El Cid Anthony Mann

Deranged super-producer Samuel Bronston hit his highest note with this, one of the best of the ’50s/’60s widescreen spectacles. It turns out to be one of the few genre entries actually worth talking about, even if it kind of kneecaps the strengths of its talented director. Charlton Heston stars as Rodrigo Diaz (El Cid, to his followers), who’s struggling to unite 11th-century Spain. Not only does he have to contend with strife in the royal chambers and going on the lam to flee persecution but the Moors are on their way to conquer and he’s got to rally the troops. Much intrigue, injustice, strife and romance with Sophia Loren later, the movie culminates in one hell of a battle scene with an even better lead-up. It’s sort of a bitter triumph for director Anthony Mann. Though he trades the intimacy of his famous westerns for a sprawling expense that kind of gets away from him, it’s still a damned good-looking picture that showcases the panoramic exteriors for which he was famous. Mann involves you in the story just enough to keep you from nodding off or detouring into mindless "oh, wow” — not enough for complexity but plenty for a roaring good time. What follows is a surprisingly on-issue three-disc edition. A commentary with Bronston’s son and biographer reveals the interesting confluence of the producer’s overweening ambition, the Francoist Spain where he set up shop, the blacklisted lefty writers he hired and the director’s own concerns, while several featurettes give unusually dark and brooding assessments of the production, Mann, Bronston and composer Miklos Rosza. The only bad new feature is a useless third disc with celebrity minister John Bevere spouting pseudo-Christian blather. Vintage radio interviews with Heston and Loren round out the platters. The whole thing is packaged in a tan box with a note from Martin Scorsese, some stills and reprints of both the theatrical program and the comic book adaptation. (Alliance)