Charlton Heston's knack for wearing the mantle of larger-than-life characters serves him well in this 1961 Anthony Mann film of a noble Spanish warrior's campaign to unite his divided country against the threat of a Moorish invasion. Amid the pageantry of 11th century feudal Spain, Heston portrays the legendary Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar, known to history as El Cid Campeador, "the Lord Champion." Based on accounts of the Cid in El Cantar de Mio Cid circa 1200, the motion picture idealizes Rodrigo as a selfless knight committed to his cause even when his own wife, his king, and his people scorn him. Heston plays his role to the hilt, literally, as he wields sword, lance, and dagger against his enemies. The one flaw in his outwardly brilliant performance is his failure to plumb the inner turmoil of a man in conflict. Among the highlights of the film are a spectacular joust to the death over a disputed city and a seaside battle with flying arrows, shining scimitars, charging cavalry, and beating drums. The great Miklos Rosza provides an excellent music score, suggestive of the time and place, and cinematographer Robert Krasker captures the panorama of battle and the splendor of castles and countrysides. Sterling performances mark the film throughout. In particular, Herbert Lom is splendidly sinister as the invading Ben Yussef, and John Fraser and Gary Raymond are cat-claw sharp as quarreling siblings who aspire to the throne. Sophia Loren brings beauty and depth to her role as the Cid's wife, Chimene. Producer Samuel Bronston lent a liberal wallet to the making of this film, and he came up with a classic. Fans of the grand and glorious epics of the '50s and '60s should feel right at home with El Cid.
by Mike Cummings review