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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!"

The 1961 film El Cid, directed by Anthony Mann, is an adaptation of the medieval legend of Don Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar, a.k.a. "El Cid" (the Lord). 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 girlfriend'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.


Meanwhile, King Ferdinand dies, leaving his kingdom to be divided between his two sons. The elder, Sancho (Gary Raymond), says to hell with that and attacks his younger sibling Alfonso (John Fraser), who is supported by their slinky blond sister, Princess Urracca (Genevieve Page). Rodrigo sides with Sancho, because he is his friend. But Sancho is murdered at the behest of Urracca and the King's Champion publicly forces Alfonso to swear he had NOTHING to do with it. Needless to say, this goes over like a ton of bricks with Alfonso and Urracca, who promptly exile Rodrigo. This prompts Jimena to resolve her conflict (to hell with vengeance, Dad - it was a fair fight, and you started it!) and follow Rodrigo. They are dreaming happily of a humble life together in some remote valley when the appearance of his entire fief and just about every officer who ever served with him puts an end to that. The lot of them then set out to fight the Berber horde on behalf of Rodrigo's friend the Emir Moutamin (Douglas Wilmer). Alfonso, back in Castille, busies himself by doing everything possible to make Rodrigo's life harder, including capturing and imprisoning Jimena and their twin daughters. Ordonez (Raf Vallone), Jimena's old admirer and Rodrigo's bitter enemy and attempted murderer, atones by helping Jimena and her children escape. Alfonso sees the light and throws off Urracca's evil influence and rides to join the Cid, dying of his wounds, for the final battle against the Berbers.


The movie ends with a Dying Moment of Awesome in which Rodrigo's dead body, tied onto his horse, leads the victorious charge and then gallops off into the sunset (literally).

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.
  • Aluminium Christmas Trees: Despite being a fine example of Hollywood History, the film gets a few surprising details right.
    • While the idea of Moors and Christians cooperating out of nationalistic fervor is rather overdone to say the least, alliances between Christian and Muslim kingdoms were hardly uncommon during the Spanish Middle Ages, and a charismatic warlord like El Cid could well attract followers from both sides. Furthermore it was also not unknown for Moorish warriors to regard North Africans as interlopers and take the side of Christian princes for that reason. The film makes it Lighter and Softer but it is not completely without foundation.
    • Almoravid warriors were known historically for wearing face veils, even in non-desert environments where one would think them unnecessary. Contemporary Arabic writers even referred to them as al-mulathimum, or "Veiled Ones."
  • 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 multi-culturalist 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 a bit.
    • 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 probably had more to do with palace intrigues and the fact that he was, well, a self-serving mercenary.
    • 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.
  • Artistic License – Religion: While the substituting Allah for God 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 as it is a strictly monotheistic religion that outright rejects the existence of other deities other than God. It's also 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
  • Dan Browned: Famed Spanish historian Ramón Menéndez Pidal, considered to be the authority on El Cid back in the day, was famously hired as the production's historical advisor, something that was boasted in the Spanish print's credits... just to have about each and every of his notes completely ignored in favor of telling a story that's mostly fictional.
  • 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.
  • 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.


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