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Zoot Suit (1981)

R  |   |  Drama, Musical  |  January 1982 (USA)
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Ratings: 6.8/10 from 796 users  
Reviews: 20 user | 2 critic

A kind of musical accompanying the story of the early 1940's and the effect that the "zoot suit" (a man's suit of long jacket and pegged pants, always worn with a long keychain that looped ... See full summary »



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Nominated for 1 Golden Globe. Another 1 win. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Daniel Valdez ...
Henry Reyna
El Pachuco
George Shearer
Alice Bloomfield
Judge F.W. Charles
Abel Franco ...
Joey / Jose Torres
Lupe (as Alma Rosa Martínez)
Press (as Frank McCarthy)
Lieutenant Edwards
Robert Phalen ...
District Attorney
Rose Portillo ...
Smiley / Ismael Torres


A kind of musical accompanying the story of the early 1940's and the effect that the "zoot suit" (a man's suit of long jacket and pegged pants, always worn with a long keychain that looped almost to the ankle.... the rebellious fashion of young men) had on the morals and attitudes of the people of that era. Written by BOB STEBBINS <>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Drama | Musical


R | See all certifications »




Release Date:

January 1982 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Chicanos Story  »

Filming Locations:

Company Credits

Production Co:

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:



Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


The character of Henry Reyna was based upon the real-life zoot-suiter Henry "Hank" Leyvas, who was tried and wrongfully convicted for first-degree murder of Jose Diaz, after an incident on 1 August 1942. The film and the play that preceded it conformed to the facts of the actual case. The appeals court overturned the earlier verdict and Reyna and his friends were set free in 1945, following the Zoot Suit Riots and the banning of zoot suits in Los Angeles (courtesy of the Los Angeles City Council) in 1944. Many futures and outcomes for Reyna were given in the film and the play. In real life, Leyvas was convicted some years later for selling drugs. He served ten years and was released, and soon opened a family restaurant. He died of a heart attack in 1971. See more »


Henry Reyna: I was supposed to report to the Navy tomorrow!
El Pachuco: They'd give you those tight pants to make your ass look like an apricot.
Henry Reyna: So what business is it of yours? It's my ass!
See more »

Crazy Credits

The film opens with the 1940's Universal logo. See more »


Referenced in Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession (2004) See more »


Zoot Suit
Performed by Edward James Olmos and Ensemble
See more »

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User Reviews

"Zoot Suit. All it is for you guys is another way to say Mexican ."
17 June 2007 | by (London, England) – See all my reviews

Zoot Suit takes a highly stylised approach to racism in the 40s, in particular the infamous 1942 Sleepy Lagoon murder trial that saw a group of Zoot Suited 'Chicanos' railroaded for a murder in one of the most outrageously unfair trials in American history. But rather than go for a grim courtroom drama, Luis Valdez' film uses it as the basis for a musical fantasy about racism and machismo dominated by Edward James Olmos' El Pachuco, a fantasy figure acting as both Greek Chorus and instigator, with attitude and bad advice to spare. The director's brother Daniel Valdez does double-duty as self-destructive leading man and composer of many the songs, and does a good job of both (sadly the soundtrack only made it to LP). There are some liberties with the truth – names have been changed and the 22 accused are whittled down to a fictionalised four for dramatic convenience – although the most surreal and unbelievable aspects of the trial are sadly accurate: the defendants weren't allowed clean clothes or haircuts to ensure that they looked more 'criminal,' had to stand whenever their name was mentioned and the prosecution really did produce a witness from the LA Sheriff's Office who gave testimony that Mexicans were predisposed to commit murder because of their 'Aztec heritage' of human sacrifice.

There's no attempt to hide that this is unashamedly a filmed play and there are problems with the approach: the sporadic cutaways to the theatre audience are more distraction than anything else and by filming on the original theatre sets the film occasionally hits problems with the cinematography – the vivid colours are excellent, but the tendency to lose focus on anyone not standing centre-stage (something that happens to Charles Aidman in particular) is irritatingly sloppy. Also, it has to be said, Olmos' performance makes no concessions to the more intimate nature of film and at times comes across as stilted and too mannered for the big screen. Yet despite the niggles, it works more often than not. Not for all tastes, certainly, but this 'Chicano Chicago' certainly deserves to be better known.

8 of 9 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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