Viva Zapata! (1952) Poster


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Emiliano Zapata 1879-1919
bkoganbing22 April 2008
Although in fact Emiliano Zapata never became president of Mexico, for the most part this is a pretty good account of the illiterate peasant who became a romantic revolutionary. For this portrayal in his third film Marlon Brando got a second Academy Award nomination for Best Actor, but lost to Gary Cooper for High Noon.

And as a film concerning the turmoil in Mexico during the teen and twenty years of the last century Viva Zapata! is far better than MGM's Viva Villa that starred Wallace Beery. Then again Marlon Brando is a much better actor.

One critical thing that was left out of the story is how much land the Roman Catholic Church held in Mexico. It was not just the rich Estancias that kept the masses in Mexico in peonage, the Church had a really big share of the real estate there. If the story were written today the Church's involvement would be shown. My guess is in the years of the Cold War and the height of Joe McCarthy, no one in Hollywood wanted to make a film that criticized the church in any way. But even a few years earlier the overreaction against the church was done in the John Ford film, The Fugitive which takes place within 10 to 20 years after Zapata died.

Zapata as played by Brando may be illiterate, but he is possessed of a simple eloquence and a charisma that made him a revolutionary figure, in the same manner Che Guevara became forty years later. He tries hard to hold to the ideals of the revolution, but finds as most do that tearing down a government is relatively easy, building one from scratch is a task that has defeated many.

Anthony Quinn plays Emiliano's swaggering brother Eufemio who's not quite as idealistic as Brando. Quinn received first Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for the part. Quinn fills the screen with his bluster when he's on, it provides a perfect counterpoint to Brando's more idealistic role.

The guy who never gets praise for his performance is Joseph Wiseman. Wiseman, a product of the Actor's Studio in New York like Marlon Brando. This is a man whose type I've come across in numerous endeavors in my life, a professional stirrer of resentments. He's not happy unless there's some kind of battle going on. A type mind you that is ultimately dangerous for any movement. He intrigues for the sake of intrigue, but never accomplishes anything. It's a very good job by Wiseman, not often talked about for some reason.

Besides Quinn's Oscar and Brando's nomination, Viva Zapata! got Oscar nominations for Best Art&Set Direction for black and white film, Best music, and Best Screenplay. The last would have been a great honor for John Steinbeck, I'm not sure how many if any writers won a Pulitzer Prize, a Nobel Prize and an Oscar. That's three horse parlay that can't be beat.

For some reason Elia Kazan was overlooked for Best Director, possibly because he had won the year before for A Streetcar Named Desire.

Still Viva Zapata! is a work that stands up very well even with the historical inaccuracies.
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Poetic, powerful and moving...
Nazi_Fighter_David5 November 2003
Warning: Spoilers
Elia Kazan will be remembered as the director of some of the most vivid film performances of the fifties... In 'Viva Zapata', Kazan's 'Method' style of acting is applied to John Steinbeck's screenplay that power inevitably corrupts, with Brando again charismatic as the doomed Mexican revolutionary...

Kazan, not only shows us the extremely unpleasant world of poverty where life is hard, short and brutish, but also the story of the agrarian rebel who was Pancho Villa's first revolutionary ally...

Kazan paints a convincing emotional portrait of a mythical figure, who is considered as the 'Wind that swept Mexico.' Kazan explores a facet of the Mexican history, describing the reasons for the revolution fought by Zapata, and works on basic emotions as passion, anger, fear, aggression, ignorance and wisdom...

Brando projects the dedication and the anguish of an inspiring rebel... He portrays the illiterate Mexican peasant revolutionary who for ten years led Guerilla uprisings against dictators and presidents... Brando plays the part with fervor and passion, even transforming his features with special makeup and fake mustache to look amazingly like the Guerilla leader... For his performance, he was nominated for his third consecutive Oscar, but Gary Cooper won for 'High Noon'.

Anthony Quinn gives an effective portrayal of Eufemio Zapata , the swaggering, lecherous, bullying brother, and wins his first Academy Award as Best Supporting Actor... Through his consummate acting skills, Quinn creates in Eufemio a strongly characterization which, despite its brevity, was not overshadowed by Brando's Zapata...

Jean Peters portrays the typical educated girl of the village who falls in love with the wild man of the hills and marries him...

The film begins near the close of the 34th year reign of President Porfirio Diaz (Fay Roope) where a delegation of Indians from the State of Morelos have come to the capital for an audience with the great dictator... There they make known their strong objections over the stealing of their lands by the wealthy, powerful estate barons... Diaz addresses them paternally and instructs them they must examine their boundaries before they bring legal action, something he knows they are incapable of doing...

Burning with a sense of injustice, the simple Emiliano Zapata directs the president's attention to this point, requesting his consent to cross the railing of wires...

President Diaz was disturbed by the persistent Zapata and on the sheet of paper listing his visitors, he unpleasantly circles the name of this one humble man who has really came for 'something.'

Some time later Emiliano and his brother lead the farmers in a general inspection through their expropriated fields and as they do so, a squad of Diaz militia attack them, shooting and cutting down men, women and children indiscriminately...

Zapata and some of his followers fight back, and retreat to a mountain hideout... There they are located by a sly political agitator, a newspaperman named Fernando Aguirre (Joseph Wiseman), who brings news of Francisco Madero (Harold Gordon), exiled in Texas...

Zapata sends his friend Pablo (Lou Gilbert) to interview Madero and find out if he is worth following...

One day, and in a church, Zapata risks his life to speak of truth, and of love... But the pretty brunette Josefa (Jean Peters) rejects him, even though she admits to being attracted to him, and tells him he must improve his social position before she might think out his proposal...

When Espejo (Florenz Ameo) refuses to consider him as a suitor to his daughter, Zapata angrily leaves his house... He is immediately arrested by policemen and led away with a rope around his neck...

As the mounted police walk him behind their horses through the countryside they are gradually joined by peasants, who silently march along... The group increases into a huge number of farmers... Zapata comes to a realization, that the peasants have chosen him as their leader and that he has no course but to accept... Destiny has singled him out...

'Viva Zapata!' received 5 Academy Award Nominations...It is a greatly entertaining film, excitingly directed by Kazan who made its action sequences so intense and who permitted his actors full scope in developing their characters...
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A collaboration of giants
david-greene511 December 2005
When I read so many of the comments on this film featured here, I find it difficult to understand how so many viewers fail to appreciate the incredible nature of the collaboration that produced it. The very idea of a motion picture scripted by John Steinbeck, directed by Elia Kazan, scored by Alex North, starring Marlon Brando, co-starring Anthony Quinn........this is an almost unbelievable gathering of artistic giants.

Taste in movies varies and thus one can be certain that some will not respond positively even to this one. After over five decades of movie-going, I can look back and remember precious few pictures that rise to the high level of excellence to be found in "Zapata". With its spellbinding storytelling, superb cast in top form, its insightful examination of issues which are still crucially relevant today, I can not fathom why some would not praise it.

Like a long list of really fine titles that endlessly persist in remaining unavailable in DVD release, this film has me wondering once again why, in the vastness of the internet, one can not discover the reason why this major Brando star-vehicle continues to be withheld from circulation. Is such information so impossible to find that no one can unearth it?

You can tell from reading the viewer comments that not everyone will agree on this, but I would suggest that anyone who appreciates literate, superbly crafted classic motion pictures should make every effort to see this one. I wish I could invite you all to a great gala screening of it. I know you would be dazzled by its splendor.
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America's Favorite Foreign Revolution?
theowinthrop19 December 2005
The history of Mexico, our southern neighbor (and sometimes victim) is better known to American movie goers than the history of most countries.

You begin with the Maya (KINGS OF THE SUN), the conquest of Mexico (THE CAPTAIN FROM CASTILE), then to the founding of Father Serra's missions in California (SEVEN CITIES OF GOLD), and then the Spanish in the southwest and California (THE MARK OF ZORRO). Mexican - American history begins with the Texas War for Independence (THE ALAMO, THE LAST TEXAN, etc.). We skip to the French "intervention": JUAREZ and VERA CRUZ. Then we tend to skip the long reign of Porfirio Diaz.

Then comes the Mexican Revolution. The number of films that deal with the revolution is vast. But here are just a few titles: VIVA ZAPATA, VIVA VILLA, VILLA RIDES, THE OLD GRINGO (about Ambrose Bierce's probable death in Mexico's revolution), VIVA MARIA (a spoof but it touches on some issues), THE THREE AMIGOS, THEY CAME TO CORDURA (regarding the American Intervention under General Pershing in 1916), THE FUGITIVE (dealing with the anti-Catholic policies of the 1920s and 1930s), and even THE TREASURE OF SIERRA MADRES (when you see the business with Alfonso Badoya's bandit gang against the Federales).

The Mexican Revolution had many heroes. Many were heroes for one group but devils to another. Madero and Carranza stressed the need to have a nation that was loyal to a written constitution. Zapata would be one of the leaders of the land reform movement. Starting with Francisco Madero, going through Pancho Villa and Eufremio Zapata, going to their enemy Venusiano Carranza, to Obregon, Calles, and the great land reformer Lazaro Cardenas - the leadership was varied. The largest concentration of films is on the colorful (and murderous) Villa (a recent cable television movie was about Villa and his contract with D. W. Griffith to shoot a movie, AND STARRING PANCHO VILLA). But historians usually feel that while Villa tended to be on the side of the peasants, he had too much of the bandit in him to be a leader of the revolution's reforms. Zapata, on the other hand actually tried to reform the division of land. His work never got as far as he wanted before he was assassinated, but it was burned into the souls of the people from his region of Mexico (who still call themselves Zapatistas when involved in political protests to this day), and it did help set the stage for Cardenas' reforms in the late 1930s.

With direction by Elia Kazan and screenplay by John Steinbeck, VIVA ZAPATA is a wonderful, if simplistic view of the Revolution for American audiences. Brando underplays the lead for the most part - Zapata was not an explosive personality like Villa. Anthony Quinn is the explosive brother, whose more selfish attitudes leads to his own disaster. Of the supporting players, Alan Reed is good in his scene as Villa, where he discusses the future of Mexico with Zapata. Joseph Wiseman is properly sinister as an constant malcontent agent provocateur, insinuating each leader is too weak or unreliable to lead.

There are great set pieces - like Kazan's symbolic assassination of Madero by General Huerta's goons who drown out the little reformer/orator's voice as he tries to scream with a siren (but it makes the screams of the unheard martyr like a clarion call to Mexico).

Is it real Mexican history? Not quite - it is a version of it. But it is a really well done version of it.
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¡Viva esta pelicula!
artzau20 July 2001
This film is one of my favorites. I remember vividly seeing this film as a high school student. I was impressed with it then and am impressed with it today. It's still wonderful...but, then, why shouldn't it be? The performances of Brando, Peters, Quinn, Wiseman and others is still breathtaking, but Quinn and Brando steal the show from the get-go. This is one of Brando's finest roles and while Quinn always outdoes himself (even in that god-awful Walk in the Clouds), he IS Eufemio Zapata. There are few reviews here of this film and one reviewer has completely missed the point, but no matter. The film stands on its own and there's always someone to complain at excellence. This script came from none other than Steinbeck and the photography and background is likewise excellent. Is it accurate historically? Well, there are a few embellishments but the thrust of the film is not marred by any deviations from recorded history. This is portrayal of a people's struggle, one which continues today and doesn't pretend to be a chronicle of the actual events that took place in Mexico. As a film, this stands on its merit as a superb work of art. The acting is wonderful. While one reviewer found the music to be like the kind you hear while eating a combination plate on Olvera Street in LA, I might point out, that's what Mexican music is. Rent this film. While it is listed as not being available, I rented it recently and watched it again, for the nth time, as indeed, I plan to watch n times again.
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MY Favorite Movie
herb-5524 October 2004
this was Marlon Brando and Anthony Quinn at their best ---the entire supporting cast was superb.

Steinbeck hadn't written anything as powerful as this since he did his tale of the Okies during the depression. Zapata is truly one of the great heroes of the 20th century, and Brando captured this along with the frustration of trying to do the right thing and yet being hamstrung by the bureaucrats who manage to survive every change in government, no matter which way in turns.The final scene in the movie leaves Zapata as a legend --- did he die, or does he still live to help the millions of peons in Mexico.

Elia Kazan's direction was terrific.
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Pure Hollywood
johno-2113 March 2006
This is a pretty good 1950's action/drama considering Elia Kazan had never before or never would again direct an action movie. It's almost like a Western except the setting is the second decade of the 20th century between the years of 1910-1919. Marlon Brando is Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata in a role that earned him an Academy Award nomination. Brando is paired once again with Kazan who directed him the year before in A Streetcar Named Desire and would pair with him a couple of years later in Brando's Oscar winning performance in On the Waterfront. This film is well photographed by Mexican born cinematographer Joe Macdonald who should have been nominated for an Oscar but wasn't. In a rare role for Mexican born Anthony Quinn to be actually playing a Mexican as Eufernio Zapata for which he won the Academy Award for Best supporting Actor for 1952. Quinn's first nomination of four in his career and his first win of two. The film received three other nominations for Art Direction, Music and for it's John Steinbeck written Screenplay. This film is pure Hollywood however and is largely a fictional portrayal of actual events in it's romanticizing tale of one of Mexico's most beloved heroes Zapata. Despite the story by Steinbeck the dialog is weak. It's a good movie but Kazan is out of his element here, Brando is miscast and Steinbeck is lazy. I would give it a 7.5 out of 10.
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The poor striving for rights that still goes on
lora6427 June 2001
I'm no expert on the historical facts of the 1911 Revolution but can appreciate this movie's absorbing tale just as it stands. The photography is notably excellent and draws you into the story more and more. I think Brando as the illiterate peasant leader does a superb job of carrying the film along, creating the tender or serious moods that make for compelling drama throughout. I've always admired Jean Peters in any movie and her sensitive acting poignantly rounds out the love interest so well. Of course Quinn is his usual volcanic self, and in this instance garnered an Oscar as best supporting actor. It's a serious and sad tale about a real-life struggle of the people.
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A very fine forgotten film
JGDullaart21 June 2003
I saw Viva Zapata 50 years ago, when I was 15. And all those years I hoped to see it again sometime. But in the Netherlands it's not available on VHS or DVD. I remember the great performance of Marlon Brando as Zapata. And how I hated Wiseman who played the ultimate traitor. In a magazine I read that Brando, before they shot the picture, spent several weeks in a remote Mexican village to learn the habits of the Mexicans, and he WAS a Mexican in the film! What a performer! I do hope to see once again some day! 9 out of 10.

Hans Dullaart Delft Netherlands.
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fieldav21 November 2005
First of all-you can get a copy of it from Corinth Video, New York City. When I saw that Tyrone Power was originally picked to play Zapata I almost fell out of my chair. An inch deep Hollywood pretty boy playing this role? It would have been ghastly. He could never have carried it off with Kazan directing and against the great other actors. Maybe he could have strutted around with a knife in his teeth and brandishing two pistols. It took a dramatic actor like Brando to probe the range of feelings, conflicts, various personalities: from bumpkin to leader, from uncertainty to decisiveness, from vulnerability to strength, the growth from peasant to leader. Brando was a tour De force. I have seen this movie 100 times. It never stops evoking new elements and dimensions. It still hasn't gone stale in spite of some melodrama here and there. I began to see a sea change somewhere in the middle, maybe when he had to do politics - maybe the scene in President Madero's office when he was offered the ranch, or Eufemio's going bad, from upbeat anthem to a steady decline to tragic destruction, and that causes me sadness. I was a kid when I saw it first and it transformed my life. An exposition of what it is to be a decent man trying to do the right thing, thinking of his people in a world of cynicism and greed. One interesting thing for me was how the two people closest to Zapata acted out as his alter egos: Pablo the conciliator and peace lover, and Eufemio as the angry shoot first and ask questions later guy. Unfortunately, I identified too much with Fernando, the soulless operator dedicated to "nothing but logic". He is so necessary as the "observer", namely us - the cold modern man in contrast to all that humanness and passion. That this movie is not a docudrama about events or a man's life is irrelevant -it is an allegory. One of Hollywood's greatest but lost in the dust. Maybe it was too close to the human heart for Hollywood. It could never be made today.
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This Anglo mythologization hasn't aged well
petrelet15 January 2017
Warning: Spoilers
Okay, I am not -entirely- going to pan this movie in the way it would certainly be universally panned today (to start with, you have to look real hard to find any actual Mexican@s in the cast - the only one I found in the named cast was Margo playing an unnamed "soldadera", though there are some others in the uncredited list).

Furthermore, I think it's worth seeing for some of the theatrical bits that have entered the collective consciousness, like where Zapata demonstrates to Madero that political power really does grow out of the barrel of a gun, as Mao would later point out. And you can look at it as a sort of useful Anglo-American children's intro to the fact that, yes, there has been revolutionary history in Mexico that is worth knowing about.

But still. Okay, you can look at this movie one of two ways. First, it is it really a biopic? No, it's nothing like that. Movie-Zapata is this naive, illiterate, pure son of the soil, too trusting, too honest, who shuns the corruption of real power, sort of like a movie version of Joan of Arc. The real Zapata had a merchant's education, composed the Plan of Ayala, and was an important military and political figure. Everyone else in the movie is a caricature of one kind or another also.

Another way to look at this movie is that it's a romantic portrayal, a movie version of a myth. Okay, that would be all right. But then you are responsible for the kind of myth you are propagating. If you are going to falsify history in the name of didactic storytelling, let's talk about the story and about who is telling it.

This is a myth about Mexican history told by Anglo-Californians Edgecumb Pinchon and John Steinbeck. I suggest that a lot of the magic-peasant-saint feel of the film is precisely due to that.

It came to the screen at a time when Steinbeck, Elia Kazan, and all of Hollywood were under great pressure from the government and the film biz to disassociate themselves from communism. And it's left its mark on the film, notably in the character of Fernando (Wiseman), who is supposed to be some kind of international communist agitator, always preaching violence and ending up in the camp of the murderous generals, because, as movie-Zapata says, "Your kind always does." Also, the United States is a land of freedom and democracy and you never hear about the occupation of Veracruz for example. And it also bears on the whole tenor of the film, which is all for peasants rising up against injustice, but which is very ambivalent on the issue of what the state should do and whether or how anyone should actually be in it.

Also, I can't help noting that movie-Zapata never pays any attention to anything women have to say about anything, which may or may not be historically based, but a movie which is telling a myth, not history, has to be judged for it. Furthermore movie-Zapata is offended that anyone would consider him an "Indian", and one never hears about Indians in the movie, whereas real-Zapata was reportedly fluent in Nahuatl and the actual revolt in Morelos (then as now) had serious indigenist elements.

There is a scene in the movie which is on the one hand really good and on the other hand really exasperating which illustrates some of these issues. Zapata has been taken prisoner and is being led from his village with a rope around his neck by mounted police, who intend to either jail him or shoot him. But, as they travel along, "the people", who have arranged themselves all along the road and through the hills in advance, get up from the ground or come down from the heights and wordlessly join the party, in groups of two or six or ten. Eventually the police catch on to the fact that they are traveling in the midst of a throng that completely outnumbers them. Finally their path is blocked by Zapata's mounted riders, and they release Zapata without a struggle.

On the one hand, who can be insensible to this picture of the power of the people? On the other hand, the aggravating part is the pure and mystical way this supposedly all happens, as if because of being in tune with the soil itself these people all arranged themselves in the right places without any actual discussion. Not even in Morelos does it go like this. If one wants a better and more informed picture of how struggle actually takes place, Steinbeck's "In Dubious Battle" is a decent candidate.

Anyway, I ultimately feel that the real Zapata deserves a better movie. Maybe the 1970 version is that movie - I intend to give it a look.
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surprising performances, touching direction, good (not masterpiece) screen writing
MisterWhiplash26 April 2009
At first he doesn't look much like we remember him - Marlon Brando appears as his Mexican Emiliano Zapata with a stern face at the Mexico Priesidente demanding, simply, land rights and making sure boundaries can be drawn. His name is circled on the President's desk, not a good sign, and from here on in Zapata is fighting and fighting (what one character says is as simple as it is - it's all he knows) so that the farmers can have their land, as opposed to time and patience, to grow their corn with.

When Brando first appears as this revolutionary figure he doesn't quite look like himself, and at the same time does very much, and it's disarming. I didn't buy it entirely in the first scene... and then the scenes kept coming, and Brando, playing Zapata as stubborn and headstrong and without much in way of a sense of humor as a leader as a General (and rightfully so as revolutionary figures tend to be, see Che for more details), is spot on. It's worthy of the rest of his oeuvre at the time, if not quite up to the monolithic status of Streetcar and Waterfront then at least as good if not better than the underrated The Wild One. This is vintage Brando every step of the way, absorbing us in this figure who reminds us all why it's necessary to have such heroes - but also the lacerating side of the double-edged sword where-in those in power will do all they can to destroy the hero. That and, well, revolutions and movements of ideas amongst people end up turning things pretty damn bittersweet; just look at the very end for that, as four peasants talk of Zapata's status as an idea as well as a man.

Viva Zapata! presents Mexico in some fresh and amazing cinematography, sturdy and sometimes clever and heartfelt direction from Elia Kazan, always best with his actors (even Anthony Quinn who again proves why he was best as taking on an ethnicity and making it believable, if only up to a point as his powerhouse turn shows here), and some very interesting writing from John Steinbeck. The script sometimes takes its turns and movements that don't make it quite flow as well as it would in a book; individual scenes are knock-outs, mini-masterpieces of words exchanged with underlying meaning or trying to find the meaning in how people can persevere, or not as it turns out (one such scene I loved is when Zapata has been installed as the President- as Pancho Villa says there's "no one else"), and the farmers he says he knows comes and demands the same things he did once before, but at a personal price.

There's lots of great things like that, or just the uncomfortable but true rapore between Zapata and his future-wife's family when they talk in metaphors. If only Steinbeck didn't sometimes jerk the story ahead without some warning (it will be hard to explain, you just have to see it to understand, though this may have more to do with the direction than writing, more research is needed for this assumption) it would be unstoppable as a classic. As it stands though Viva Zapata! is an essential chronicle of a rebel with a cause, an honest man of principles who tried to do too much good in a country where it just wasn't possible. Or, perhaps, things like this just aren't possible; one can see the parallels and maybe even find this to be like a condensed version of Soderbergh's Che in taking a sobering look at the sweet highs and sobering lows of rising up against the powers that be (and yes, this is quite the leftist movie, all the more odd considering it's John McCain's favorite film!)
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A Hidden Diamond: Viva Brando! .. Viva Kazan!
Faisal_Flamingo10 November 2006
Marlon Brando is a great actor but his great performances were few but powerful to stay in our minds for years and possibly forever .. who forgets his great performance in "The Godfather" as Don Vito?! .. anyway, I find personal pleasure watching early Brando movies.

In this movie Brando plays the role of Emanuel Zapata! .. a Mexican rebel .. Brando gave me an offer I can't refuse in this movie. Watching him playing a Mexican man role I suspected that he has some Mexican roots .. I mean he speaks the accents not just speaks it good but also, feels it (if you know what I'm saying!) .. Marlon Brando truly captures this controversial character with all of its senses. We thank Brando for this amazing performance and we thank Elia Kazan for having faith for the young Brando to play such a hard role.

Other actors were good .. especially Anthony Quinn who has Mexican roots .. so, the acting came very naturally. I'd say that Elia Kazan did a great job directing this movie which was superior to its time. Great performance by Brando and great movie .. Viva Brando! Viva Kazan!.
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Its reputation seems exaggerated...
dexter-317 August 1999
I searched for a while to find this on video-cassette, and ultimately didn't feel rewarded, although my dad has often referred to "Viva Zapata" as one of his favorite films. This film has not aged well. The writing and music were weak. (The music was similar to what patrons of large Mexican chain restaurants listen to between courses.) Although there are some good scenes, particularly the final two with Brando and his horse and the Mexican peasants, continuity between major events is lacking. For example, in one scene, Zapata increases his military efforts against the government, and in the next, THEY'VE WON THE WAR! At what cost? How long did it take? Were there epic or notable battles? Did Zapata agonize about the loss of his friends?

"Viva Zapata" was nominated for several Oscars, and Quinn won on the basis of one great scene with Brando near the film's conclusion. I didn't like Brando here at all. "On the Waterfront" was much more powerful.

Rating: "4" out of "10."
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Authenticity Is Lacking In A Movie That Does Have Some Strong Points To It
sddavis6327 October 2008
There are some good things about this movie. There's a reflection on what can so easily happen to a revolutionary movement when it takes power, as Madero (Harold Gordon) betrays the people he supposedly fought for by not pursuing land reform after he becomes president of Mexico; there's a very moving and eloquent speech by Zapata (Marlon Brando): "if they take your corn, grow more; if they kill your children, breed more," etc., etc.; there's the reflection contained at the end of the movie when it becomes clear that to kill a man does not kill the ideas the man represented. So, in terms of political commentary, there's a lot of good stuff here. There was also a pretty good performance from Brando, who portrays Zapata as brooding and sombre throughout - a man who finds little time to enjoy the pleasures of life (even his beautiful bride) because he spends so much time fighting for the people. It was a good portrayal.

Unfortunately, that powerful content is submerged in a movie that is often, to be blunt, quite dull and actionless, with a number of scenes throughout in which very little happens. Twice I sat down to watch it; both times I missed part of it because it put me out. Through both watchings, I think I've seen the whole thing, but that says something to me. In all honesty, the movie lost me somewhat right off the top when my initial impression of what I was seeing was that it was a bunch of American actors running around in sombreros pretending to be Mexican. It lacked authenticity to me. (Fay Roope as Porforio Diaz was especially unconvincing.) That made it hard for the movie to maintain my attention, even given the strong parts that I've mentioned. I end up rating this as a 3/10, still noting that the strong content is diluted by what I found to be an overall unengaging story.
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Well-meaning but clumsily executed
grantss25 June 2017
Warning: Spoilers
Mexico, 1909. The people in the state of Morelos rise up against the tyrannical regime of President Porfirio Diaz. They are lead by a simple, illiterate peasant-farmer, Emilio Zapata. All he wants is justice and fairness for his people but as things progress he is drawn deeper into a civil war where allies and enemies are often difficult to tell apart.

Written by John Steinbeck, directed by Elia Kazan, starring Marlon Brando and Anthony Quinn, and based on a true story, on paper this has all the makings of a classic. The end result, however, is far from satisfactory.

The intention was good: show the life of a man of integrity and honour and the lengths he is willing to go to for the rights of his people, throw in a theme of how power corrupts, plus another theme of how a name can sustain a revolution.

Can't fault the performances either. Brando, in his third movie, puts in a strong performance as Zapata. The movie provided him with his second Oscar nomination, after only three movies (his first was in A Streetcar Named Desire, his second movie). Anthony Quinn won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar in 1953 for his portrayal of Eufemio, Zapata's brother.

No, it is in the execution, especially direction and editing, that things fall a bit short of their potential. The story is clumsily told by Elia Kazan. Scenes don't link well, some scenes seem entirely unnecessary and it is difficult to follow the history behind the sequence of events. No explanation is given for the seeming lack of continuity, eg Zapata is President, all seems well, then next we know it is back to civil war with Zapata a revolutionary. No detail for the change provided.

This sudden change of direction, without the events that changed the direction, is incredibly jarring and disconcerting.

So, in the end, you have a historic story with many of the historic details left out. Not ideal.

Overall, okay, but not great. While Elia Kazan was a great director, I can't help but think this movie would have been a masterpiece if someone like John Huston, or maybe John Ford, had directed it.
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Brando as a Mexican Indian
SnoopyStyle2 April 2015
It's 1909 Mexico City. Rural Indians from Morelos come to plead with longtime President Porfirio Diaz about a land baron who had stolen their land. Emiliano Zapata (Marlon Brando) tries to speak up against the condescending Diaz which gets him noticed. The villagers are attacked while trying to verify the boundary marker stone. He and his womanizing brother Eufemio Zapata (Anthony Quinn) become wanted men. The volatile illiterate Emiliano chases the determined Josefa (Jean Peters) who refuses to lower her standards. He accepts her father's help to get a pardon. However he rails against injustices and revolts with his brother. Pancho Villa revolts in the north all under the idealistic reformer Francisco Madero (Harold Gordon). The new government is too slow and filled with the same corrupt politicians. Madero offers to reward Emiliano with a ranch and demands that his men disarm. The treacherous General Victoriano Huerta (Frank Silvera) takes Madero captive and attacks the Zapatas.

Marlon Brando is barely passable as a Mexican Indian. He's doing mumble acting but this time with a flat accent. Anthony Quinn does better work and he simply has the more fitting look. Elia Kazan's directions are functional. It has moments of cinematic beauty. John Steinbeck taps into the discontent of the downtrodden. Brando is the key. He has the machismo and the sensitivity to care. He has all the acting power. He also has a silly mustache and the fake tan. I don't always buy him as an Indian and I wish Hollywood could have given the role to Quinn back then.
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Zapata...Zapata !
nandy-rinki9 June 2011
I wonder how one of the reviewers found Brando a miscast, Brando is brilliant in the movie. With his intense anger and hatred for the exploiters and supported by good looks his performance is quite impressive. Kazan is a genius with his direction, all the main actors are superb starting from Brando, Quinn and the bad guy. I can't imagine why 'they' gave the Oscar to Gray Cooper for High Noon when Brando's performance in Viva Zapata clearly outdid Gary's, I have seen both the movies and Brando deserves it without a second thought. Well, Brando didn't care and that's the best part, he certainly is the BEST in method acting and this movie shows just how talented and gifted as an actor he was.

The movie overall is a classic, poetic, rebellious and based on the life of the revolutionary Zapata in Mexico. There are a number a similarities with Che Guevara, war tactics and the way he lives and spares no one when it comes to his ideals. It's must watch for the lovers of classic, artistic cinema.
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Has stood the test of time, subject matter still relevant
bandw6 June 2011
This movie covers the life of the Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata from 1909 until his death in 1919. The opening scene has a group of about fifteen Mexican peasants meeting with their president Porfirio Diaz. Diaz refers to the group as "my children" and to himself as "your father, your protector." However, when it comes to protecting the land rights legally due the peasants it is seen that Diaz is more inclined to protect the wealthy land owners who have usurped the peasant lands for their own use. The peasants are deferential to the president except for one who stays behind when they are ushered out, and that is Zapata (Marlon Brando). This is a great entrance for Brando as he appears out of the anonymity of the group to challenge the president to act. This is an interesting role for Brando since his characterization of Zapata is more of a man of action rather than a man of words. Brando speaks in straightforward sentences, often with little emotion, but he is superb in his ability to express indignation. Recognizing the corruption and injustice of the Diaz regime set Zapata on the revolutionary road.

Anthony Quinn is good in his Oscar-winning performance as Zapata's more impulsive and earthy brother Eufemio. As a Mexican by birth Quinn is well suited for his role. I did have a small qualm about having a white American play Zapata. But Brando had a nice tan and did something with his eyes to where I reacted to him as Zapata rather than Marlon Brando. I found Jean Peters a bit weak as Zapata's love interest Josefa. In fact I felt that exploring that relationship bogged things down--are we really to believe that the two spent their wedding night having Josefa trying to teach Zapata how to read, using the Bible?

Trying to cram a decade's worth of turbulent history into two hours, in addition to the love story, presented some problems. On occasion Zapata would appear at his home having announced a major victory, but no details were given as to who had been defeated or the significance of the victory. I was often confused about the big picture.

There are many memorable scenes. The gradual emergence of the peasants out of the hills to foil Zapata's early arrest, as he was being led on a rope like and animal, was beautifully choreographed. And the final scenes have been burned into my memory since I saw this movie on TV some fifty years ago. Re-seeing some of these old classics on modern equipment is a delight.

As presented here, Zapata was not a terribly complex man. He was pure of heart and obsessed with righting wrongs. Zapata's walking away from the position of authority he had achieved was an interesting turn of events, implying that he was more comfortable as a rebel than as an official leader.

The screenplay has many Steinbeckian touches. The struggle of the common man against what often looks like a stacked deck is a favorite Steinbeck theme, and that is emphasized in this movie. How could Steinbeck not have been interested in this?

There are some great quotes, the likes of which we rarely see in contemporary movies:

o A monkey in silk is still a monkey.

o A pediment of the heart is the stomach.

o Can a man whose thoughts were born in anger and hatred ... can such a man lead the peace?

o A strong people is the only lasting strength.

o Sometimes a dead man can be a terrible enemy.

o A strong man makes a weak people. Strong people don't need a strong man.

o Peace is very difficult. I wonder how a man can stay honest under the pressures of peace.

These latter quotes are relevant today in light of the uprisings in the Middle East. After the oppressive regimes are overthrown, then what?

In spite of some of its flaws, I think this movie deserves more of an audience than it appears to have had over the years.
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Viva Brando!
Jem Odewahn25 August 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Great Kazan film with an amazing performance by Brando in one of his earliest (and best) roles. He is the Mexican revolutionary, who goes from a simple man of the land to seizing political control after seeing the injustices committed against his fellow men. But power corrupts, and Kazan's (who would famously testify against others in Hollywood in the McCarty trials)point really does not seem to be solely Anti-Communist. Emiliano Zapata, as played by Brando, is a beautiful, simple man, whose ideals are used as a pawn by others. Jean Peters plays his wife, and she is convincing. Anthony Quinn won the Best Supporting Actor award for his role as Brando's brother, and the scene where Brando is compelled to execute Quinn is highly emotionally charged. Kazan is not really known as an action director; his "action" scenes in "Streetcar" and "Waterfront" are generally regarded as the weakest parts of the film's (though they are both still pretty much perfect). But he does well here, and the guy really was a great director. The script by John Steinbeck is not too shabby either. I loved the intimate wedding night scenes between Brando and Peters. So real. Brando's performance is just amazing, I might even go so far as to suggest its the best thing he did after "Waterfront" and "Streetcar".
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One of the largest classic of the movies
Notices for the editors: I don't know how to write in English language. This text was translated by electronic translator of the Portuguese for English.

One of the largest classic of the movies. The main message of the film is the that any type of power corrupts. The written John Steinbeck (more well-known as writer of romances) it illustrates that in an exquisite sequence: when Zapata, victorious and governing the country, it is thwarted by a peasant, he catches the leaf that contains the all the peasants' name and he/she begins to do a circle in turn of this peasant's name that dared to thwart him. But it ends up tearing the paper when noticing that was doing the same as one of the presidents did with him, Zapata, in the scene of opening of the film. That understanding that the power corrupts it is evidenced by manager Kazan, that makes a "close-up" of the actor's face (it observes that the illumination also suffers an alteration in the actor's face).

To contrast with the action scenes, Steinbeck included some moments of humor: Eufemio (Quinn) cleaning its hand after closing the woman's mouth inside of the church; and mainly the visit that Zapata does to its lover's house, where the dialogs are through proverbs (it pays attention for the agitation of the women's fans when they are with intense happiness). There is, also, tenderness: Zapata asking to its wife to teach him to read it in its night of nuptials. It is the poetic tone that permeable the whole film, represented by the white horse of Zapata.

The cast is impeccable: Brando it was in the peak in the way. Anthony Quinn is not behind, because he has what here possibly it is the best acting of all its career. Jean Peters, besides the pretty face, got to convince in Josefa's paper. Other actors are also very well in its respective roles. Even exaggerated Joseph Wiseman.

Don't stop seeing, to revise and to record this film of managing Elia Kazan (1909-2003).
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One of Hollywood's All-Time Finest
irvbell25 December 2005
I just finished scrolling through your readers' comments and couldn't possibly add anything useful to the many recognitions of the genius of Kazan, Steinbeck, Brando and Quinn that combined to make this film one that will be honored forever. I would, however, like to make a few observations about Joseph Wiseman, who played a relatively small but important and fascinating role as the cynical sideline observer, the consummate opportunist seeking power and behind-the-scenes influence. Wiseman, who never received the recognition for his acting that he deserved, was a fascinating person who relished playing somewhat wacky, odd-ball roles. (I got to know him when I lived in New York and in real life he was an extremely intelligent, polished gentle-man, in the literal sense of the word.) He played such an off-beat role to perfection in Detective Story, which was released in 1951, one year before Zapata. In that film he plays a maniacal criminal who is arrested along with his partner, also played with great skill by Michael Strong. They are collared and brought to a crowded room in a New York precinct where they are handcuffed to chairs, waiting to be booked. What happens when they slip out of the handcuffs is a stunning scene in which Wiseman portrays to perfection a crazed three-time loser with nothing more to lose and no way out. Others have noted that Wiseman deserved, but did not receive, even a nomination for best supporting actor for his role in Detective Story. He did memorable appearances in several other films, including a very believable Mafia boss-killer in The Valachi Papers.
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When heroes are hard to find........
danstephan300012 July 2005
Warning: Spoilers
"The Twentieth Century" (McGraw Hill), an excellent textbook for modern world history sums up Emiliano Zapata - as "an outstanding revolutionary". Charismatic and idealistic, he led peasants from South Mexico in 1910 by joining Francisco Madero and Pancho Villa in the successful revolution against the dictator, Porfirio Diaz.

When Diaz fled, he commented "Madero has unleashed a tiger; let us see if he can control it." For a limited but very accurate view of what did happened, you would do well to see "Viva Zapata", one of the best films ever to come out of Hollywood about a historical event anywhere.

You should also enjoy "Viva Zapata" for other reasons. These include the brilliant script by John Steinbeck and vivid cinematography (especially appropriate in black and white). You are not likely to forget the memorable acting by the young Marlon Brando (committed in then before he became jaded and walked through most of his later roles), as well as by Jean Peters, Anthony Quinn (Oscar Winner as Pancho Villa), and Joseph Wiseman. The casting of peasants by Director Elia Kazan were so authentic that it was easy to forget that they were all actors in staged settings.

I'll spare you my description of the story, which you can read from the synopsis and other comments at IMDb. Yet, I should add yet another reason to rent a tape or VCD to this masterpiece. This bonus is the gentle humor that gives comic relief at appropriate moments to this very serious story.

For example, when Zapata proposes marriage, he knows that he needs to impress his sweetheart and her chaperons with elegant manners and language. She is very, very interested in him but he needs to prove that he has the social graces. He comes through with flying colors with his clever, eloquent replies to her tough questions on the honor of his intentions. She and the other women do not reply to this, but we can see that he has scored a "perfect ten" when their paper fans start fluttering violently. It was easy for me likewise to give "Viva Zapata" a perfect score. Don't miss this one!!
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Hollywood Does the Mexican Revolution
dougdoepke12 February 2012
No need to recap the plot. The movie works best as a cautionary tale on the seductions of political power. We see a succession of Mexican presidents exploit the corrupting opportunities power provides, including the tragically conflicted General Madero. Even Zapata (Brando) gets a timely reminder from an aggrieved peasant (Henry Silva), at the same time his brother (Quinn) succumbs to the temptations. The ending itself remains powerfully symbolic.

Unfortunately, the movie stumbles outside of the cautionary context. The narrative itself comes across as disjointed, at best, John Steinbeck or no. Major developments, such as game changing wars, are either left out or only briefly alluded to, while too much of the dialog is that clunky pseudo-poetic phrasing Hollywood identified with noble primitives. Then too, director Kazan achieves little of the dramatic intensity he was famous for. Likely, he was hampered by the broad historical canvas that had to be crowded into a relatively brief space.

Which leads to Kazan's most famous protégé, the redoubtable Marlon Brando, who appears to have swallowed a lemon since his entire performance consists of a single sour expression. We realize the burdens of peasant liberation are great, but does it have to be quite so tedious. On the other hand, Quinn projects enough boisterous personality for them both, becoming as tiresome in its own way as Brando's one note. However, neither of the stars can compete with the outrageous over-acting of Florenz Ames as the snooty father.

Nevertheless, there are some good scenes, especially where Kazan choreographs the latent power of the peasantry. But on the whole, the movie is a disappointing follow-up to the previous year's Streetcar…. Looks to me like the lesson may be that action features are not the best venue for stage directors and actors, no matter how good they are.
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Viva La Vida!!! (without lenses)
pelezinho21 January 2008
All great ideas are lonely and in minor,life is pure compromise...unfortunately.This is a tragic of this world full of compromises,where no big vision could fit in.Nowhere.And this is point of this,a truly master-piece movie.I have just read somewhere that Brando accidentally swallowed his brown contact lenses during the production and to admit it I laughed a lot.What a King!!! I bet that working with him was truly an adventure.Quinn is also a really great actor.Although his face is more suitable for roles of Spanish and Arabian characters,he could rush at some other as well.Spectacular moment in this film is certainly that white horse,a symbol of many,not just Zapata.Symbol of all great people fighting for great ideas.At every step we could see that white horse,guiding his way to eternity...VIVA BRANDO!!!..and of course VIVA ZAPATA!!!
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