El Cid Plot
Ibn Yusuf (Herbert Lom) has summoned all the Emirs of Al-Andalus to North Africa. He chastises them for their complacency in dealing with the infidels, then reveals his plan for Islamic world domination.
Don Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar (Charlton Heston), on the way to his wedding with Doña Ximena (Sophia Loren), rescues a Spanish town from an invading Moorish army. Two of the Emirs, Al-Mu’tamin (Douglas Wilmer) of Zaragoza and Al-Kadir (Frank Thring) of Valencia, are captured. After escorting his prisoners to Vivar and seeing that peace will not come from others’ desire for revenge, Rodrigo releases them on condition that they pledge never again to attack King Ferdinand of Castile’s (Ralph Truman) lands. The Emirs proclaim him “El Cid” (the Castillian Spanish pronunciation of the Arabic for Lord: “Al Sidi”) and swear allegiance to him.
For his act of mercy, Don Rodrigo is accused of treason by Count Ordóñez (Raf Vallone). When the charge is repeated in court, they are supported by Ximena’s father, Count Gormaz (Andrew Cruickshank), the king’s champion. Rodrigo’s aged father, Don Diego (Michael Hordern), angrily calls Gormaz a liar. Gormaz strikes Don Diego, challenging him to a duel. Rodrigo asks Gormaz to meet privately, begging him several times to ask the aged but proud Diego for forgiveness (for accusing Rodrigo of treason). Gormaz refuses, and Rodrigo kills him in a duel. Ximena swears revenge, wishing that she were her father’s son.
When a rival king demands the city of Calahorra, Rodrigo becomes Ferdinand’s champion, winning the city in single combat. Victorious, he is sent on a mission to collect tribute from Moorish vassals to the Castillian crown. He asks that Ximena be given to him as his wife upon his return, so that he can provide for her. Count Ordóñez, conspiring with Ximena, plots to kill Rodrigo for her hand. Rodrigo and his men are ambushed, but are saved by Al-Mu’tamin, to whom Rodrigo had earlier showed mercy. Upon returning, he and Ximena are wed, but the marriage is not consummated: Rodrigo will not touch her if she does not give herself to him out of love. Ximena instead goes to a convent.
King Ferdinand dies and his younger son, Prince Alfonso (John Fraser) tells the elder son Prince Sancho (Gary Raymond) that Ferdinand divided the kingdom: Castile to Sancho, Asturias and León to Alfonso, and Calahorra to their sister, Princess Urraca (Geneviève Page). Sancho refuses to accept anything but an undivided kingdom as his birthright. After Alfonso instigates a knife fight, Sancho overpowers his brother and sends him to the dungeon Zamora. Rodrigo tells Alfonso’s guards they are violating God’s law, defeats them all, and escorts Alfonso to Calahorra. When Sancho arrives to demand Alfonso, Urraca refuses to hand him over. She and Alfonso beg Rodrigo to join them but he refuses, because his oath was to serve them all equally.
Ibn Yusuf arrives at Valencia, planning to land his armada on Spanish shores. He hires Dolfos to kill one of Ferdinand’s sons, making it look like the other’s order, weakening their portion of Spain. Because Ferdinand had trusted Dolfos, Urraca suspects nothing when Dolfos offers to assassinate Sancho. At Alfonso’s coronation, El Cid has him swear upon the Bible that he had no part in the death of his brother. Since he had no part in or any knowledge of it, Alfonso swears truthfully and banishes Rodrigo for his impudence. Ximena secretly listens to the edict, and her love for him is rekindled. On his way out of Spain, Rodrigo finds that Ximena has followed, choosing exile with him in other lands.
Years later, Rodrigo, known widely as “El Cid”, is called into the service of the king to protect Castille from Yusuf’s North African army. El Cid does not join the king but allies himself with the Emirs who fight at Valencia, where he relieves the city of Emir Al-Kadir, who had betrayed him.
Count Ordóñez brings Ximena from where the king had imprisoned her and her children after his defeat by the Moors. Patching things up between them, Ordóñez joins Rodrigo, El Cid, in his cause. Valencia falls and Emir Al-Mu’tamin, Rodrigo’s army, and the Valencians offer the city’s crown to El Cid, but he refuses and instead sends the crown to King Alfonso. Rodrigo then repels the invading army of Ben Yusuf, but is struck during the battle by an arrow before final victory. Yusuf and his men see that El Cid is badly wounded. If the arrow is removed, he will be unable to lead his army, but he might recover. Rodrigo obtains a promise from Ximena to leave the arrow, and so he chooses to ride out, dying or dead. King Alfonso comes to his bedside and asks for his forgiveness.
Rodrigo dies, and his body is secured in a heroic riding pose, wearing his armor and cape, to an iron frame fitted to his saddle. With the resounding battle cry, “For God, the Cid, and Spain!”, uttered by King Alfonso, Rodrigo’s body is sent out at the head of his army. Alfonso and Emir Al-Mu’tamin ride on either side to guide his horse. When Yusuf’s soldiers see El Cid with his eyes still open, they believe that he has risen from the dead. The Cid’s horse, Babieca, followed by the column of mounted knights, tramples Ben Yusuf, who is too terrified to fight. The invading North African army is routed and smashed. King Alfonso leads Christians and Moors alike in a prayer for God to receive the soul “of the purest knight of all”.