El Cid (1961) (PG) (romance/historical/epic) (color, 182 min.):
Charlton Heston stars of Don Rodrego Diaz de Vivar, a young nobleman in 11th century Spain, who is accused of treason for releasing a Moorish prisoner and forced to engage his future father-in-law in a duel to the death. He wins the battle, but looses the love of his fiancee, the beautiful Jemena, in the process. She vows to seek revenge for her father's death, and becomes involved in a plot to murder Rodrigo.He is rescued by the same Muslim he showed clemency to, and Jemena is given to him in marriage as a reward for his services to the crown. However, the unwilling bride flees to a convent on their wedding night.
Meanwhile, the Moorish army under Ibn Yusuf makes plans to attack Spain, which has been divided by internal conflicts of the royal family. Rodrego is sent into exile for taking sides in the civil strife, and the destiny of Spain is in the balance. Will he be capable of becoming "El Cid" - the leader - in order to unite Spain against the onslaught of invasion? Also, will he be able to recapture the affection of his one and only love?
This film is one of the great epics of screen history, but it also manages to capture the humanity of the characters and not just the grandeur of the big picture. The battle scenes are very impressive, and the inspiring finale is a stunning testament to the power of cinema. The casting was admirable, even though Charlotn Heston and his leading lady actually loathed one another in real life!
You'll notice that El Cid tends to look away from Jemena rather than at her during the scenes when they're supposed to be professing their ardor! There are also notable historical inaccuracies and fictional meanderings in the film, filling in the blanks left by history or basing "facts" on Spanish epic poetry. But few people care to go through the weeds about it, and just enjoy the epic grandeur of the masterpiece!
The Seven Cities of Gold (1955) (PG) (religious/drama) (color, 103 min.):
Michael Rennie stars as Fr. Junipero Serra, the famous 18th century Catholic priest and missionary, who joins a party of Spanish explorers and soldiers in search of the fabled Seven Cities of Gold in California. He comes head to head with the irreligious Captain Portola and his pompous second-in-command, Lt. Mendoza, insisting that the native tribes should be treated respectfully as Children of God.
Fr. Serra sets about establishing a string of missions in California and establishing a bond of trust with the Indians. But just as the priest's hard work begins to bear fruit, the proud Mendoza starts a dalliance with the sister of an Indian chief which ends in heartbreak and then disaster. The natives retaliate by declaring war on the Spaniards, besieging them, and cutting off their water supply. The ensuing conflict becomes one of the heart, as Fr. Serra and Mendoza face up to each other in a final conflict that will determine the fate of the missions and the salvation of souls.
I highly recommend this film as a Catholic classic about an exemplary missionary with a burning love for souls. It lets viewers get an intimate glimpse into the lives and challenges of the Spansh conquistadors and covers both the good and bad aspects of European influence in the Americas. Fr. Serra is shown in a positive light, and his faith in the miraculous is proven to be more powerful than the brute force of military might. The acting was very good and the plot was constructed expertly. I also give this movie two thumbs up for the inspiring finale.
Scaramouche (1952) (G) (historical/action/adventure) (color, 115 min.):
Stewart Granger stars as Andre Moreau, a reckless French rogue with a taste for adventure and an eye for the ladies. When he discovers that he is really the illegitimate son of a wealthy nobleman, he goes in search of his father and meets his beautiful "half-sister" along the way. But the political tides of pre-revolutionary France interrupt his personal quest.
When the Queen's ruthless swordsman, Marquis de Maynes, kills Moreau's best friend for writing pamphlets criticizing the French aristocracy, Moreau vows to have revenge. He takes lessons in fencing and dons the mask of the comic clown, Scaramouche, to hide his identity. But challenging de Maynes to a fight is more difficult than the would-be avenger first expected, and he must employ his wits to draw the expert swordsman into combat. What follows is not only a spectacular duel of swords, but also a battle of minds and hearts, as startling revelations bring Moreau's shady heritage to the fore and force him to confront his honor.
I thought the plot of this film was very well thought out, with lots of complicated twists and turns, just like the final duel scene in the theater. I would say, however, that this film is definitely sympathetic to the French Revolution and portrays the French monarchy and aristocracy in a relatively bad light. Considering the sheer brutality of the revolution, I think this may be a bit of misguided romanticism on the part of the author. But if you can get around that, the rest is an enjoyable evening's entertainment.
The Four Feathers (2002) (PG-13) (military/drama) (color, 132 min.):
Heath Ledger stars as Harry Haversham, a young officer in the British army during the latter part of the Victorian era. When his regiment is sent to suppress an Islamic rebellion in Sudan, Harry resigns his commission in order to avoid the conflict. This shocking decision causes his high-ranking father to disown him, his charming fiancee, Ethne, to break their engagement, and his best friends to declaim him as a coward. To punctuate the accusation, they send him four white feathers, the symbol of cowardice.
Frightened and isolated, Harry sinks into depression in dreary London. Months later, he learns that his regiment has been badly mauled in the Sudan because of information leaked out by spies. Determined to redeem his honor and reclaim his love, the young former officer embarks on an perilous journey into the Sudan to infiltrate the British camp and root out the spies before it is too late.
The basic idea of this movie is very intriguing and appealing because it deals with every person's journey to discover their inner strength. Also, I enjoyed the lavish historical sets, from the ballroom to the battlefield, and the romance between Harry and Ethne was a nice diversion from all the fighting. However, I felt that parts of the movie, especially those taking place in the Sudan, were rather confusing and hard to follow.
Also, the film could be intense and rather disturbing during desert combat sequences. A final point is that I wish the British chaplain depicted in the film had not been shown as such an unstable character. To me, it would have been better if he was more steady and heroic. In spite of all this, I would recommend the movie as an exciting adventure film with a basically decent plot.
The King's Speech (2010) (R) (historical/drama) (color, 118 min.):
Colin Firth stars as Prince Albert, Duke of York, the stammering son of King George V of Britain. When all methods to cure his speech impediment fail, his strong-willed yet loving wife, Elizabeth, recruits an unorthodox Australian speech therapist, Lionel Lough, to help the Prince overcome his difficulties. Lough wishes to become friends with "Bertie", but the Prince initially resists because of their differences in rank. Eventually, however, the two men strike up an unlikely friendship that enables the Prince not only to improve his impediment, but also to vent his frustrations.
When George V dies and Edward, the Prince of Wales, becomes king, a crisis develops because of Edward's unseemly relationship with Wallace Simpson, an American socialite and two-time divorcee. As a result, Edward abdicates and leaves the throne to his younger brother "Bertie", who becomes King George VI. Realizing that he needs Lough more than ever, the new king forms a stronger alliance with him in hopes of finding his voice and rallying his people as WWII looms on the horizon.
I found this film humorous and inspiring, with excellent acting and witty lines. It put paid to romantic myth surrounding Edward and Wallace and showed the affair for what it was: a desertion of duty. Also, it demonstrated the beauty of honor and traditional family life. However, some of the lines the character of Lionel Lough was given are far more uppity than he would have been allowed to utter in the presence of a royal, and he would never have addressed the king by a nick-name.
Also, as has been pointed out elsewhere, it would have been nice to have seen something of George VI's sincere Christian faith and prayer life. The film is rated strongly because of several scenes in which there is some profane swearing/inappropriate language, but the rest of the movie was perfectly decent. If you want to see the film, just fast-forward the swearing part (which is relatively brief) and move on.
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|A Scene from the Film El Cid|