El Cid (1961)


Introduction

El Cid is a 1961 epic historical drama film directed by Anthony Mann and produced by Samuel Bronston.

The film is loosely based on the life of the Christian Castilian knight Don Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar, called “El Cid” (from the Arabic as-sidi, meaning “The Lord”), who, in the 11th century, fought the North African Almoravides and ultimately contributed to the unification of Spain.

The film stars Charlton Heston in the title role and Sophia Loren as Doña Ximena. The screenplay is credited to Fredric M. Frank, Philip Yordan, and Ben Barzman with uncredited contributions by Bernard Gordon.

Outline

Gen. Ibn (pronounced Ben) Yusuf (Herbert Lom) of the Almoravid dynasty has summoned all the Emirs of Al-Andalus to North Africa. He chastises them for co-existing peacefully with their Christian neighbours, which goes against his dream of Islamic world domination. The emirs return to Spain with orders to resume hostilities with the Christians while Ibn Yusuf readies his army for a full-scale invasion.

Don Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar (Charlton Heston), on the way to his wedding with Doña Ximena (Sophia Loren), rescues a Spanish town from an invading Moorish army. Two of the Emirs, Al-Mu’tamin (Douglas Wilmer) of Zaragoza and Al-Kadir (Frank Thring) of Valencia, are captured. More interested in peace than in wreaking vengeance, Rodrigo escorts his prisoners to Vivar and releases them on condition that they never again attack lands belonging to King Ferdinand of Castile (Ralph Truman). The Emirs proclaim him “El Cid” (the Castillian Spanish pronunciation of the Arabic for Lord: “Al Sidi”) and swear allegiance to him.

For his act of mercy, Don Rodrigo is accused of treason by Count Ordóñez (Raf Vallone). In court, the charge is supported by Ximena’s father, Count Gormaz (Andrew Cruickshank), the king’s champion. Rodrigo’s aged father, Don Diego (Michael Hordern), angrily calls Gormaz a liar. Gormaz strikes Don Diego, challenging him to a duel. At a private meeting Rodrigo begs Gormaz to ask the aged but proud Diego for forgiveness (for accusing Rodrigo of treason). Gormaz refuses, so Rodrigo fights the duel on Diego’s behalf and kills his opponent. Ximena witnesses the death of Gormaz and swears to avenge him, renouncing her affection for Rodrigo.

When a rival king demands the city of Calahorra, Rodrigo becomes Ferdinand’s champion, winning the city in single combat. In his new capacity he is sent on a mission to collect tribute from Moorish vassals to the Castillian crown. He asks that Ximena be given to him as his wife upon his return, so that he can provide for her. Ximena promises Count Ordóñez she will marry him instead if he kills Rodrigo. Ordóñez lays an ambush for Rodrigo and his men but is captured by Al-Mu’tamin, to whom Rodrigo had earlier showed mercy. Rodrigo forgives the Count and returns home to marry Ximena. The marriage is not consummated: Rodrigo will not touch her if she does not give herself to him out of love. Ximena instead goes to a convent.

King Ferdinand dies and his younger son, Prince Alfonso (John Fraser) tells the elder son Prince Sancho (Gary Raymond) that their father wanted his kingdom divided between his heirs: Castile to Sancho, Asturias and León to Alfonso, and Calahorra to their sister, Princess Urraca (Geneviève Page). Sancho refuses to accept anything but an undivided kingdom as his birthright. After Alfonso instigates a knife fight, Sancho overpowers his brother and sends him to be imprisoned in Zamora. Rodrigo, who swore to protect all the king’s children, singlehandedly defeats Alfonso’s guards and brings the Prince to Calahorra. Sancho arrives to demand Alfonso, but Urraca refuses to hand him over. Rodrigo cannot take a side in the conflict, because his oath was to serve them all equally.

Ibn Yusuf arrives at Valencia, the fortified city guarding the beach where he plans to land his armada. To weaken his Spanish opponents he hires Dolfos, a warrior formerly trusted by Ferdinand, to assassinate Sancho and throw suspicion for the crime on Alfonso, who becomes the sole king. At Alfonso’s coronation, El Cid has him swear upon the Bible that he had no part in the death of his brother. Alfonso, genuinely innocent, is offended by the demand and banishes Rodrigo from Spain. Ximena discovers she still loves Rodrigo and voluntarily joins him in exile. Rodrigo makes his career as a soldier in foreign lands, and he and Ximena have two children.

Years later, Rodrigo, known widely as “El Cid”, is called back into the service of the king to protect Castille from Yusuf’s North African army. Rather than work directly with the king El Cid allies himself with the Emirs besieging Valencia, where Al-Kadir has violated his oath of allegiance to Rodrigo and come out in support of Ibn Yusuf.

After being defeated by the Moors, Alfonso seizes Ximena and her children and puts them in prison. Count Ordóñez rescues the three and brings them to Rodrigo, wanting to end his rivalry with El Cid and join him in the defence of Spain. Knowing that the citizens of Valencia are starving after the long siege, Rodrigo wins them over by throwing food into the city with his catapults. Al-Kadir tries to intercede, but the Valencians kill him and open the gates to the besiegers. Emir Al-Mu’tamin, Rodrigo’s army, and the Valencians offer the city’s crown to El Cid, but he refuses and instead sends the crown to King Alfonso.

Ibn Yusuf arrives with his immense invasion army, and Valencia is the only barrier between him and Spain. The ensuing battle goes well for the defenders until El Cid is struck in the chest by an arrow and has to be carried away to safety. Doctors inform him that they can probably remove the arrow and save his life, but he will be incapacitated for a long time after the surgery. Unwilling to abandon his army at this critical moment, Rodrigo obtains a promise from Ximena to leave the arrow and let him ride back into battle, dying or dead. King Alfonso comes to his bedside and asks for his forgiveness.

Rodrigo dies, and his allies honour his wish to return to the army. With the help of an iron frame they prop up his corpse, dressed in armour and holding a banner, on the back of his horse Babieca. Guided by King Alfonso and Emir Al-Mu’tamin riding on either side, the horse leads a charge against Yusuf’s terrified soldiers, who believe that El Cid has risen from the dead. Ibn Yusuf is thrown from his horse and crushed beneath Babieca’s hooves, leaving his scattered army to be annihilated. King Alfonso leads Christians and Moors alike in a prayer for God to receive the soul “of the purest knight of all”.

Cast

  • Charlton Heston as Don Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar, El Cid.
  • Sophia Loren as Doña Ximena.
  • Herbert Lom as Ben Yusuf.
  • Raf Vallone as García Ordóñez.
  • Geneviève Page as Doña Urraca (sister of Alfonso VI).
  • John Fraser as Alfonso VI (King of Castile).
  • Douglas Wilmer as Al-Mu’tamin (Emir of Zaragoza).
  • Frank Thring as Al-Kadir (Quadir) (Emir of Valencia).
  • Michael Hordern as Don Diego (father of Rodrigo).
  • Andrew Cruickshank as Count Gormaz (father of Ximena).
  • Gary Raymond as Prince Sancho, the 1st born of King Ferdinand.
  • Ralph Truman as King Ferdinand.
  • Massimo Serato as Fañez (nephew of Rodrigo).
  • Hurd Hatfield, as Arias.
  • Tullio Carminati as Al-Jarifi.
  • Fausto Tozzi as Dolfos.
  • Christopher Rhodes as Don Martín.
  • Carlo Giustini as Bermúdez.
  • Gérard Tichy as King Ramiro.
  • Barbara Everest as Mother Superior.
  • Katina Noble as Nun.
  • Nerio Bernardi as Soldier (Credited on film as Nelio Bernardi).
  • Franco Fantasia as Soldier.

Production

Development

In 1958, producer Samuel Bronston first considered filming El Cid prior to his work on King of Kings (1961), but the production proved to be so troublesome that it would be set aside until King of Kings reached completion. In April 1960, Variety announced that Bronston was independently producing three films in Spain, one of which included El Cid. It was also reported that Bronston had purchased the rights to Fredric M. Frank’s 140-page treatment for the film and had hired him the week before to prepare the script by July. In July, Anthony Mann and Philip Yordan had signed on to direct and co-write the film respectively.

However, principal photography was nearly delayed when Cesáreo González’s Aspa Films filed an infringement claim against Bronston over the project’s title and theme. Previously, in July 1956, it was reported that two biopics of El Cid were in development: an American-Spanish co-production with Anthony Quinn set to star, and a collaboration between RKO, Milton Sperling, and Marvin Gosch. By August 1960, Bronston reached a deal to have Aspa Films and Robert Haggiag’s Dear Film involved in the production making the project an American-Italian-Spanish co-production.

Writing

The first writer assigned was Fredric M. Frank. By their mid-November start date, Anthony Mann, Philip Yordan, and Charlton Heston had worked on the script in Madrid, with the first forty pages re-written by Yordan described by Heston as “an improvement over the first draft I’d read”. Two days prior to filming, Sophia Loren had read the latest draft in which she became displeased with her dialogue. She then recommended hiring blacklisted screenwriter Ben Barzman to revise the script. Mann subsequently flew out to get Barzman on a plane to Rome in which he gave him a draft, which Barzman found to be unusable. With filming set to begin in a few days, Barzman received a copy of the tragicomedy play Le Cid by Pierre Corneille from the library of the French embassy in Madrid and used it as the basis for a new script. Barzman’s screen credit would not be added to the film until 1999.

However, Barzman’s script lacked powerful romantic scenes, which again displeased Loren. Screenwriter Bernard Gordon then stated, “So [Philip] Yordan yanked me from what I was doing in Paris and said, ‘Write me three or four love scenes for Loren and Heston.’ Well, what the hell – he was paying me $1500 a week, which was a lot more than I made any other way, and I just took orders and I sat down and I wrote four scenes, about three or four pages each. Whatever love scenes there are in the picture I wrote. And they sent them to Loren and said, OK, she’ll do the picture, so I was a little bit of a hero at that point.” Loren had also hired screenwriter Basilio Franchina to translate the dialogue into Italian and then back into simpler English that she felt comfortable with. For script advice and historical truth, Spanish historian Ramón Menéndez Pidal served as the historical consultant to the screenwriters and the director of the film. The naturalist Felix Rodriguez de la Fuente also helped to use raptors and other birds.

Casting

Charlton Heston and Sophia Loren were Bronston’s first choices for the two leads. Writing in his autobiography, in the summer of 1960, Heston had received Frank’s draft which he described as not “good, ranging from minimally OK to crappy”, but he was intrigued with the role. He flew out to Madrid, Spain to meet with Bronston, Yordan, and Mann who all discussed the role with him. On 26 July 1960, his casting was announced. As he conducted research into his role, Heston read El Cantar de mio Cid and arranged a meeting with historian Ramón Menéndez Pidal in Madrid. Initially, Loren was unavailable to portray Ximena, and Jeanne Moreau was briefly considered as a replacement. Another account states Ava Gardner was approached for the role, but she backed out feeling Heston’s part was bigger than hers. Mann then suggested his wife Sara Montiel, but Heston and Bronston refused. Ultimately, Loren became available but only for ten to twelve weeks, in which she was paid $200,000; producer Samuel Bronston also agreed to pay $200 a week for her hairdresser.

Orson Welles was initially approached to play Ben Yusuf, but he insisted a double do his on-set performance while he would dub in his lines during post-production. Bronston refused. British actors were primarily sought for the other male roles, for which most of the principal casting was completed by early November 1960. That same month, on 30 November, Hurd Hatfield had joined the cast. At least four actresses screen-tested for the role for Doña Urraca. Geneviève Page won the part, and her casting was announced on 16 December 1960.

Filming

Principal photography began 14 November 1960 at Sevilla Studios in Madrid, Spain. Filming was reported to spend at least four months of exterior shooting in Spain which would be followed by a final month of interior shooting at the Cinecittà Studios in Rome.

Loren’s scenes were shot first as her availability was initially for twelve weeks. Shooting lasted for eight hours a day as the production employed French hours. By January 1961, her part was considerably expanded in response to the early dailies. Simultaneously, second-unit filming for the battle sequences were directed by Yakima Canutt. As filming had progressed, by December 1960, location shooting for action sequences were shot along the Guadarrama Pass. Specifically for the film’s second half, Heston suggested growing a gray-flecked beard and wearing a facial scar to showcase Don Rodrigo’s battle scarring within the ten-year gap.

With the film’s first half nearly complete, shooting for the battle of Valencia was filmed on location in Peñíscola as the actual city had become modernized. For three months, hundreds of production design personnel constructed city walls to block off modern buildings. 1,700 trained infantrymen were leased from the Spanish Army as well as 500 mounted riders from Madrid’s Municipal Honour Guard. 15 war machines and siege towers were constructed from historical artwork, and 35 boats were decorated with battlements to serve as the Moorish fleet. Tensions between Mann and Canutt rose as Mann sought to shoot the sequence himself. With the sequence nearly finished, Canutt spent three days filming pick-up shots which would be edited within the longer, master shots that Mann had earlier shot. In his autobiography, Heston expressed his dissatisfaction with Mann’s insistence on shooting the battle scenes himself, feeling Canutt was more competent and efficient.

In April 1961, the last sequence to be shot for the film – the duel for Calahorra – was filmed near the Belmonte Castle. The scene was directed by Canutt. Prior to filming, Heston and British actor Christopher Rhodes trained for a month in the use in weaponry under stunt coordinator Enzo Musumeci Greco. The fight took five days to shoot, totaling 31 hours of combat before editing. 70,000 feet of film was shot for the sequence, which was ultimately edited down to 1,080 feet remaining in the film.

Costume Design

Costume designers Veniero Colasanti and John Moore oversaw a staff of 400 wardrobe seamstresses which spent roughly $500,000 on manufacturing medieval-style clothing at a local supply company, Casa Cornejo, near Madrid. The most expensive costume piece was a black-and-gold velvet robe worn by King Alfonso VI during the film, which was tailored in Florence, Italy from materials specially woven in Venice. In total, over 2,000 costumes were used for the film. For the weaponry, Samuel Bronston Productions sought several local Spanish companies. Casa Cornejo provided 3,000 war helmets and hundreds of iron-studded leather jerkins. The Garrido Brothers factory, located in Toledo, Spain, worked under an exclusive contract for eight months producing 7,000 swords, scimitars, and lances. Anthony Luna, a Madrid prop manufacturer, crafted 40,000 arrows, 5,780 shields, 1,253 medieval harnesses, 800 maces and daggers, 650 suits of chain mail (woven from hemp and coated with a metal varnish), and 500 saddles.

Release

On 14 December 1961, the film premiered at the Warner Theatre in New York City and premiered at the Carthay Circle Theatre in Los Angeles on 18 December. For the film’s international release, distributors included the Rank Organisation releasing the film in Britain, Dear Film in Italy, Astoria Filmes in Portugal, Filmayer in Spain, and Melior in Belgium.

In August 1993, the film was re-released in theatres by Miramax Films having underwent a digital and color restoration supervised by Martin Scorsese. The re-release added 16 minutes of restored footage back to the film’s initial 180-minute running time.

Home Media

The film was released on 29 January 2008 as a deluxe edition and a collector’s edition DVD. Both DVDs included bonus materials including archival cast interviews, as well as 1961 promotional radio interviews with Loren and Heston; an audio commentary from Bill Bronston (son of Samuel Bronston) and historian-author Neal M. Rosendorf; a documentary on the importance of film preservation and restoration; biographical featurettes on Samuel Bronston, Anthony Mann, and Miklos Rozsa; and a “making of” documentary, “Hollywood Conquers Spain.” The collector’s edition DVD also included a reproduction of the premiere’s souvenir programme and a comic book, as well as six color production stills.

Box Office

The film grossed $26.6 million in the US and Canada and returned $12 million in rentals (the distributor’s share of the box office gross).

Trivia

  • El Cid premiered on 06 December 1961 at the Metropole Theatre in London, and was released on 14 December in the US.
  • The film received largely positive reviews praising the performances of Heston and Loren, the cinematography, and the musical score.
  • It went on to gross $26.6 million during its initial theatrical run.
  • It was nominated for three Academy Awards for Best Art Direction, Best Music Score of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture, and Best Original Song.

Production & Filming Details

  • Director(s): Anthony Mann.
  • Producer(s): Samuel Bronston.
  • Writer(s): Philip Yordan, Frederic M. Frank, and Ben Barzman.
  • Music: Miklos Rozsa.
  • Cinematography: Robert Krasker.
  • Editor(s): Robert Lawrence.
  • Production: Samuel Bronston Productions and Dear Film Produzione.
  • Distributor(s): Allied Artists (US), Rank Organisation (UK), and Dear Film (Italy).
  • Release Date: 06 December 1961.
  • Running Time: 182 minutes.
  • Rating: U.
  • Country: US and Italy.
  • Language: English.

Video Link

 

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