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Film / El Cid

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"In my country, we have a name for a warrior with the vision to be just and the courage to show mercy. We call him... the Cid!"

El Cid is a 1961 epic historical film directed by Anthony Mann and written by Frederic M. Frank and Philip Yordan. Miklos Rozsa composed the soundtrack. The film is heavily based off the 1637 stage play Le Cid by Pierre Corneille.

It is a loose adaptation of the stories around Don Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar, a.k.a. "El Cid" (the Lord in Spanish). The real Rodrigo Diaz seems to have been a very successful soldier of fortune who served both Christian and Muslim kings without distinction in eleventh century Spain, eventually leveraging his military skill into a fiefdom in the then-mostly Arab/Berber city of Valencia. After centuries of multiple authors retelling the tale he became the Muslim slaying hero of the Reconquista. In this version Rodrigo is a multi-culturalist, working for a union of Christians and Spanish Moors against an invasion by ferocious Berbers.

As per the source material, Rodrigo Diaz's (Charlton Heston) life gets complicated after he kills his betrothed's father in an informal duel. Needless to say, Jimena (Sophia Loren) takes this badly. In accordance with the best medieval ideals of vendetta, she makes an earnest effort to have Rodrigo killed. As Rodrigo is now the King's champion, replacing Jimena's dad, his majesty takes exception to this and thinks it's a fine idea to make the couple marry after all. Jimena chooses the wedding night to confess that she was party to an underhanded attempt to murder Rodrigo. Hurt but understanding he makes no attempt to consummate the marriage. This does nothing to help Jimena's state of mind as she is deeply in love with her husband, father killer or no.

Tropes in El Cid:

  • Anguished Declaration of Love: It's hard to top Jimena's heartbroken: "I will make myself worthy of you, Rodrigo. I will learn to hate you." after Rodrigo kills her father.
  • Arranged Marriage: After their original engagement breaks off, Rodrigo asks the king to give him Jimena as his Standard Hero Reward.
  • Art Imitates Art: At one point, Jimena is seen embroidering something that looks very much like a panel of The Bayeux Tapestry. It's unlikely that she would imitate Norman embroidery artists, but the time period kind of fits (roughly 30 years after 1066).
  • Badass Boast: Done by Rodrigo when he rescues Prince Alfonso from the men escorting him to prison.
    Rodrigo: Will you give me your prisoner, or must I take him?
    Soldier: There are thirteen of us, and you're alone!
    Rodrigo: What you do is against God's law, were you thirteen times thirteen, I would not be alone.
  • Artistic License – History: Inevitable, as the film is based on admittedly embellished and quite imaginative historical sources.
    • To begin with, the real Cid acted as more a self-serving mercenary than the cosmopolitan hero he is portrayed as being here. Furthermore, he didn't kill Diego Fernández, his father-in-law, in a duel.
    • As Rodrigo never killed her father, Jimena obviously never tried to have him killed in revenge. Indeed, the historical sources point to the two of them being Happily Married (or at least stable and mutually supportive).
    • The bit about Rodrigo making king Alfonso swear himself innocent of his brother's death on a bible in public is most likely a fabrication, though to be fair this bit of embellished history predates the film by centuries, as it's part of the Spanish oral tradition.
    • Using "Spain" as the name of a country is another big one, since back then there was no such concept, and wouldn't be for several centuries. In the 11th century, the territory of modern day Spain was divided in multiple kingdoms, both on the Christian and Muslim sides, and the word "Spain"note  was barely used at all. And the few times it would appear, would be used as the name of a geographical location instead. Kind of like "the Balkans", for instance. Now, to be fair, this was likely done for the sake of clarity for the audience.
    • El Cid was actually exiled twice, at different points in his life, by Alfonso. While the popular legend holds that Rodrigo was exiled for forcing the king to swear his innocence, the real reason were essentially palace intrigues and the wariness of a king that believed Rodrigo was too prone to overstep his orders.
    • Both the Moorish Andalusians and the Berber Almoravids wield curved scimitars. In reality, both factions used straight, double-edged swords. Andalusian swords in particular were often nigh-identical to those used by Christian knights. It should be noted that this is a fairly common misconception.
    • The use of two-handed swords, jousting lances, and great helms during the jousting scene are more appropriate to the 13th, 14th and 15th centuries than the 11th.
    • Yusuf never personally sieged Valencia. Rather, it was his nephew (acting on his orders) who did so. Additionally, the film depicts Yusuf dying during the final charge that breaks the Almoravid siege, when in reality he died of natural causes a good few years after El Cid himself.
  • Artistic License – Religion: While treating Allah and God as different deities is hardly new when it comes to representing Muslims in film, a notable example happens when Yusuf declares to a dying Ordonez, before finishing him off: "This will be a battle between our God, and yours!" The statement implies a simultaneous and distinct existence of a Christian god and a Muslim god, which is a big no-no for Islam, even if wholly metaphorical, as it is a strictly monotheistic religion that outright rejects the existence of other deities other than God. It's unlikely that a religious fundamentalist like Yusuf would say such a thing.
  • Badass Cape: Rodrigo. And Charlton Heston has the shoulders to pull it off, too.
  • Big "WHY?!": What Ximena screams when the exiled Spanish warriors catch up with Rodrigo. You can barely hear her over the cheers.
  • Brother–Sister Incest: Implied with Alfonso and Urraca. Historians have speculated on evidence indicating that the real Alfonso and Urraca may have been incestuously attached to each other, and there are a number of scenes that portray them being a little too intimate with each other. Big brother Sancho even calls Alfonso out on it during their knife duel.
  • Combat Breakdown: The Combat by Champion battle for Callohora.
  • Combat by Champion: Rodrigo champions Castile.
  • Cool Sword: Vivar's real-life sword, Tizona
  • Determinator: After being gravely wounded by an arrow to the chest, doctors inform Rodrigo they could likely save his life through a surgical procedure but he would be laid up for some time. Rodrigo refuses to leave his army and allies at such a critical moment and insists on riding out the next morning to meet Yusef's forces in battle, whether or not he is still alive, dying, or already dead when the morning comes.
  • Divide and Conquer: Yusef’s plan is to take advantage of Sancho and Alfonso’s power struggle for Castille and force the kingdom into civil war, eventually leaving them vulnerable for his own army. Although he successfully initiates his plan by having a sleeper agent kill Sancho and frame Alfonso as the guilty party, it is squashed when Rodrigo forces Alfonso to swear his innocence, maintaining Castille’s unity.
  • Dudley Do-Right Stops to Help: While heading into exile, Rodrigo stops to give water to a leper, giving no sign that he is afraid of risking infection himself. The leper says that only El Cid could humble a king and give water to a leper.
  • El Cid Ploy: Trope Namer. See the page for more details.
  • Expository Hairstyle Change: During the intermission that covers his years spent in exile, Rodrigo grows a beard streaked with gray.
  • The Fundamentalist: Ben Yusuf. He seeks to violently force Islam on the rest of the world and destroy all who oppose him. Including other, more tolerant Muslims.
  • Femme Fatale: Urraca is characterized as this, although her part is fairly small.
  • Good Scars, Evil Scars: During his exile, Rodrigo acquires a diagonal scar on his right cheek that runs from beneath his eye to his beard.
  • Heel–Face Turn:
    • Jimena. Learning Alfonso exiling Rodrigo causes her true feelings to overwhelm her vengeance. She joins Rodrigo in exile.
    • Ordonez. Rescues Jimena and her daughters from the dungeon and joins Rodrigo.
    • Alfonso. Loses his arrogance and pettiness and reconciles with Rodrigo.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade: Zig-zagged due to Values Dissonance. The historical El-Cid seems to have been a great deal more self seeking but also less hostile to Muslims than his legend.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: To Urraca. The film portrays her as encouraging Alfonso to imprison Jimena and her daughters, while historically, she protected them.
  • Hollywood Costuming: Let's just say that if we listed all the examples where the armour, clothes and dresses didn't match up to the historical reality of 11th-Century Spain, we'd be here a while.
  • Improvised Weapon: Rodrigo uses a saddle for a shield in the Combat by Champion.
  • Knife Fight: At their father's wake, Prince Alfonso attempts kill his brother Sancho for the control of all of Spain. His initial attack fails, and the two end up fighting each other with knives.
  • The Lady's Favour: Jimena first gives her's to the Champion of Aragon in hopes he will kill Rodrigo. Then when that fails offers not just a scarf but her hand in marriage to Ordonez - a disappointed suitor - if he will do same.
  • My Master, Right or Wrong: Rodrigo has a touch of this as he refuses to fight against Alfonso no matter WHAT he does to him because Alfonso is his rightful king. Probably counts as Honor Before Reason.