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Sunday, October 25, 2009

EL CID (1961)

The critical rep for this Anthony Mann epic on Spain’s great national hero/martyr has risen dramatically in the past decade. As well it should. The physical production is unusually striking, Robert Krasker’s lensing has interiors that glow like illuminated manuscripts and Miklos Rozsa’s churning Iberian-tinged score is a marvel. (Especially if you have the speakers to do justice to the organ entry at the climax.) Visually, the cast is equally striking, even if some of the dialogue thuds now & then, and if neither Sophia Loren nor Charlton Heston seem capable of much nuance (she needed Vittorio De Sica & he needed William Wyler for such niceties), sometimes looks really are enough. The story structure is deceptively similar to THE TEN COMMANDMENTS/’56, check out the post-intermission sequence when a grizzled Heston returns to court to see just how close, but helmer Anthony Mann has the moviemaking skills Mr. DeMille had long abandoned. And a decade of superior Westerns had given Mann thrilling power in conjoining location & character in a manner that opens the psychological & moral battles underpinning the sweeping narrative.

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