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Sunday, July 12, 2009

El Cid (1961) - The story of a hero

El Cid, the legendary hero of Spain was a real person named Don Rodrigo Diaz de Bivar ((c. 1040, Vivar, near Burgos – July 10, 1099, Valencia)). He lived around 1035 A.D. Although he spent much of his time fighting on the side of the Moors, he became identified as the best incarnation of the true Castilian Christian spirit. His name came from the Arabic "sayyid" meaning "lord" or "chief." He was a nobleman, who was educated in the royal court of Castile, and was one of the leading warriors of Alfonso VI against the Moors. He is considered the national hero of Spain.
As is expected, a movie made on such a hero is always made more romantic than reality, with acts of heroism and valor magnified, and when the movie has such actors such as Charlton Heston and Sophia Loren, the movie seems much more romanticized than the original. The movie was released in 1961 and earned 3 Oscar nominations, but was unable to win any Oscars.

El Cid, the 1961 Oscar nominated film starring Charlton Heston and Sophia Loren

The movie was directed by Anthony Mann, and was shot primarily on location in Spain (including the historic castles of Belmonte (Cuenca) and Peñíscola (Castellón)), with a smaller number of scenes being shot in Rome. The movie used real swords during the shooting, so you would expect that the action scenes needed a much better control and thorough safety measures.
El Cid was part of an aristocratic family, but not very powerful or high in the Spanish royal court. However, he became famous as a man who was a warrior at the same time as he was a peacemaker, willing to spare enemies if they swore their allegiance to his king. This was a time when there were many royals, with many of these royals fighting for power, and fighting for the throne. And this was also a time when the Moors were fighting for gaining space in Spain, in their quest to introduce the power of Islam inside Spain.
He was to fight back charges of treason, and eventually loses favor at the royal court, becoming a mercenary when his king Alfonso abandons him. He even fights on the side of the Moors, but eventually comes back to support his king when he is called back. He also came to command much more influence among the common people, earning their respect, and forming his own army composed of both Christians and Moors, forming his own fiefdom comprising the city of Valencia and its neighboring regions.
The book had some great scenes, such as the fight between two single warriors to get control of the city, which was a great fight. Shooting on location imparted some incredible majesty and splendor to the movie.

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