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Viva Max (1969)

When his girlfriend tells him that his men wouldn't follow him to a house of ill repute, Max, a general in the Mexican army decides to perform some great act of heroism. He takes his men ... See full summary »


Jerry Paris


Jim Lehrer (novel) (as James Lehrer), Elliott Baker (screenplay)


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Cast overview, first billed only:
Peter Ustinov ... General Maximilian Rodrigues De Santos
Pamela Tiffin ... Paula Whitland
Jonathan Winters ... General Billy Joe Hallson
John Astin ... Sergeant Valdez
Keenan Wynn ... General Lacomber
Harry Morgan ... Chief of Police Sylvester
Alice Ghostley ... Hattie
Kenneth Mars ... Dr. Sam Gillison
Ann Morgan Guilbert ... Edna Miller
Bill McCutcheon ... Desmond Miller
Gino Conforti ... Contreras
Christopher Ross Christopher Ross ... Gomez
Larry Hankin ... Romero
Paul Sand ... Moreno
Don Diamond ... Hernandez


When his girlfriend tells him that his men wouldn't follow him to a house of ill repute, Max, a general in the Mexican army decides to perform some great act of heroism. He takes his men over the border into Texas and re-captures the Alamo. This upsets the Texans greatly. The Texas National Guard is sent to retake the mission. Normally this would be easy as Max's men have left all of their ammunition back in Mexico, but the State department insists that no one be killed and so the National Guard also goes in with unloaded weapons. Written by John Vogel <jlvogel@comcast.net>

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The most magnificent mistake of them all! See more »




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Release Date:

December 1969 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Viva Max! See more »

Company Credits

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Did You Know?


The Rome (Italy) location was chosen because Pamela Tiffin had already signed a movie deal for numerous films with an Italian production company once she had completed this film. Since production had been halted due to local protests about the film's plot, the only way to complete scenes requiring Tiffin's presence was to shoot them in Rome, where she would be shooting her other films. In addition, Jonathan Winters also had upcoming commitments with The Dean Martin Show (1965). See more »


The "military" helicopter used by General Lacomber has a civilian registration number on it. See more »


Mexican Soldier: Halt, who goes there, please?
[to General Hallson on the other side of the door]
General Billy Joe Hallson: John Wayne!
Mexican Soldier: [opens door] Richard Widmark!
See more »

Crazy Credits

"All persons mentioned in this story are completely fictitious except for: Davy Crockett Col. William B. Travis James Bowie John Wayne and Richard Widmark" is the first credit to appear. See more »


Referenced in American Sexual Revolution (1971) See more »

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Witty satire on jingoism and the military mind
31 December 2009 | by JamesHitchcockSee all my reviews

"Viva Max!" is a satirical comedy about what might happen if the Mexicans attempted to retake the Alamo. Following the battle in 1836, the Alamo has become an icon of American patriotism, even though the battle was technically a Mexican victory and even though the defenders were not fighting for the United States but for the long-defunct Republic of Texas. The standard patriotic version of the events of 1836 is narrated in the John Wayne epic from 1960, a film referred to several times in "Viva Max!" The Mexicans, of course, also have their own patriotic take on these events, seeing themselves as gallantly resisting U.S. aggression and conveniently forgetting that it was the dictatorial high-handedness of their government which provoked the War of Texan Independence and the incompetence of that government which led to them losing it.

The "hero" of the film is General Maximilian Rodriguez de Santos, a Mexican officer who is inspired to mount his invasion not by patriotism but by the desire to impress his mistress, who has taunted him that his men would not even follow him into a brothel. Despite his elevated rank, the General only has a single platoon of soldiers under his command, but this proves to be sufficient. They bluff their way past the American border guards, catch a bus into the centre of San Antonio and then storm into the Alamo just before closing time, capturing it without needing to fire a shot. (Which is just as well, as they have forgotten to bring any ammunition with them).

The film's star, Peter Ustinov, does not appear to have had a very high opinion of it; in his witty and entertaining autobiography "Dear Me" he dismisses it in a single sentence. He does, however, find room to tell us that it was banned in Mexico. The Mexican authorities presumably took exception to the depiction of their army as an incompetent, cowardly, ill-disciplined rabble led by buffoons like General Max. It was fortunate for the film-makers that the American constitution guarantees free speech, including the right to lampoon national institutions, otherwise the film might also have been banned north of the Rio Grande.

Certainly, the Americans in this film are satirised just as mercilessly as their Mexican counterparts. The National Guard general tasked with retaking the Alamo is more concerned with his furniture business than with warfare and is reluctant to order an attack for fear of alienating his customers (most of whom are Mexican-Americans). There is also a regular general who proves no more competent, a State Department official whose patronising attitude to the Mexicans prevents a peaceful resolution to the standoff and a right-wing militia who believe that Max and his men are part of a gigantic Chinese Communist conspiracy to take over America. The political left are also satirised in the person of Paula, the glamorous radical-chic student who manages to persuade herself that Max is a heroic Marxist revolutionary in the Che Guevara mould.

Although the Academy unaccountably awarded him an Oscar for his role in "Spartacus", I have always thought that Ustinov's talents lay more in the field of comedy than of serious drama. Some have taken exception to his performance in this film, largely on the grounds that they consider it politically incorrect for an actor to portray a character of an ethnicity different to his own, but given that Ustinov was the son of a Russian mother and a German father of Russian extraction, also had French, Italian, Ethiopian and Polish ancestry, held a British passport and lived in Switzerland it would be difficult to define precisely what his own ethnicity was. His varied background made him a master of different accents, a skill he puts to good use here. His Max is a brilliant comic creation, a satire on the military mind, and yet at the same time a human being who manages, for all his flaws, to retain a certain amount of sympathy.

Not all the satire really works, although Ustinov receives some good support from Jonathan Winters as the furniture-dealing General Hallson, John Astin as the bullying Sergeant Valdez and Kenneth Mars as the militia leader who finds out too late that his men would rather talk tough about Communism than fight it. Perhaps the greatest tribute to the film was paid by those Texans who staged protests against the movie, stopping filming taking place in the Alamo itself, which they regarded as a "sacred shrine". They evidently didn't realise that it was this sort of jingoistic pomposity that the film was sending up. 6/10

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