El Cid

ElCidby Steve Lancaster6/4/16
This is the first of three articles on Medieval kings and regents that in my opinion represent the highest of chivalric standards. All of them lived in that fascinating period when chivalry was beginning to take hold in Europe. This is not to say they are prefect examples, as each has all too human flaws But in a violent time when life was taken cheaply each sought justice when they could and set a groundwork for the developing of the Renaissance. Excellent movies have been made about two of these men and the third is featured in several.  I believe that had these men not lived, or rather lived as they did, Western civilization would not have developed.

Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar, also known as El Cid, is the first of three warriors. Rodrigo was born in 1040 at Burgos, Spain. He is known as the national hero of Spain and like all heroes he also has faults. However, he is the example of chivalry that would for the next three hundred years overshadow the social and military culture of Western Europe. In the 17th century, El Cid is the source for Cervantes’ satire on chivalry, Don Quixote. Rodrigo’s decedents are part of every royal family in Europe to this day.

The real El Cid seems to be a little more real-world. If you read The Poem of the Cid, originally published in the 13th century you will find that Rodrigo is not above cheating Jewish money lenders, distorting the truth, and waging mercenary war. It seems that every time Rodrigo was exiled he took an army with him, ravaged the countryside, and was forgiven when he returned with plunder. In the end he sieges Valencia and becomes a monarch in his right. However, he seems always to have upheld the feudal system by claiming fealty to King Alfonso.

In 1961, a movie based loosely on Rodrigo’s life was released starring what easily could be said to be the most box office stars of the time, Charlton Heston and Sophia Loren. The movie plays up the hero status of Rodrigo and downplays or ignoresheston-charlton-el-cid_01 his faults. Of course, this is Franco’s Spain and Samuel Bronson had to make a movie that would fit in with Franco’s desire to project Spain in a positive image. In exchange, Bronson got access to sites all over Spain that other film makers would not get and the Spanish Army as extras adding realism to the battles. The battle scenes are spectacular with the fight for Calahorra one of the most realistic ever filmed.

At the end of the movie, the Cid has died from wounds and his wife, Jimena, orders him strapped to his horse to head the final assault on the Moors. The Cid exits the gate on his horse and shimmers in sunlight above a Moorish army…to a magnificent organ crescendo that incorporates the main themes Rozsa has used throughout the movie.

This is the last of three movies that Heston made that could be called epic. The first was the The Ten Commandments, 1956, followed by Ben Hur, 1959, and El Cid. It also closed out an age when this kind of epic/hero movie would be made. Yes, I know that Cleopatra came out in 1963, but it was more famous for the antics of the stars, Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, then the quality of the movie.

Of these movies, the music adds so much that not to mention it would be a great disservice. The score for The Ten Commandments is by Elmer Bernstein, and Ben Hur and El Cid are by Miklos Rozsa. Rozsa composes in the classical style of symphonic film first made popular by Erich Korngold. If you have ever thrilled to the music of Robin Hood, then you know Korngold. Bernstein, of course, is the composer of numerous film scores, The Magnificent Seven and The Great Escape as best examples.

El Cid is good Saturday afternoon movie for the entire family. It conveys solid values, a great love story, and with Sophia Loren at the apex of her beauty. Enjoy the story, enjoy the epic qualities of cinematography, and most of all enjoy the score which is Rozsa at his best. • (491 views)

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6 Responses to El Cid

  1. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    Funny, I was just reading the history of this movie five minutes before coming over to ST.

    I saw it once or twice many years ago, but cannot forget the scene in which El Cid’s corpse is strapped to his horse and put at the front of his army to lead a charge against the Moors.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      I saw this as a child, and yes, I still recall that scene. His subordinate holds up El Cid’s arm and issues the call for a charge — and at the end, the uncontrolled horse with the dead body still attached continues to run.

      George MacDonald Fraser discussed this (and the other epics of the period) in his delightful Hollywood History of the World.

  2. Tom Riehl Tom Riehl says:

    Thanks, this is on my list now.

  3. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    I think my favorite part of that movie is when Heston says, “Get your hands off of Western Civilization, you damn, dirty Muslim.”

  4. I saw this movie as a teenager and many of the scenes are still hold territory in my memory. I think it was the first time I realized how really terrible war was.

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