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Category:    Home > Reviews > Drama > Historical Epic > Large Frame Format > Spain > El Cid – Limited Collector’s Edition (1961/Miriam Collection DVD Box Set)

El Cid – Limited Collector’s Edition (1961/Miriam Collection DVD Box Set)


Picture: C+     Sound: C+     Extras: B-     Film: B-



After Ben-Hur was a massive hit, more Biblical Epics with big action were on the way and so were more big screen large frame format films.  One of the biggest and more noteworthy marked Charlton Heston’s return as the an 11th Century warrior who pushed The Moors form Spain.  It may sound like 300, but instead, this is Heston in the title role of El Cid (1961) and if you liked the recent Gerard Butler hit, you may want to really see what an epic film like that can be with more money, sets, story, bloody battles, production design, costume design, distinct color, character development, amazing acting with screen presence all around and powerful epic filmmaking in the hands of Anthony Mann that can still surprise.


Waiting for him to return is Sophia Loren at her international beauty best (already having won an Academy Award for Two Women) as Chimese, but it is early in the story and El Cid will have to take on the establishment within before he can beat the outside enemy.  It’s a man’s world and much of the Fredric M. Frank/Philip Yordan screenplay is essentially about the battle of wills in this world, how they slowly unwind and eventually play out to some of the most massive battles in all of cinema history.  It also rings particularly true now at the time of its DVD release as a blunt example of how the actions of a few that could prevent war are always past up for the worst.


The leads really deliver, but then so do the supporting cast including Raf Valone, Genevieve Page, John Fraser, Gary Raymond, Hurd Hatfield, Andrew Cruickshank, Christopher Rhodes and Herbert Lom.  The rest of the cast is also impressive and I have to give special credit to the literally thousands of extras who make the fights palpable and really gave it there all to make the massive battle scenes work.  Digital people can never replace the real thing and deep down inside, everyone knows it, unless they…. oh, forget it.


The anamorphically enhanced 2.20 X 1 image was originally shot in the large frame Technirama format like Sleeping Beauty and Spartacus (both reviewed elsewhere on this site with tech information on the format) by the amazing Robert Krasker and though you can see some depth and detail in this transfer you would not seen the newest Super 35mm and digital HD productions, it is still not up to what we expected for a large frame film on DVD.  Maybe this is the same restored material used for the briefly-produced 12” LaserDisc special edition from The Criterion Collection.  Color is not what it could be and further work needs to be done, hopefully for High Definition, where this would really shine.  Ironically, the restoration Gerry Byrne has a three-strip Technicolor print as noted in his featurette.  Too bad they did not use that to grade the color here.


The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix shows the age of the soundtrack, but I also think the sound is worse because it is only Dolby and not DTS here, with the Dolby holding back how great the 6-track magnetic stereo would have sounded back in 70mm prints.  Of course, five of the speakers would be behind the screen (like SDDS now with the sixth track a mono surround, but the music sounds better than the dialogue in a way that sounds like awkward mixing.  Milos Rozsa’s score (who scored Ben-Hur) is a plus, but dialogue needs more work.  Some travelling dialogue and sound effects are fortunately present.


Extras in this limited edition are terrific and almost outdo the film.  The case of discs are accompanied by reproductions of six production stills, a nice reprint of the 1961 Dell Comic of the film (Issue #1259 of their Movie Classics series) and a softbound reproduction of what would likely be a hardcover movie souvenir book form its original release.  A paper pullout inside has an excellent essay about the film by Martin Scorsese, who helped to get the film reissued.


DVD 1 adds stills, text filmographies, radio interviews with Heston & Loren that local DJs could add questions to as if they were doing the interviews and a very informative audio commentary by Bill Bronston (son of the film’s producer, Samuel Bronston) and Neil M. Rosendorf, who wrote a biography and is a scholar on Samuel Bronston’s career.


DVD 2 adds a trailer gallery and five featurettes:  Hollywood Conquers Spain: The Making Of El Cid, Samuel Bronston: The Epic Journey Of A Dreamer, Behind The Camera: Anthony Mann & El Cid, Miklos Rozsa: Maestro Of The Movies and Preserving Our Legacy: Gerry Byrne on Film Restoration and Preservation which gives you the details on all the effort to save just this one epic film.


It is hard to believe it took this long for this early key epic to arrive on DVD or that it has been out of print for so long, but it proves that the wildly successful format still has not seen all the major material released it needed to.  A few major epic productions have received such epic treatment, but El Cid is finally here.  It may not be the great epic ever made, but it is one of the most ambitious and even when it sags in places, it is a film you have to see to believe in its ambition and scope.  When you finish, you’ll see what real filmmaking is all about and how we’ve been had and suckers by too many phony big budget bashes lately.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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