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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>
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 people, by the people, etc. He couldn't have known Lincoln's rhetorical flourish because the actual speech was given until mid November 1863. See more »
[as Juarez views the dead body of Maximillian lying in state]
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Mexican History has not done too well in American cinema. One film (that I am aware of) about Cortez (THE CAPTAIN FROM CASTILE), one Yul Brynner movie about the Aztecs, several films about Santa Anna and the Alamo (including a new one coming out this week), a few films about Pancho Villa (the two most notable ones being VIVA VILLA with Wallace Beery and a film with Telly Savalas as the bandit patriot), one film directed by Elia Kazan, starring Brando and Quinn (who was half Mexican) about Emilianno Zapata, and John Ford's indictment (via Graham Greene's novel) of the anti-Catholicism of the Mexican Revolution. It's not much, and other films set in Mexico tend to promote the image of corruption and incompetence or bloody mindedness. Witness films like THE OLD GRINGO (an account of the end of Ambrose Bierce in the Mexican Revolution), or THE TREASURE OF SIERRA MADRES.
JUAREZ was a possible exception, in that it was to chronicle the odd events of 1862 - 1867 when (in the shadow of the American Civil War, and the temporary inability of the U.S. Government to exercise the Monroe Doctrine)Emperor Napoleon III decided to set up a puppet Hapsburg Emperor, Archduke Maximillian to rule Mexico. The film is supposed to be centered on Benito Juarez, Mexico's greatest liberal and President (his closest 20th Century counterpart is Lazaro Cardenas, who tried to get real land reform into the country). The film shows how Napoleon's scheme unravelled due to Juarez's refusal to accept the French occupation (an early version of the Vietnam War drained French troop strength for five years), as well as the returning threat of American intervention after Lee's defeat in 1865. But worst of all was the choice of the puppet. Maximillian was one of history's dreamers - he believed in the responsibility of royalty to govern for their people, and he was (for a Hapsburg) a liberal. The result was that the scheme was doomed from the start.
The real heart of the film is the competition between Juarez and Maximillian for the hearts of Mexico - both presenting conflicting views of government (but, ironically enough, good government). Because he was a foreigner, tainted by the French army supporting him, Max lost, and he ended up shot by a firing squad (he refused an opportunity to flee). His beloved wife Carlotta (Bette Davis in the film) went insane - dying in 1927 in Belgium, some sixty years after he died). Played by Brian Ahearn, Maximillian is a sympathetic man who pursues a tragic view of duty to it's sad conclusion. Davis shows the intense love of the doomed wife of this doomed man.
The problem is Muni. His performance is stiff, but good - especially when he explains democracy to his leading "Hotspur" military supporter -a young Porfirio Diaz (John Garfield). Garfield, having gotten to know Ahearn is a good guy, tries to convince Muni to join forces (becoming the first minister to the Constitutionally minded Ahearn). Muni rejects it - why have a monarchy at all. But Muni is overlooking the finer shadings of his rival's personality - he isn't Napoleon III but Maximillian. This should have been the center of the film - but it ended on the cutting room floor. The film was too long, and so Muni is shown struggling alone, leading his guerrilla war against the invader, and fighting an unscrupulous attempt by his Vice President to overthrow him (a properly corrupt Joseph Calliea). The conflict between constitutional monarch and democratic leader is skirted. Garfield, by the way, is not so bad as Diaz - he actually was to play a stronger part had the film not been cut - he would have been confronting the aging Juarez at the end (as historically he did) as the dictator of the future who ruled Mexico for 30 years, and gave it more stability and economic growth than any other leader in it's history (while selling the country off to American and European investors). The film was supposed to end on a more sour note. If it had, it would have been a great film.
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