Viva Zapata! (1952) Poster


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Decent....but as usual, Hollywood casting decisions are amazingly irrational.
MartinHafer20 May 2013
If it weren't for yet another weird casting decision, I might have scored this film even higher. Who else but Hollywood would not cast a charismatic half-Mexican-American (Anthony Quinn) in the supporting role instead of in the lead? And who would cast a white bread guy like Marlon Brando as a Mexican revolutionary?! Remember--this is the same group of folks who cast a man of Swedish descent (Warner Oland), Mickey Rooney AND Marlon Brando all as Asians?! Now I am not saying Brando did a bad job--he was quite good. But why not cast a Hispanic man in the role?!

If you can ignore the odd casting, the rest of the film is pretty good and a decent overview of part of the Mexican Revolution. I say part because Emeliano Zapata only led part of the revolutionary forces--other leaders like Huerta and Villa are barely mentioned in this film. Now this is no complaint--just letting the viewer know it's only a portion of what happened in the war. But as far as Zapata's career as a revolutionary goes, it is pretty good--sticking reasonably close to the facts and explaining his peasants' campaign for land reform reasonably well. And, with writing by John Steinbeck and direction by Elia Kazan (a great director, by the way), it's not surprising this film is far better than average. Well worth seeing and quite inspiring.
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Legendary bandit
TheLittleSongbird28 May 2020
'Viva Zapata!' appealed to me straight away upon hearing about it. A great director in Elia Kazan ('On the Waterfront', 'A Streetcar Named Desire'). An acting legend in Marlon Brando ('The Godfather', 'A Streetcar Named Desire'), despite his casting on paper sounding strange. Music by Alex North ('A Streetcar Named Desire', 'Spartacus'). That it was based on the fascinating story of a fascinating man. And a script by John Steinbeck (' Of Mice of Men', 'The Grapes of Wrath').

While 'Viva Zapata!' has so much working in its favour, including all of its interest points and some, there are some things that it could have done better. It is a case of it being pretty excellent for most of its length and then petering out later on in my view, slightly frustrating because it was so close. It is not the best work of most involved, apart from perhaps Anthony Quinn, but nobody here is disgraced either and overall it is a very good film if not quite a great one.

There is actually not an awful lot wrong with 'Viva Zapata!' Its only major problem is some of the pacing, a component that is somewhat uneven throughout. Some parts are drawn out and a bit too talk-heavy. More problematic though is the final third, which for my tastes was on the jumpy and over-stuffed side which made it feel rushed.

Occasionally the script could have done with a little more trimming and subtlety.

However, 'Viva Zapata!' is a brilliantly made film. Then again it is a Kazan film, and apart from 'The Visitors' all his films look great. 'Viva Zapata!' though is up there as one of the best-looking, at its best the cinematography was quite jaw-dropping and really enhanced the locations. Kazan's direction is vintage Kazan. Neaning a lot of intimacy without being cold, a methodical manner without being mannered or indifferent (which with a few film exceptions one mostly could not accuse him of being either), a visual mastery with a mix of sweeping and intimate without being too heavy and typically adept direction of the actors.

North's score sweeps, haunts and thrills, loved the atmosphere, the vitality of the rhythms and clever orchestration. He also had a distinctive style, without ever being more of the same, and really liked how authentic the motifs were to the period and setting. While the script has occasional longeurs, Steinbeck scripts the film very powerfully and intelligently. Anybody that loved the prose for 'Of Mice and Men' and 'The Grapes of Wrath', both considered literary classics for good reason (the former especially is very relatable to me), will find those same qualities here. The story is often exciting, with the first act especially being colourfully staged and having vitality.

Despite the moustache, in the top 10 of film moustaches that are like characters of their own, and perhaps not convincing quite as a Mexican bandit, Brando does show a lot of charisma and intensity in the lead role. The role is a meaty one and Brando doesn't seem taxed, to me he didn't overact and wasn't too methodical. Jean Peters is alluring and fits with the period nicely and Joseph Wiseman is also strong. The acting honours goes to the complex powerhouse that is Quinn.

Concluding, very good and nearly excellent. Which it would have been if the pace was more consistent and the writing tightened up slightly occasionally. 8/10
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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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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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Toiling for the soil
Prismark104 December 2017
Emiliano Zapata (Marlon Brando) was a principled, charismatic revolutionary who led peasants from Mexico in the early part of the 20th century against the dictator, Porfirio Diaz who might had proclaimed himself the father of the nation but was stealing land from the poor farmers.

What Viva Zapata shows that the cycle of betrayal is endless, one dictator goes and another one emerges. When Zapata is President his brother Eufemio (Anthony Quinn) regards it is his right to take land and property by force.

With at times a literate and clever script written by John Steinbeck, direction by the then leftist Elia Kazan the film is too uneven. There are at times some great black and white photography but the film lacks action, the plot is messy and it does not always makes sense.

Brando gives a sombre and moody performance but does look odd as a Mexican. A more natural rough-hewn performance is given by Quinn.
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A Fine Brando Role
gavin694231 December 2012
The story of Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata (Marlon Brando), who led a rebellion against the corrupt, oppressive dictatorship of president Porfirio Diaz (Fay Roope) in the early 20th century.

Sadly, I do not know the story of Zapata well enough to criticize this film for its accuracy or lack thereof. I understand it is somewhat fictional, and of course needs to be to some extent since no one was there writing down every spoken word or action.

But I loved the story, the endless cycle of violence... this is all too true. While revolutions can work (America did alright), they do tend to lead to more revolutions. And while Mexico is stable now (or at least mostly so), it did have a rough history... which made legends out of Zapata and Pancho Villa.
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Excellent recounting about the Mexican revolution with a terrific Brando
ma-cortes6 March 2007
The picture chronicles the Zapata life from his humble upbringing , he played a leading role in the Mexican 1910-1920 revolution until his death . A peasant delegation from Morelos state go to visit Mexican President Porfirio Diaz when Zapata (Marlon Brando) reclaims their rights .Then Zapata along with his brother Eufemio (Anthony Quinn) back to Francisco Madero (Harold Gordon) , though resident in Texas , against Porfirio Diaz . Pancho Villa (Alan Reed) in the northern Mexico and Zapata in the southern fight against Porfirio's Army winning many victories in the field . For a long time Zapata , who seemed in line for leadership of Mexico , enjoyed the sympathetic interest of the United States . Finally, Madero rises to power but General Huertas (Frank Silvera)conspires against him . Huertas rules over , and murders President Francisco Madero . Then Zapata again takes arms against Huertas and he along with Pancho Villa getting the victory in Mexico city and an eventual Presidency but he finishes leaving as a disillusioned politician . But his main enemies , the President Carranza and Obregon will fight for the power against the Villa's revolutionaries .The movie portrays until his early death , but he was assassinated when gunmen ambushed him , like it is well developed in the spectacular final shots , and it is subsequently copied at ¨Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid¨ (by George Roy Hill with Newman and Redford).

The movie is an exciting retelling of Zapata's Mexican campaign , suffering and love , with broadened focus on the power abuse .The film gets influence from classic Westerns until famous Russian directors (Eisenstein , Pudovkin). Marlon Brando chewing up scenery in the title role in one of his best performances as the hot-tempered , simple-minded revolutionary.

Anthony Quinn won a deserved Oscar for his well portrayed secondary role as rough brother named Eufemio . Besides , powerful and insightful characterization by remainder supporting cast . Based on John Steinbeck's screenplay , plays with the facts , but overall , the movie is entertaining and interesting . Sensitive and evocative music by the two composer masters : Alfred Newman and Alex North . The motion picture was magnificently directed by Elia Kazan . It's a masterpiece and unforgettable classic movie for the cinema lovers .
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surprising performances, touching direction, good (not masterpiece) screen writing
Quinoa198426 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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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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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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Disappointing Given the Talent Involved
evanston_dad11 May 2018
One would think a film starring Marlon Brando and Anthony Quinn, directed by Elia Kazan, and written by John Steinbeck would be a sure thing. But "Viva Zapata!", while not a bad film by any means, never manages to live up to the expectations one would justifiably have for it given its pedigree.

I know casting Caucasian actors as people of color was a common convention in earlier cinematic times, and that one needs to just suck it up and go with it if one is going to bother watching a movie like this in the first place, but my goodness was it hard to get past Marlon Brando as a Mexican revolutionary. The makeup they put on him looks distracting at best and actually disturbing at worst, and he makes absolutely no effort to sound Mexican. The film is oddly static and has none of the dynamic momentum Kazan could bring to a film like "On the Waterfront." Even "A Streetcar Named Desire," which essentially has a cast of four and no action sequences, feels more full of movement than this film. And much as it pains me to report, the weakest link in the chain is John Steinbeck's screenplay. It's extremely disjointed and disorienting, with major plot developments happening off screen so that Brando (in one example) goes from being a revolutionary in one scene to president of Mexico in the next without anything in between to explain the transition. It's like reading a novel with chapters missing.

Quinn received the first of his two Best Supporting Actor Oscars for playing Zapata's brother, but I'm not sure why. His performance is the consummate Quinn performance, all yelling and shouting. It's criminal that he beat Richard Burton that year in "My Cousin Rachel" when Burton was in literally every scene of his movie and played his character expertly. Brando won his second of four consecutive Best Actor nominations, Steinbeck was nominated for Best Story and Screenplay, and the film received two technical nominations for its black and white art direction and its score (by Alex North).

Not exactly a dud, but definitely a disappointment.

Grade: B-
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Why was this nominated for anything?
HotToastyRag25 May 2018
I hated this movie so much, I kept fast-forwarding through the last hour, only pressing play when Anthony Quinn was on the screen, hoping to find some reason why he won the first of his Oscars for his performance. I never found one. I don't know why he was even nominated. I really don't understand why Marlon Brando was nominated-or the impossibly lousy screenplay adaptation by John Steinbeck, or the subpar music from Alex North. This movie wasn't even good enough to insult by calling it a "B-movie".

Marlon Brando is given dark makeup on his skin, a curly wig, and a comical mustache to convince the audience he's Mexican. He plays the revolutionary Emiliano Zapata, but as he speaks with absolutely zero trace of even the slightest attempt at a Mexican accent, it isn't believable. He prances around-and I mean that literally; he actually prances across the room in the middle of a shootout-and speaks and acts exactly like Marlon Brando. I don't know why he was even cast, and the only reason I can come up with as to why he was nominated for Best Actor was because the Academy was trying to apologize for him being the only cast member of A Streetcar Named Desire the year before who wasn't nominated.

Anthony Quinn plays Marlon's brother, but for the vast majority of his screen time, he just stands in the background with a floppy hat to distinguish himself. He hardly has any lines! It's as if the Academy wanted to prove they weren't racist by giving him the Best Supporting Actor Oscar. Jean Peters, also given a dark, curly wig, plays Marlon's love interest. She also speaks exactly like she always does, without a hint of a Mexican accent.

Marlon Brando stunk, the music stunk, the script stunk, and even my beloved Anthony Quinn stunk. This entire movie was so stinky I really can't fathom why it was up for any Oscars in the first place. I'm surprised audiences didn't get up and leave the theaters in droves during opening weekend. Had I been forced to see this in the theaters without the option of leaving early, I might have had to start singing "O Susannah" to keep from losing my mind.
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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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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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Zapata's defiance toward power, including his own, caused his demise... but built his legend...
ElMaruecan826 June 2014
Warning: Spoilers
Surprisingly introspective and frustratingly 'quiet', "Viva Zapata!" contains more talking and less fighting than what its exclamatory title suggests. But it might not come as a surprise for a film written by John Steinbeck and directed by Elia Kazan : through the portrayal of Emiliano Zapata, the legendary Mexican revolutionary played by the no-less legendary Marlon Brando, it's the very notions of power and leadership that are questioned, much more their corruptive effect.

And the result is a strange mixture of conventional Western-like escapism with the local texture provided by sombreros, white outfits for men and black dresses for women and more ambitious attempts of a character study. I particularly like the scene where a group of peasants come to ask the President of Mexico to help them and get treated with patronizing contempt ("my children" repeats President Diaz) until Zapata with quiet and confidence emerges from the crowd, asks the right questions, earning the attention of the elderly leader.

At first, Brando strikes as an odd choice, with this constant expression of so non-leader-like puzzlement he carries in his eyes, but that's the way Brando 'felt' Zapata, an enigmatic and somewhat tortured man. He takes a courageous distance from the archetypal flamboyant hero, illuminating his character with a very odd modernity, even at the risk of being boring sometimes, the whole "I can't read" subplot was too underdeveloped to be of any use for the film and toned down some moments of relief the film needed.

And it's not totally wrong to assume that Anthony Quinn, who was more ethnically fitting, would have made a more believable, if not better, Zapata. After watching the film for the third time, I must say that the casting of the two brothers is perfect. Brando was made to play ambiguous characters, never satisfied with any achievement because of an obsessive capability to look beyond his own existence while Quinn, with his Latin charisma had to be the Yang to Brando's Yin : a colorful, larger-than-life, more human but no less flawed character.

As Eufemio Zapata, Quinn is not just the brotherly right hand's man; he's also the counterpart to Emiliano's personality. After all the fights, and all of the corruptions' attempts, he wants to retire like a general, with all the honors and awards. He embodies the path his brother refused to take in order to let the governors govern… and people being governed. Anyone with a basic knowledge of Machiavelli would know the implications of a leader bribing a general, and much more a general refusing to be bribed because it contradicts the values and ideals he stand for.

Yet the power of the film isn't to romanticize Zapata, but to assess his constant status as an outcast. During one of the film's best scene, he unconsciously dismisses peasants just like Diaz did. He doesn't "my children" them, but his "it'll take time" earned him the same answer he gave years before : you can't plant corn on patience. Zapata understands the inner corruption of power from the way he became and his preoccupations are soon confirmed when he confronts his brother, a decadent 'general' outrageously spoiling people from lands and wives.

"Viva Zapata!" is never as interesting as when it questions the notion of power and its influence of men, and the interaction between Brando and Quinn, followed by another powerful moment with his wife, played by Jean Peters, reveal the true self-perception of Zapata, not a leader but more of a catalyzing force. Wealth and honor don't interest him, because he learned from the arrogance of his father-in-law that these considerations poison a man's value. What matters is that people are aware of their power, the irony is that after his death, peasants in a poetic denial still consider him as the true leader, and much alive prophet, the white horse hiding in the mountains.

That's the reality Zapata failed to perceive, people need a leader for their own good, otherwise, like Fernando Aguirre (Joseph Wiseman) warned him: someone else will come, nature hates emptiness. Many political convictions confront one another in the film, Diaz as the patronizing patriarch, the old general treating the well-meaning reformer like a puppet, while Fernando is the cunning tactician, with no roots, no other goals in life than power in the most absolute meaning. Men like Zapata and his people can only think in terms of land, of food, of survival and this attachment to the most basic values of life is their strength… and their curses.

A paradox indeed, but that's what Zapata is, he strikes as an idealistic figure but like his friend Pablo says, what good can come from a man who endures such hardship, how can peace can even be salutary for such a mind. This brilliant exchange reveals perhaps Zapata's most heroic trait: his detachment. Zapata dismisses the very idea of being a strong man, for it applies that without him, people will be weak. And maybe it's this detachment that deprived the film from the required battle scenes, as if it tried to exhilarate the pride the legendary General inspired in this people, rather than true and palpable achievements. Kazan's directing is intimate in most cases, as if Zapata himself was reluctant to forge a legend out of his character, well, he obviously failed.

My only regret is that some abrupt ellipses leave many holes in the narrative, we never know exactly what happened between scenes, or we're never sure about the people they're talking about, but Brando and Quinn's performance (Oscar-winning for the latter) and the intelligence of the script, redeems these little weaknesses, although the film isn't on the same caliber than the two Kazan's masterpieces, both starring Marlon Brando, "A Streetcar Named Desire" and "On the Waterfront" and will forever live under their glorious shadow.

Still, as far as Cinema is concerned, I would always say Viva "Viva Zapata!"
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Forgotten Brando role ranks as one of his best.
st-shot1 April 2007
Warning: Spoilers
The Mexican Revolution is the backdrop for this semi-faithful look at the life and death of famed revolutionary leader Emiliano Zapata. Marlon Brando brings power and dignity to the role of Zapata (a far cry from the blustery parody presented by Wally Beery in Viva Villa many years earlier)with the same sensitive nuance he displayed in more famous roles. Forgotten perhaps because he made it between the two classic performances he gave in A Streetcar Named Desire and On The Waterfront, Zapata holds up today as well as the classics in many ways. Brando has a series of powerful scenes with enemies and allies as well as a classic confrontation with his brother that express emotion and tension equal to that found in the others.

Writer John Steinbeck acquits himself well as a screenwriter with a story that is both noble in intention and about as close as Hollywood could get to historical fact back then. The dialog is brisk and to the point with the exception of a hokey wedding night scene that is strained to say the least.

Director Elia Kazan removed from the familiar trappings of the New York Stage and the city itself gets superb performances from his actors particularly Anthony Quinn as Zapata's brother, Jean Peters as Zapata's wife and Joseph Wiseman as a duplicitous adviser that is pure Shakespeare. Kazan excels in staging, filming and editing battle scenes (evoking Eisenstein) and one festive victory celebration. Sound is effectively utilized (the quiet ambient noise of town squares, spurs clanging, the siren and scream during the assassination of Madera)and there is a rousing music score that elevates Zapata and the cause to legendary status.

Along with Panic in the Streets this is one of the two forgotten classics of pantheon director Elia Kazan. He clearly showed that wherever the stage, Broadway, New Orleans, or Durango he was capable of getting fine performances from his actors and presenting conflict in a passionate and didactic fashion.

This was the second (Streetcar and Waterfront bookended) and most neglected of the three completed film projects between Brando and Kazan. I believe time has proved that it clearly holds its own with those classics by arguably the best director actor collaboration in film history.
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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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Bad - next please
mrdonleone22 October 2004
I really don't understand this movie. What was Marlon Brando thinking when he decided to play in Viva Zapata!? He just runs around the screen, but it looks like he doesn't realize they were filming. Too bad, because I'm a great fan of Brando.

What's the story anyway? I really don't get it...

Sorry, Brando. I know sequels are almost always not quite as good as the original, but A Streetcar Named Desire II would qualify you more than this Zapata-stuff.

I was truly disappointed when I watched this one, but maybe it was because I almost fell asleep during the movie: there's no big story.
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An excellent study in moral corruption...
Spleen29 September 2001
...well scored, well enough photographed, exceedingly well written, and with one exception well acted. Now here's the surprising thing - the exception is Marlon Brando. This is surprising if you've been told, as I'd been, that Brando was the greatest screen actor of the twentieth century. Those who make this claim do so, no doubt, for historical reasons. Historical reasons don't count. Brando's style may have been revolutionary but it just doesn't work. If it reveals anything about Brando's character it reveals it to Brando, not to us. (The old jibe is true: most of the time, Brando's delivery is just mumble, mumble, mumble.) Worse, Brando is insensitive to everyone else he shares his scenes with. One gets the impression that he's so deeply concerned with refining his inner mental states until they match what he presumes to be Zapata's, that he scarcely notices the other actors are even there.

I suppose there are some who would see something interesting in this - the story of a symbolic hero who isn't as and can't be as great as everyone thinks he is, surrounded by people more talented, played by an actor who wasn't and couldn't have been as great as everyone thought he was, surrounded by more talented actors. If you seriously think it's a virtue for form to parrot content in this way you need your head examined. It's about as much of an aesthetic virtue as it would be to write the word "butterfly" in the shape of a butterfly. The film needed a more commanding actor, one willing to work with the rest of the cast.

Still, Brando is placed where he will do the least damage. The established classes in Mexico are fond of saying that Zapata is nothing but a hothead, and the irony is that they're right - he really is nothing else, and his value as a man or a leader (we gradually come to learn) is negligible.

Very early in the narrative, a much better leader - one who doesn't strike the same kind of dashing figure with a rifle in his hand - is frozen out. If there's a central tragedy, this is it. And the best thing about the film is that we're apt not to notice that Zapata chose the wrong road - we scarcely even notice that the road forked - until much later, possibly until just before the end. A great film: it can easily survive Brando's acting, which may be inferior but is not, after all, actually bad.
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Hollywood Zapata
EdgarST1 January 2004
Surprisingly good Hollywood approach to the life of Emiliano Zapata by Elia Kazan and John Steinbeck, the kind of film that if made today would cause a controversy due to its lack of authenticity in self-representational terms. Marlon Brando, who plays the peasant leader victimized by the powerful, would later join the opposite party in Gillo Pontecorvo's "Queimada!"
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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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Kazan channels Ford
tomsview10 July 2017
I've always loved the look of this film and assumed it was filmed in Mexico. After reading Elia Kazan's autobiography, "Elia Kazan: A Life", I now know it wasn't and the reason why.

Kazan and John Steinbeck, who did the screenplay, originally wanted to film it there, but the Mexicans wanted to make their own film of their hero, and made it pretty well impossible for the Hollywood production to be made there. It was eventually shot close to the Mexican border, but in the U.S.A.

I see in some places where it's claimed that Kazan was influenced by Roberto Rossellini's "Paisan". Maybe so, but I think a bigger influence was John Ford. Just look at the way the landscape is used and the way the action is handled: the horses and the dust. In his book, if Kazan mentioned any director he admired it was John Ford.

He knew Ford, and although they certainly weren't buddies, Kazan was impressed with his work. He also learned from Ford not to be too much of a nice guy if he wanted to make films his own way. Ford's "The Fugitive" made 4-years before and filmed in Mexico, would have to have been an influence.

Although Kazan's early films were studio-bound, he was determined to shoot future films on location. They were tough projects, but from "Viva Zapata!" on they had a unique visual style. Kazan led from the front; he inspired his crews by enduring the same conditions they did; the results speak for themselves.

Kazan could always get the best out of actors and Brando and Quinn brought a lot to the film. However, there are dull spots, the courting scenes with Josefa's father almost seem as though Kazan was trying to do for the Mexicans what Ford did for the Irish. However the longueurs are outweighed by one brilliant sequence after another, and Alex North contributed a powerful score steeped in Mexican music.

Kazan had joined the communist party back in his Group Theatre days, but quit shortly after - he resented the heavy-handed influence of the party on their work. Some of his feelings about the demagogues he encountered seem reflected in Joseph Wiseman's character.

It is easy to find subtext here, but "Viva Zapata!" is a fair retelling of complex history. That aside though, it still comes across as a visually powerful and heartfelt film.
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Viva Zapata - Powerhouse Talents Involved
krocheav2 June 2019
It had been a long time since I'd seen this one, back then it was a favourite. Fox has given this semi-classic a rich DVD transfer but its impact seems to have diminished over time. While it has superbly talented names in all dept's, something was lacking. Perhaps it had a little to do with the political witch-hunts that were brewing in the 50s leaving many creative talents a tad nervous about attracting attention? Brando was still rather new so he was working hard to build his following (before his ego took the main stage). He had a top writer scratching out lines in John Steinbeck, a powerful new director in Elia Kazan, a mainstream producer in Darryl F. Zanuck, and they all had the tremendous B/W Master photographer Joe MacDonald to cover their work.

This great D.O.P. knew all there was to know about B/W film stocks - along with the correct range of filters to use to give it that creative edge (this man even made TV of the day look like cinema - quite an achievement). If anyone should have been honoured on this production it was he. As for the script, it came across as manipulative and way over romanticised - leaving several elements floundering for believability. Still, it looks terrific and has several striking aspects; including a fascinating & haunting Joseph Wiseman performance (an underrated screen presence) lovely Jean Peters, exciting Alex North score, Award- winning Anthony Quinn character, and fact-based historical background. Certain plot developments tend to be overlooked so you may have to fill in some spaces.

Should still interest fans of the considerable talent involved, also those discovering the tragic and corrupt history of this land and its people (at least those elements that haven't been fictionalized).
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Viva Viewer
Richie-67-48585222 February 2018
You will be entertained and given a little course in Mexican history when you watch this little time well spent movie. Second reason to watch? Marlon Brando who by now was feeling his oats and his power and learning how to command it. Nice portrayal of simple life in the Mexican culture consisting of tortillas, beans, hard work, humility and comraderie. We are reminded of just how simple life can be when watching this movie. another dynamic presented is standing up for a cause and how one should do whatever it takes if they believe they have righteousness on their side even unto the giving of their life. Vintage movie watching and enjoy Anthony Quinn in a supporting role. I say ....
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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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