I know when I think of an Italian Castilian knight, I think of Charlton Heston. ...No, seriously, after he played a Mexican in "Touch of Evil", I'm ready to believe anything, especially an Italian, because back in El Cid's time, that was as white as it got, and that's where Charlton Heston belonged. Orson Welles, wherever you may be, I love you man, you were a genius, but seriously dude, I would hardly call Heston believable as a Latino, though at least he's more believable as one than Martin Sheen, who I'm glad decided not to stick with Ramón Antonio Gerardo Estévez, because it sure didn't stick with him. I'll tell you what stuck like glue: Charlton Heston and epic blockbuster dramas, because that was pretty much the biggest chunk of his carrer. The boy just couldn't get enough of them, and hey, I can't blame him, because I too would love and do something to death if it got me as much money as it got Heston. Well, thank goodness he at least had the integrity to pick pretty good cash cows, as Martin Scorsese will tell. Still, what neither Scorsese or his eyebrows - which are so big that they have to be alive - will tell you is that this film is, in fact, not among those genuinely good Heston epics, which isn't to say that it's bad, yet it is to say that it is quite faulty, but still with enough going for it to keep it afloat.
The film gets by on an, at worst, workmanlike presence, alone, feeling too safe and secure to collapse upon itself, and a sudden and dramatic rise in quality in the final act solidifies the film's safety. The degree of appreciation is also helped by the film's style value, for the cinematography, while not terribly spectacular, has its moments of handsomeness and much sweep, which works to great effect during the mostly strong action sequences. Much of the same can be said about the general production, which is elaborate and sweeping with a certain attractiveness in sweeping complexity. However, that attractiveness remains hurt by the fact that these production designs are rarely, if ever not same-old-same-old, looking and feeling like just about every other ancient-set epic of its era. ...Hold on, let me check this paragraph up to this point again to make sure that I'm talking about the production designs and not the film itself. Seriously though, the film's safeness and decent style give it enough charm to keep me from rejecting it all together, and the final act helps greatly, yet the film ultimately fails to keep me from total boredom, not in terms of dullness, but in terms of general intrigue. The film is not at all bad, yet it stands as just so startlingly bland and unexpectedly mediocre, falling distances behind the level of quality of many of the countless fellow epics of its type and era, almost entirely because it's too much like them in just about every other way.
While the general concept has the occasional twist and turn, particularly during that final act, the final product is generic beyond comprehension, collapsing into trope after trope set by the genre this film falls much too deeply under, with the obvious exception being that other epics of this type and era aren't typically unispired in their direction. The genericism doesn't help in the least, yet on general grounds, the film is thoroughly uninspired in its execution, carrying an overly consistent tone that brings down most every layer and turn in this film to a single level, rendering countless significant pieces of exposition to fall limp, for director Anthony Mann feels so very uninspired, or at least not until the final act, which, even then, leaves the film to begin going uneven in its storytelling, yet it's at least consistent in keeping up the film's streak of non-subtleties. As if it's not bad enough that Mann all but entirely strips the film of its intrigue until the still rather rocky final act, he also bugs you half to death with drastic lapses in subtleties, especially when it comes to the unrelenting and head-pounding religious overtones and histrionics. At this time, you couldn't swing a symbolic knife without hitting a histrionic drama, yet all of the overbearing melodrama behind this film washes over in grating waves that taint the waters of effective drama, partially because of the lack of should-be distracting intrigue and partially because of the uninteresting performances, the most uninteresting of which being the ones that should be the most inspired. Those disturbingly overbearing to the point of being unattractive lips and eyes aren't the only things on Sophia Loren that seem fake, as her expressiveness and presence are completely absent amidst her non-layered performance, and it doesn't help that she pulls that classic bad-acting starlette move of delivering most all of her lines with unpalatable pretense and embarassing theatrics, yet unlike most classic bad-acting starlettes of her type, she's not drowned out by a strong lead actor. As much as I appreciate Charlton Heston as a classic talent who made plenty good moves, I am of the highly controversial opinion that he was a bit of a hit-or-miss actor, and in this film, while he's not a pain to watch like he was in "The Planet of the Apes", he turns in a dull performance centered around a single note, and hardly a note at that, as he feels so chilled and shockingly charismaless in his uncompelling and disconnectingly inhuman presence, and with love interest Sophia Loren turning in an even worse performance and startling limpness in Anthony Mann's direction, the chemstry between El Cid and Doña Jimena, and by extension, the central point of structure to this mammoth film almost immediately falls dead, thus slaying the film's last chance of transcending mediocrity. Again, the film is not bad, supported by its eventual sudden jolt in quality and the constant fact that it just never really has the guts to just go ahead and die, as a whole, yet there are plenty of bad spots and immensely more uninspired spots, and with the film running for over three uncompelling hours down a same line we had seen time and again by 1961, alone, while there's nothing that ultimately renders the film totally dismissable, there's still more than enough to render it a mediocre bore that's simply not worth the sit.
Bottom line, while the film's, albeit conventional, yet still rather handsome style and production, as well as a certain charm to its workmanlike atmosphere that keeps it going until its admittedly upstanding final act and keeps it from collapsing under its own sprawling weight, I hate to tell you this, Martin Scoresese, but the film stills falls limp, crawling down a wildly formulaic and rather overlong, tonally uneventful line riddled with oppressing themes and undisguised, unrelenting histrionics, exacerbated by sparkless, non-layered and inhumanly lifeless chemistry and performances between leads Sophia Loren and, yes, even Charlton Heston, ultimately leaving "El Cid" a passable, yet thoroughly unrewarding bore of a misstep within the sea of classic epics that it aspries too much for its audience to evoke, yet simply finds itself lost among.
2/5 - Medicore