El Cid is probably the most unique of the Old Hollywood Epics. Or, should I say EPICS. They truly don’t make movies like this anymore, except for maybe The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Nothing comes as close to the sweeping and grandiose nature of these old films. But what makes El Cid so unique? It seems more intelligent, more concerned with the larger moral canvass on display. This is not a Biblical epic filled to the brim with walk-on star cameos and hilariously miscast leads. This is a true story turned into a myth, a grand feat of super heroics. This is the kind of movie that only Charlton Heston could star in.
And so he does. He plays the titular historic figure with his square jaw, masculine bravado and moral certitude, the same thing qualities that he brought to Ben-Hur and countless other epics. Yes, Heston was not the most introspective of actors, but he was asked to play superheroes, not real people. He was asked to play variations on supermen who could seemingly do anything, lead his people anywhere, defeat anyone. That quality is necessary for making these epics work. Besides Sophia Loren, he is the only real movie star to speak of in this epic. Which works to El Cid’s credit. And Sophia Loren portrays his wife, another character who is not a character so much as an archetype. To complain that she doesn’t delve into much depth is too miss the point. Two Women, Marriage Italian Style and Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow proved that she could act and delve deep for drama or comedy. She hasn’t been asked to do that her. She needs to look glamorous and portray the necessary points in her arch.
El Cid is not a perfect film though. There’s enough story to fill out the entire running time, but for some reason it loses steam and begins to feel very long during the second half. The first two hours flew by and kept my interest throughout. The court intrigue and escalating power struggle were consistently moving along at a brisk pace. Then I had to switch to the second disc and the momentum seemed to die off. Why? This is the section that makes good on the promises of war and political shakeups. I always knew where it was going, and this was my first time viewing the film, but that hadn’t bothered my previously. It was that the war is too brief, the sections with the peasants too long and the subplot with the royal children too invasive. I was always more interested in Heston and Loren. During the second half El Cid too often deviates away from the star power that kept me so enthralled during the first half. It is still worth a look and one of the better epics to come out of the era.