sturdy box, one that exudes elegance and style, and such is the legacy of the man who produced the movie, Samuel Bronston. The most interesting special feature on the DVD, I found, was a biography of Mr. Bronston. He was an immigrant from Bessarabia, a Russian satellite nation, who simply talked his way into getting rich patrons to support his schemes. This knack for influencing and getting money from people to help him served him and his family well most of his life, as he was able to produce such epic films as “55 Days at Peking,” “Fall of the Roman Empire,” “King of Kings,” and earlier films “Jack London” and “City Without Men,” both of which were well received critically.
Included within the box are the aforementioned 2 discs. Disc one ends with an intermission, and the film resumes on disc two. Also in the box are a souvenir program, a reproduction of the "El Cid" comic book, and a set of cards depicting scenes from the film. All these items are of first rate construction and design, and this is certainly a fitting tribute to Samuel Bronston, whose goal we are told was to produce movies of the highest quality possible. That he put everything he had into each movie is a given. Even in current dollars, the set for “Fall of the Roman Empire” is still most likely the most expensive ever built. His recreation of the Forbidden City for the film “55 Days at Peking” astonished visitors, who had been to the real place, with its accuracy.
"El Cid" was made in Spain by studios Bronston built there. He managed to establish a lavish production facility and subsequent film empire in Spain at the height of the reign of Francisco Franco, and thus had many problems to overcome on a financial level during the peak of Spain’s ostracism from the rest of Europe and the U.S. Nevertheless, his best years were spent there, and when everything finally fell apart for him, his legacy of filmmaking lies outside the Hollywood establishment. I suspect that is why little mention is made of him or his films in our press or other media.
Other special features on the DVDs are, on disc one, commentary by Bill Bronston (Samuel’s son), radio interviews with Charlton Heston and Sophia Loren, as well as still galleries and bibliographies. On disc two are the making of "El Cid", the aforementioned biography of Samuel Bronston, a trailer gallery, and features on Miklós Rózsa, the composer of the film’s score, and the film’s director, Anthony Mann.
Certainly this is a well endowed boxed set, and something anyone who collects films will enjoy and cherish. The film is, of course, dated now, but still worthy of watching. There are lessons here, important ones. And based on what I’ve read of El Cid from history, and this film, I believe the man was a true hero, one that worked to bring people together. And in this presidential election year, I hope we can find someone like that now. El Cid was a great man, may people like him continue on this earth.