Announced in the NY Times Tuesday "New DVDS" column, the release of the Sophia Loren - Charleton Heston El Cid. Because I am a Castle Lover, I loved this movie. I finally got to see it as an adult some years back at the Film Forum, when the Film Forum still was located on Grand Street. Imagine the sighs of contentment at the historically created battle scenes, the armor, the Visigoth castles and Moorish palaces. Imagine my chagrin reading this in the column today, information re El Cid of which I was unaware:
[ Mann’s most characteristic work was in film noir (“Raw Deal,” 1948) and the western (“The Far Country,” 1954), and his best period was behind him when he went to Spain to work for Samuel Bronston, the enterprising producer of “El Cid.” In “The Red and the Blacklist: The Intimate Memoir of a Hollywood Expatriate,” Norma Barzman, Ben Barzman’s widow, writes that Mr. Bronston had been able to finance his Spanish operations thanks to an arrangement with the DuPont family, who wanted to sell oil to Spain under Franco but did not want to be paid in unexportable Spanish pesetas. Instead the DuPonts plowed their local profits into Mr. Bronston’s films, which could then be sold around the world for more convertible currencies.
As Mr. Bronston’s biographer, Neal M. Rosendorf, and son, Bill Bronston, note on the commentary track, the film draws flattering parallels between Heston’s medieval hero and Franco, whose government was in on the oil deal. The dastardly Moors, led by a kohl-eyed, black-robed Herbert Lom, became stand-ins for the Communists, whom Franco had crushed in the Civil War. And in the cold war context of 1961, such foes were still perceived as enough of a clear and present danger to make Franco a prized American ally.
To top it off, Mr. Bronston (born Bronstein) was related to Leon Trotsky (born Lev Davidovich Bronstein), a relationship that could hardly have thrilled Franco or even Mr. Barzman, still a member in good standing of the Stalinist Communist Party U.S.A. at the time he rewrote the script. Surely setting some kind of record for the number of strange bedfellows packed into a single cot, “El Cid” ought to have been either an extremely lively, contentious film or a total smoking train wreck. Oddly enough, it is neither, but rather a handsome, rather placid, perfectly professional production. (The Weinstein Company, $24.95; “limited collector’s edition,” $39.95; not rated.) ]