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William K. Howard
Johnny Mack Brown
The newly-named Emperor Maximillian, the only monarch of the Second Mexican Empire, arrives in Mexico in the early 1860s with his wife Carlotta to face popular sentiment favoring Benito Juarez and popular demand for democracy. With an elite group of Mexican monarchists, Maximillian tries to appease the democratic Mexicans but he fails. Abraham Lincoln continues to support Juarez and asks the French to withdraw support for Maximilian. Carlotta goes to France to plead with Napoleon III, to no avail. Written by
Ed Stephan <email@example.com>
Because the film shows many of Maximilian's generals to be Mexican, many viewers attribute it to typical Hollywood historical distortions. It is, however, indeed accurate. It's a little-known fact that, although Maximilian was eventually overthrown and executed by Mexican revolutionaries, there were actually more Mexicans fighting on Maximilian's side than against him. This was due in large part to the Catholic Church's strong support of the French occupation of Mexico and its "encouraging" Mexican Catholics to fight against the revolutionary forces by joining Maximilian's army, which they did in large numbers. See more »
When Napoleon lll is informed in a letter that Robert E. Lee has been defeated at Gettysburg, he responds by paraphrasing Lincoln's famous Gettysburg Address by calling democracy as government for the cattle, by the cattle, etc. He couldn't have known Lincoln's rhetorical flourish because the actual speech was given until mid November 1863. See more »
Romanticized, over-the-top, a little superficial, but what fun!
From "Pancho Villa Starring Himself" to "The Mexican" and the execrable "Man on Fire" (produced by an Englishman, from an Italian script loosely based on an incident in Columbia... reset in Mexico), Hollywood has never made a film about Mexico that doesn't fall back on clichés and cartoonish "gringo-centric" stereotypes. Despite some problems, Juarez is an honorable exception.
The problem with the screenplay is that Bettina Harding bought the romantic, Euro-centric notion of Max and Carlotta as figures in a "tragic romance". They were patsies for Napoleon III's global ambitions (something the film does very well), but everyone in Mexico knows the two were complete fools who destroyed the economy, and hardly the loving couple depicted in the movie. Max was a syphilitic, pretentious twit. He neglected Carlotta (the "Casa Obvio", his summer house in Cuernavaca that he built, "forgetting" to include rooms for Carlotta is a popular tourist attraction now, and a botanical museum), had a son by his mistress, "la Bonita India" and -- infected his wife.
The other reviewer is unintentionally misleading when he writes that Carlotta lived in seclusion for 60 years. She was bed-ridden most of the time, suffering tertiary syphilis, requiring round-the-clock medical care. She did indeed, like in the film, go bonkers -- but in the Vatican, not in a French palace. The Papacy was a major player in the geo-politics surrounding the Mexican adventure, but the film (perhaps wisely) simplifies the politics.
But, what the hey -- it's Hollywood! It has the perfect cast for this kind of epic: who better to play stoic, long-suffering historical figures than Paul Muni? Who does devious Europeans better than Claude Raines and Donald Crisp? I really enjoy seeing Porfirio Diaz (who later seized the Mexican presidency in a coup, and maintained control for close to 35 years -- and is now a mixed figure in Mexican history, sort of like Lenin with the Russians, or Ataturk among the Turks) played by John Garfield. And who better to go completely bonkers and chew up the scenery than Bette Davis? By all means, watch the movie, but then read your Mexican history.
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