RETRO-ACTIVE: THE BEST FROM CINEMA RETRO'S ARCHIVES
Movie producers Bob and Harvey Weinstein have honored their late mother by establishing a new video company in her name. The Miriam Collection, released through the Genius Products video label, will issue vintage films on DVD in special collector's editons. It wouldn't be accurate to call each of the forthcoming releases a classic, but it would be safe to say that movie fans will be over the moon about the availability of some long-desired gems that had never been released on DVD previously. The most exciting news for Cinema Retro readers is the fact that the Weinsteins have the rights to the films of producer Samuel L. Bronstron and their initial release, the 1961 epic El Cid is first rate in every conceivable way. Bronston was a man who didn't know how to think small - his appetites were big and so was his love for the film industry. He shot epic movies on relatively economical budgets by establishing a studio in Spain. By doing so, he took advantage of the dictator Franco's desire to improve his nation's discredited image by luring heavyweight Hollywood producers to do business in Spain. Bronston found not only favorable financial and climate conditions there, but Franco also gave him a literal army of unpaid extras through use of, well, the Spanish army.
One of six commemorative mini-lobby cards included in the set
Bronston planned to finanace his next film with the profits from the previous one. The idea worked well initially. El Cid, which tells the story of Spain's greatest hero - Rodrigo de Bivar, who united disparate factions of his countrymen in a common goal to defeat an invasion of Islamic religious fanatics- was a box-office and critical triumph. However, Bronston, who was a poor businessman, found his luck had run out on future productions such as 55 Days at Peking, Circus World and The Fall of the Roman Empire. Each bombed at the boxoffice and left him in staggering debt. He ultimately lost the "empire" he had built.
The new special collector's edition of El Cid tells the compelling story of the rise and fall of Samuel Bronston through the original documentary The Epic Journey of a Dreamer. What
makes the show so enjoyable is its candor. Bronston's son Bill and
friends, colleagues and critics of the producer all reflect on his
legacy, and its not always favorable. Bill Bronston also teams with
historian Neal M. Rosendorf for an indepth audio commentary that is as
revealing as it is mesmerizing. There are also numerous other
mini-documentaries centering on the making of the film, the career of
its director Anthony Mann, and the music of Miklos Rozsa. Rounding out
the 2 DVD set are vintage radio interviews with Charlton Heston and
Sophia Loren (who apparently hated each other), still galleries and
trailers. The boxed set contains some superb bonus items including
reproductions of the original movie souvenir program and Dell comic
book adaptation, mini lobby cards and a booklet with an introduction by
Martin Scorsese. The film itself has aged very well, indeed. One of the
most intelligent of the epic movies produced during this period, the
production boasts a literate script and fine performances from one and
all, including Herbert Lom, Raf Vallone, Gary Raymond and Hurd
Hatfield. The sheer scope of the movie still impresses - Bronston managed to shoot all of the outdoor sequences on location, an incredible achivement considering he was recreating the Spain of hundreds of years ago. There has been some griping from other critics that the
transfer is weak due to having been taken from a mediocre 1993 restored
print of the movie, but for my money, this is the best the film has
looked since 1961.
A full reproduction of the original Dell comic book is included in the deluxe edition
There is a scaled down, DVD-only version of
the film available, but if you are Cinema Retro reader, you would
consider it a sacrilege not to buy the deluxe edition with all these
cool extras. Congratulations to the Weinsteins - we can hardly wait for
future releases in The Miriam Collection.- Lee Pfeiffer
(An exclusive interview with Bill Bronston will be posted shortly).
To order the deluxe DVD edition of El Cid from the Cinema Retro Amazon Store, click here