El Cid is a fast-action color-rich, corpse-strewn, battle picture. The Spanish scenery is magnificent, the costumes are vivid, the chain mail and Toledo steel gear impressive. Perhaps the 11th century of art directors Veniero Colasanti and John Moore exceeds reality, but only scholars will complain of that. Action rather than acting characterizes this film.
Yet the film creates respect for its sheer picturemaking skills. Director Anthony Mann, with assists from associate producer Michael Waszynski who worked closely with him, battle manager Yakima Canutt, and a vast number of technicians, have labored to create stunning panoramic images.
Of acting there is less to say after acknowledging that Charlton Heston’s masculine personality ideally suits the title role. His powerful performance is the central arch of the narrative. Sophia Loren, as first his sweetheart and later his wife, has a relatively passive role.
Two actors in King of Kings who remained over in Spain to appear in El Cid ended up as bit actors. Hurd Hatfield is the court herald in a couple of scenes, Frank Thring is a most unconvincing Moorish emir with a shaved noggin who lolls about in a harem registering a kind of sulky impatience.
Italy’s Raf Vallone is the other man who never has a chance with Chimene. After betraying El Cid he is spared and, at a later period, becomes a follower only to die, tortured, by the invading North African monster, Britain’s Herbert Lom.
Most provocative performance among the supporting players is that of Genevieve Page, as the self-willed princess who protects the weakling brother (John Fraser) who becomes king after she, sweet sibling, has the older brother slain.
1961: Nominations: Best Color Art Direction, Scoring of a Dramatic Picture, Song (‘The Falcon and the Dove’)