'El Cid' leads charge for Miriam

Weinstein DVD label bows with epic's format debut

One of the last great epics not yet released on DVD, Anthony Mann's "El Cid," finally will be issued on disc Jan. 29 by Genius Products and the Weinstein Co.

The 1961 medieval epic, which stars Sophia Loren and Charlton Heston, was nominated for three Oscars and won a special merit award in the Golden Globes. The film is the first release in the minimajor's new Miriam Collection, named after Bob and Harvey Weinstein's mother.

"We are proud to launch our new DVD label with the DVD debut of this classic film," said Michael Radiloff, executive vp marketing at Genius. He said the new line will showcase "the best of classic and contemporary cinema, including acclaimed independent, foreign-language and vintage classics, in collectible editions with extensive bonus materials and digitally remastered picture and sound."

"El Cid" tells the story of legendary Spanish hero Rodrigo Diaz, known as "El Cid" to his followers, who drove the Moors from 11th century Spain at a time when the country was divided into Christian kingdoms and Moorish strongholds.

The film will be released on DVD in a pair of two-disc incarnations, a deluxe edition and a collector's edition. Both versions feature a digitally remastered version of the film with an introduction from Martin Scorsese.

Bonus materials include cast interviews, as well as 1961 promotional radio interviews with Loren and Heston; a feature-length commentary from Bill Bronston, son of producer Sam Bronston, and historian-author Neal M. Rosendorf, assistant professor of U.S. international history at Long Island University; a documentary on the importance of film preservation and restoration; featurettes on Bronston, Mann and composer Miklos Rozsa; and a "making of" documentary, "Hollywood Conquers Spain."

The collector's edition also comes with reproductions of the original 1961 souvenir program and El Cid comic book, as well as six color production stills.

When "El Cid" was released theatrically in 1961, the tagline read, "The Greatest Romance and Adventure in a Thousand Years." Oscar nominations were subsequently received for Rozsa's score and original song, "Love Theme From El Cid (The Falcon and the Dove)," as well as best color art direction.

Film critic Leonard Maltin said the DVD release of "El Cid" is long overdue.

" 'El Cid' is high on any film buff's list of most-wanted movies on DVD," Maltin said. "It is considered one of the most majestic and intelligent of the epic films of that period, as directed by Anthony Mann, with one of Charlton Heston's best performances."

"El Cid" came just two years after "Ben-Hur," another epic starring Heston in the lead role and featuring a score composed by Rozsa. "Ben-Hur" won 11 Oscars, including best picture and best actor (for Heston), and grossed $70 million at the boxoffice on a budget of $15 million. "El Cid" was cheaper to make, with a budget estimated at a little more than $6 million, but only earned $26.6 million in theaters.