Viva Zapata! (1952) Poster


User Reviews

Review this title
11 Reviews
Sort by:
Filter by Rating:
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.
33 out of 37 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
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 .
6 out of 7 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
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.
3 out of 4 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
For God's sake.. fix Brando's mustache!
gkhege6 February 2019
I have watched this movie many times over the past fifty years or so. Strangely, it actually has gotten better over the year. Probably because I'm seventy-years old now. This movie is another example of how you can make a film depicting struggling peasants without the use of profanity. I would strongly suggest to anyone who is just now getting into watching old black and white movies, to get this one a chance. Good acting all around Brando... the charactor actors steal the show.
2 out of 3 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Heroic action by one of the legends of the Mexican revolution.
RJBurke19423 January 2008
Warning: Spoilers
I recall seeing this one while still at school in 1954; I was much impressed by the battle scenes, the struggles of the Mexican peasants and, of course, the assassination of Zapata (Marlon Brando) at the hands of his betrayers (that's common knowledge and no spoiler for this narrative).

Seeing it again recently, those impressions still remain and are now reinforced with this repeat viewing so long after. Now, in addition, I can appreciate the fine script by John Steinbeck, the capable direction by Elia Kazan, the simple but so effective black and white cinematography and the quality of the overall production under the ever-watchful eye, no doubt, of Darryl F. Zanuck.

This is a film worthy to be called a classic: an epic story of the struggle for democracy during the turbulent times of the early 20th century and is, arguably, a depiction of the first great proletarian uprising of modernity which, as some would say, began in 1910.

Sensibly, the production team chose to portray a very human story about a visionary but simple man who was thrust into open rebellion to help his people achieve democracy. The fact that Zapata failed in his cause before he died is neither here nor there, because this is the story about the struggle and not the end.

As Zapata, Brando is nigh on perfect, even down to the large droopy mustache, wide sombrero and dark eyes (look up photos of Zapata on the web); Anthony Quinn as Zapata's brother, Eufemio, is mercurial, boastful, resourceful, arrogant and deadly; the lovely Jean Peters acquits her part of Josepha competently, looking radiant in white a lot of the time; and Joseph Wiseman as Aquirre provides the quintessential turncoat character, developing it into something almost Shakespearean.

Take particular note of the one-liners and sparkling repartee, most of which I'd missed or had forgotten after I first saw this film. The long scene when Zapata comes courting to the parents of Josepha is a sheer delight; the first meeting of Zapata and Aquirre is riveting – and funny; and, watch Aquirre's face, much later, when he prevents a messenger from delivering an urgent letter – because Zapata "is busy" disposing of a traitor who was once a trusted friend.

Add to all that the madcap innocence, even naiveté, of President Madero (Harold Gordon), the affable and unctuous Pancho Villa (Alan Reed) and the slimy and slippery General Huerta (Frank Silvera), and you have a film and story that begs to be seen and appreciated.

Highly recommended for all.
2 out of 3 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
The hard struggle of a man to be true to his ideals,
tmwest1 December 2005
Marlon Brando is Zapata, he is a man that stands up for his people, but he is troubled, he knows that if he wins the war it will be much harder to manage a country and compromise with the ruling forces, than to fight for it. Brando shows very well his fear of failing to live up to his ideals, during the whole film he has a worried face. In his wedding night he wants to learn how to read, because he is terrified of dealing with people who are superior to him in knowledge. Anthony Quinn delivers a moving speech when he complains that he, who fought for the people has no money, whereas the people he fought for are all well off. Joseph Wiseman is the man without feelings who has made power his God. Marlon Brando shows what a great actor he was for playing a character that was so distant from him in culture and appearance and not for one minute being unconvincing. A film which did not age.
2 out of 3 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
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
1 out of 1 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
K3nzit3 January 2020
I love movies by Elia Kazan. He had a gift of making actors perform at the top of their game. 'Viva Zapata!' is one of those many movies. My favorite scene is near the end when Brando is talking with his wife while playing with a puppy. A totally magic moment.
1 out of 1 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
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.
1 out of 3 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
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.
1 out of 4 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
A flawed but great film 7.5
Nate-486 February 2019
This is great in some ways but unbalanced on the whole though it is required viewing for any serious classic movie fan especially anybody who appreciates Brando, Kazan and anthony quinn. Quinn won an academy award for his great supporting role and Brando lost to Gary Cooper for high noon. Kazan won for best director. I watched this for the second time and believe Kazan may have tried to make this an epic but ended up trying to do too much. I think it is a flawed film. There are some really great shots of the mountains and horses and the finale. Kazans skillful mastery is on display through his timing especially in the first 30 minutes. I think the movie gets away from him late as the story gets more complicated. The history behind Zapata is a very complicated one and not easy to explain. This could have been broken up into 2 movies. Like other near great films that go downhill it seems that after a great start there is a rush in the last half to piece everything together and cram too much in. Jean Peter's is radiant. You really see the power of Quinn here. Sometimes I think kazans and Brando overdo things with some overacting and lines that might be far fetched. The opening scene is one of my favorites and is classic.
0 out of 1 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.

See also

Awards | FAQ | User Ratings | External Reviews | Metacritic Reviews

Recently Viewed