El Cid

Ostensibly, El Cid is the cinematic tale of the legendary 11th-century warrior who repelled the Moorish invasion of Spain. Viewed in its glorious, first ever DVD presentation, this 1961 epic now seems mostly to be about how to capture mountain vistas, open plains, sprawling armies, and, not incidentally, Sophia Loren?s eyes, in widescreen Super Technirama and glorious color. If the clotted plot, and the customary stiffness of Charlton Heston?s performance, has tarnished this onetime box-office smash, the current format gives us a chance to admire the craftsmanship of a dedicated Hollywood professional, director Anthony Mann, as he indulges his keen eye for visual splendor. The pleasure Mann obviously derived from collaborating with a major cinematographer (Robert Krasker, the man who lensed The Third Man), a gifted production, set, and costume designer (Veniero Colasanti), and, above all, a producer with open pockets (Samuel Bronston), is palpable. Mann?s work in the film noir (Raw Deal) and western (The Man from Laramie) genres may have been where his true genius lay, but the historical epic offered him the chance to paint on a broad canvas, capturing sweeping landscapes, manipulating hundreds of extras, and investing every scene, be it on a Spanish plateau or a lavish interior set, with emotionally expressive color. In the light of today?s political upheavals, El Cid –which promotes social unity as a way to ward off Islamic invasion — can be read as a strangely prescient work. But why dig that deep when you can devote attention to how gorgeous both Spain and Loren look.